photo provided by Paula Morhardt.

Paula Morhardt started writing when she was a child. She’s had poems published in various small magazines but in 2017, her life changed. 

On the morning of Nov. 14, Morhardt found her husband of 42 years dead in his chair. He died in his sleep. The next day, her mother passed away.

Morhardt blogged, “I have lost my two best friends. I cannot call mom and cry about losing my husband, and neither can I feel his arms around me and his voice rumble in his chest while I cry about mom.”

An annual DeKalb event that showcases local organizations will now mix business with pleasure.  

Virginia Filicetti is the marketing and events manager at the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce. She said past expos organized by the Chamber have allowed the community to connect with local businesses, but this year something else is tacked on.  

National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

It has been ten years since a six-year-old Aurora boy disappeared with his mother -- her body was found three days later in a Rockford motel with a suicide note saying he would be “well taken care of.”

May 11 was the tenth anniversary of Timmothy Pitzen's disappearance. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) marked the date by releasing a new age progression image showing what he might look like today – at age 16.

Many parents haven’t been able to watch their high school musical students perform live because of COVID-19 safety precautions. But one northern Illinois high school is making this possible thanks to the generosity of a local church.  

The DeKalb High School musical department continued performances throughout the pandemic, but some things could only be done virtually.

Library of Congress (LC-DIG-nclc-01345)

On May 15, 1903, Illinois established the nation’s first eight-hour workday … for children. The new law also established that children could not work more than 48 hours a week.

Before this, factories worked children 12 to 14 hours a day and used them to crawl into hazardous machinery because of their small size. Labor unions, progressive politicians, school officials, the press, even some business leaders tried to change the laws to protect children, but they were up against wealthy, powerful business leaders and politicians who profited off child labor.

Picture provided by FourPoets OneMic

Welcome to Poetically Yours. Poetically Yours showcases poems by northern Illinois poets. This week’s segment features Aliya Bailey from the poetry group FourPoets, OneMic.

Susan Stephens

Rockford Public Schools and Alignment Rockford are partnering to expand summer programming for students after COVID derailed the school year.

The new “Live, Learn, Play” initiative encompasses everything from academic prep and recovery courses to activities like Dungeons & Dragons.

RPS Chief of Curriculum Heidi Dettman says the big difference this year isn’t just more offerings but placing them at community center sites across Rockford.

About 9.5 million COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the state of Illinois and a little over 4 million individuals are fully vaccinated, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. But the numbers show a huge discrepancy between whites and Blacks.

Spencer Tritt

There is a network of state-run support for Illinois K-12 students who experience homelessness and housing instability. School districts and liaisons work together to offer them support mandated by state and federal legislation. That support often disappears once they graduate.

While most performance groups refrained from gathering due to the pandemic, one northern Illinois orchestra let the music play within the walls -- with precautions.  

The Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra continued their 2020-21 rehearsals without any interruption. 

Matthew Sheppard is the artistic director of the orchestra. He said in-person meetings were able to continue because the group incorporated scientific research.  

Peter Medlin

Jeanine Szostak wanted to make the best of a scary situation. COVID-19 had just shut down schools and her DeKalb middle and high school kids were stuck at home with her trying to help them get their footing with online learning. 

David Artbook Johnson

Welcome to Poetically Yours. Poetically Yours showcases poems by northern Illinois poets but today WNIJ is closing out National Poetry month with work by Wisconsin poet Charles Payne.

Payne was born in Michigan. He currently resides in Madison, Wisconsin. As a child, he loved hearing the sound of Paul Harvey’s voice. Payne said Harvey’s innate ability to describe every intricate detail truly inspired him.

Payne’s works explore personal narrative and social commentary from his experience as a working poor Black male dying to live and living to die. 

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

We’ve heard about a place having a particular sound – like the London Beat or the Motown Sound. But what about Illinois? A new exhibit that focuses on the Illinois sound – or really, sounds -- is coming to a downstate attraction.  

Lance Tawzer is the director of exhibits and shows at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. He said “The State of Sound: A World of Music from Illinois” covers a wide variety of genres.

April is Autism Acceptance Month. WNIJ talked to a Rockford couple who said music helped their son after his diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.  

Some children show signs of being on the spectrum as early as 12 months old,  according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Alan and Charlotte Abanes say their son David was about 15 months old when they noticed a decline in his speaking.  

Yvonne Boose

A biannual gallery walk that was put on pause in 2020 due to the pandemic returned to Rockford this past Friday and Saturday.  

Spectators traveled from one venue to another during this year’s Spring ArtScene. The event allowed participants to view and purchase artists’ works. 

