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Welcome to Northern Public Radio's new websites for WNIJ and WNIU!
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.

Adopt-a-Highway Program Picking up Speed in Rockford

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco
Rotary of Rockford Preparing to Collect Litter

Every year, Illinois spends more than 6 million dollars on litter pickup. 


Pat Fong is a volunteer with Rotary of Rockford East-Cherry Valley. She says that the group comes out four times a year to pick up trash alongside East State Street near I-90 via the Illinois Department of Transportation’s Adopt-a-Highway program. Fong said that the area has seen significant improvement.


“Oh my goodness, the first time it's like we just picked up a great, just a ton of garbage,” said Fong. “Just anywhere from you know metal, tires, plastics, paper bags, you know, just just really garbage.”


Joe Schatteman with IDOT said the program started up again last June after limiting activity at the beginning of the pandemic. He says turnout is beginning to return to pre-pandemic numbers. 


“Absolutely. I see people coming out,” said Schatteman. “I mean, the number of reports that we got in just for the month of April alone was very high.”


The data from IDOT shows that in 2020, volunteers collected 656 bags of garbage. And, so far this year volunteers have already collected nearly 600 bags. 


  • Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project which is a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms.