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Report for America is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. This year's cohort has been placed with more than 160 local news organizations across 45 states and Puerto Rico, including two journalists right here at WNIJ. We are thrilled to announce the addition of JuanPablo Ramirez-Franco to our news team, and a new role for WNIJ reporter Yvonne Boose.Yvonne Boose covers artistic, cultural, and spiritual expressions in the COVID-19 era. This includes how members of community cultural groups are finding creative and innovative ways to enrich their personal lives through these expressions individually and within the context of their larger communities.Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco covers substandard housing and police-community relations. An audio producer and journalist based out of Chicago, he’s also been a bilingual facilitator at the StoryCorps office.He will continue Sarah Jesmer’s award-winning work at WNIJ covering issues of social justice and identity. Jesmer earned a top award from the Illinois Associated Press for reports including: Inside DeKalb County's Unincorporated Apartments; Wigs, Lipstick & Sparkles: The Thriving Drag Scene In Northern Illinois; and Kish College: Anonymous Letters And A Controversial Investigation.These reporting positions come at a time when local journalism is already reeling from years of newsroom cuts and unforeseen challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.Both positions are partially funded by a grant from Report for America. WNIJ must raise an additional $30,000 in local matching funds. Support these important voices in our community by donating to WNIJ’s portion here.Yvonne and Juanpablo’s stories on our community will be collected below.

The City Of Rockford Has Its First Ever Poet Laureates

Jesse Kuntz
Rockford's first youth poet laureate Jocelyn Kuntz.

Two northern Illinois poets Saturday were appointed to positions new to the city of Rockford. Jocelyn Kuntz  was awarded youth poet laureate and Christine Swanberg poet laureate, in an inaugural event held at the Rockford Public Library’s Nordlof Center.  


Credit https://christineswanbergpoet.com/
Poet Christine Swanberg.

Swanberg is an award-winning poet who has more than 500 published works. She encouraged the other finalists.

“Let me begin by congratulating the other excellent candidates,” she said. “Please know that since I'm 71 years old, and have persevered with this quirky literary teaching life seriously for 50 years, it is likely that because you are younger, you are poet laureates-in-waiting.” 

Kuntz is 15 years old. She says her writing is inspired by the community. 

“These are the people I write poetry for,” she explained. “I write to share my experience with them, my experience with the community, my experience with the city, my experience with nature in the community.” 

The induction ceremony kicked off with a 2020 video highlighting Rockford’s many artists and art initiatives.

The City of Rockford Poet Laureate award includes a $1200 biennial monetary award and the Youth Poet Laureate receives a $250 annual award.

The Rockford Public Library and the Rockford Area Arts Council partnered to make this possible. The event was closed to the public but was streamed live on Facebook.

Disclaimer: Jocelyn Kuntz is the daughter of WNIJ reporter and editor Connie Kuntz.

  • Yvonne Boose is a 2020 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.
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