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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.

Grant Allows Law Enforcement Training In Winnebago And Boone Counties

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Connie Kuntz
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Image of Rockford protesters this summer.

This summer civil unrest peaked across the country and police relations were at the core of the controversy. A northern Illinois women’s empowerment organization is offering a training that could help Boone and Winnebago County law enforcement understand their communities better.

The YWCA Northwestern Illinois is one of 86 recipients that received a Healing Illinois grant. The organization will use these funds for Implicit Bias and Cultural Competency training.

YWCA Northwestern Illinois CEO Kris Machajewski said some police officers aren’t informed of the many cultures that exist.

“And just like anyone, we have to first even bring the awareness that there are all of these cultures,” she explained. “And then where do our implicit biases lie in those that we don't even know we have?”

Machajewski said culture isn’t just someone’s ethnic customs but also their way of life. She cited examples like poverty and imprisonment.

“And sometimes the way we interact when we communicate with them requires a level of understanding of what their experiences are and what their cultures are on how they live,” she said.

Machajewski mentioned that Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana didn’t hesitant to say yes when asked about the training. 

“It really was one phone call to Sheriff Caruana," she shared. "And I [said], ‘You know, I want to write this grant, I don't know if I'm going to get it, it's going to be a really competitive grant. But if I get it, can you commit to giving me all of Winnebago County Sheriff's office to train?’”

Machajewski stated that the YWCA has worked with Winnebago law enforcement since 2013 in a variety of ways.

The first Implicit Bias and Cultural Competence  training started with the Winnebago sheriff’s office Nov. 30. Training will continue with other departments through the end of January. Those who are interested in helping with the training can email the YWCA  to find out if they are qualified. 

  • 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.