Gerrie Gustafson was hanging out at J.R. Kortman Center for Design on Saturday but she said this wasn’t her first stop. She started out by visiting the home of Nancie King Mertz

Some poets continuously look outside of themselves to enhance their writings. A few northern Illinois poetry groups are feeding this desire by offering workshops.   

Christina Lundberg is a writing instructor, an essayist, and a poet. She said she was looking for a poetry group to join after being a part of a writing group in Naperville. 

Yvonne Boose

A recording session for a series of virtual concerts brought a northern Illinois symphony back to its home venue Friday, for the first time in over a year. 

The last time the Rockford Symphony Orchestra played at the Coronado Performing Arts Center was March of 2020. This break in the schedule was due to the pandemic.

Julie Thomas, the executive director of the symphony, said the musicians were excited to perform together again.  

NIU COVID-19 Dashboard

NIU officials asked students via email to consider returning home a week before the end of the semester. The move comes as the university has seen a “significant increase” of COVID-19 cases including more than 100 positive tests in the past two weeks.

Jared Ortega

Imagine walking in the woods and coming across six large men struggling to transport a coffin on their shoulders, heads bowed in concentration, arms taut under their burden. It might take you a moment to realize you’re looking at a sculpture: Six life-sized somber mourners and a casket.

McHenry County College

Illinois community colleges lost a lot of students during the pandemic -- enrollment fell 14%. Only a few schools increased their total number of credit-earning students.

The newest Illinois poet laureate shared her early years and upcoming goals for the position on Thursday in a virtual conversation. 

Angela Jackson interlaced poetry and dialogue during the “Understanding Our New World” live stream discussion with Paul Simon Public Policy Institute director John Shaw.

She talked about her early years in Illinois as well as the Chicago native who inspired her.

Most people don’t think about taking care of themselves on Earth Day, but two northern Illinois farm executives say we are extensions of our home and taking care of our health can in turn save the environment.  

This once-a-year celebration is a time when many people reflect on taking care of the earth. 

Spencer Tritt

Following the consolidated elections earlier this month, three new members will soon take seats on the DeKalb School Board.

On the campaign trail, voters often asked Ari Owens how she was going to leverage her connections with Northern Illinois University on the school board. She’s the assistant director at NIU’s Gender & Sexuality Resource Center.

Owens said she hopes she can help students in the district take advantage of the counseling and mentorship programs they offer.

Sauk Valley Community College

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, along with several Illinois lawmakers, visited Sauk Valley Community College in Dixon on Monday to learn more about the school's upcoming “Impact Program.”

Dr. Biden -- herself a community college professor -- spoke about how vital institutions like Sauk Valley are to students and to forging connections in their community.

“This school supports students in so many ways," she said, "from individualized counseling to work programs to with local manufacturing.” 

Spencer Tritt

Steve Wilder has no idea what “normal” looks like in Sycamore. He started as superintendent for Sycamore schools in July 2020. He spent his spring frantically guiding his outgoing district through the first wave of the crisis while also trying to transition to his new position.

“There were times that I felt really helpless,” said Wilder. “Because those questions were coming and I didn't have the answers that people wanted that I wanted to be able to share with them.”

April is a month of recognition for several important issues. Sexual Assault Awareness is one of them. An Illinois organization is bringing this offense to the forefront.  

The Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault runs rape crisis centers throughout the state. 

Carrie Ward, the executive director of the coalition, said there are number of programs taking place this month.   

Spencer Tritt

Over 10,000 people incarcerated in Illinois prisons have tested positive for COVID-19 during the pandemic -- that’s one out of every three people serving time. Incarcerated students cycling into quarantine and isolation made it impossible for education services to continue in person.

Yvonne Boose

More than a dozen northern Illinois residents voiced their concerns at a redistricting public hearing Friday  in Aurora.

Redistricting hearings are taking place across the state. State representatives Barbara Hernandez, D-Aurora, and Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego, hosted the meeting.

@AuburnKnightsSB Twitter Page

“We’ve got to take it one game at a time.” “Play every game like it’s your last.” We’re all familiar with these coach cliches, uttered in every pregame speech from tee-ball to the majors. 

But Jessica Basford said this year when she utters those phrases, it does feel like they carry more weight. She’s the varsity softball coach at Auburn High School in Rockford. And she said that extra weight is because plenty of last year’s seniors played their last game without even realizing it before COVID canceled their final season.

Fermina Ponce.

Welcome to this week's Poetically Yours. Poetically Yours showcases poems by northern Illinois poets. This week features one of Aurora's deputy poet laureates, Fermina Ponce.