Connie Kuntz

If you want to make sure your kids develop an appreciation of nature, the University of Illinois Extension is offering the Wee Naturalists Virtual Program and it is led by Peggy Doty. She's the environmental stewardship educator for the U of I Extension. 

Wee Nats is in its third year. It's virtual this year because of the pandemic. Still, Doty wants to make sure kids get outside, as long as they bundle up.

Pixabay user spennucci

The Illinois State Fire Marshal’s office is advising residents to be cautious about holiday decorations.

Public Information Officer JC Fultz said it’s important to make sure Christmas trees don’t get too dry.

“A lot of times, these trees, it’s not unusual for them to drink up to two gallons of water the first day it’s in the stand and continue to check the water levels daily," he said. "We don’t want them to dry out. That then becomes kindling and a fuel source inside the home."

Yvonne Boose

Each year on winter solstice, the Northern Illinois Homeless Coalition remembers the homeless men and women in the area who died during the year. Despite the pandemic, that was still true in 2020. 

Passing cars blew their horns as 25 chairs stood empty at Rockford’s Davis Park. The chairs displayed pictures and names representing the 25 people who died. One of them passed in December of 2019 after the memorial.  Last year’s memorial number was 46.    

National Study Ranks Illinois Highways At 37th Overall

Dec 23, 2020

Illinois highways rank 37th in overall performance and cost effectiveness according to a recent study by the Reason Foundation.

The study, based on 2018 data, says Illinois had a relatively low level of traffic fatalities, particularly in rural areas. It was also relatively cost effective in terms of administrative spending per mile of road. But study author Baruch Feigenbaum said there is room to improve.

Sarah Jesmer

An Illinois congressman recently introduced legislation to help keep two nuclear power plants in his district from closing. 



Power company Exelon announced last summer that it plans to close its Byron and Dresden Generating Stations in 2021. But 16th District Representative Adam Kinzinger said Illinois -- and the country -- get a significant amount of electricity from nuclear.

Connie Kuntz

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.

ISP Urges Caution When Driving During The Holidays

Dec 22, 2020
Illinois State Police

The Illinois State Police is reminding residents to be careful as they travel during the holiday season, particularly in case of inclement weather.

Trooper Elizabeth Clausing said preparation can go a long way.

“Check your vehicle tires. Make sure you have necessary emergency equipment if you have a flat tire or your vehicle breaks down, and always allow yourself some extra time to do that preparation before you hit the road.”

She also said preparing an inclement weather kit is a good idea. 

Susan Stephens

Just a quick drool and you'll get results back in 24 hours. Northern Illinois University will begin using the SHIELD Illinois rapid COVID-19 tests in January. The saliva tests were developed by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Barrie Bode is the director of COVID-19 facilities at NIU. He says just remember not to eat, drink or use mouthwash within an hour of a saliva test.

Peter Medlin

The idea of sitting in an office can be a hurdle for some when working on their mental health. But a hike through the forest or a canoe trip down a calm river can often provide the perfect metaphor to explore what they're going through emotionally.

Patrick McMillion believes that. He’s a therapist and Northern Illinois University instructor who helped write standards for the first-ever adventure therapist credential.

Mary Nelson

The University of Illinois Extension is offering Master Naturalist Training. Mary Nelson is a spokesperson for the program and says the term “naturalist” is personal to each individual.

"To me," she said, "a naturalist is someone who appreciates, understands and respects the natural world. They have a love for nature, and they give something back to nature and their local communities through volunteer activities."

Nelson said the program is for anyone who is 18 or older.

A 'Toddler Garden' Is Coming To DeKalb

Dec 21, 2020
Jenna Dooley

The DeKalb County Community Gardens isn't just about food. They also have a hand in a new collaboration called The Basics Toddler Garden Project. Spokesperson Jackie DiNatale said the garden in Welsh Park will be for kids up to age five -- and their caregivers -- and fits in with the overall DCCG mission.

An annual holiday concert will continue to bring Christmas cheer thanks to the help of one Rockford television station.

The Rockford Symphony Orchestra’s Holiday Pops concert will air on WREX-TV Christmas Day.  

Steven Larsen is the music director of the orchestra. He said although the concert is still taking place, a few things needed to change due to COVID-19. 

Yvonne Boose

A Rockford art gallery’s new exhibition is in full motion this holiday season.

The Kortman Gallery's “Balance: the Art of the Mobile” exhibit features pieces by eight mixed-media artists. Doc Slafkosky, director of the gallery located in the J.R. Kortman Center for Design, said he met two out-of-state artists at a trade show in New York one year and he wanted them to do something at the gallery.

DeKalb County saw record levels of investment and development in 2020.

That’s according to the DeKalb County Economic Development Corporation. Executive Director Paul Borek highlighted this at a “State of the County” event on Thursday.

“DeKalb County attracted nearly $975 million of capital investment in 2020. Nearly a billion dollars.”  

Latrice Murphy Design and Photography

Welcome to WNIJ's Poetically Yours. This week features Aurora's poet laureate Karen Fullett-Christensen.

Fullett-Christensen has been writing poetry and memory stories since high school, and credits two of her English teachers, Mr. Vespo and Mr. Brown, for their encouragement and support. She has self-published over 20 manuscripts. Her poems and creative non-fiction have appeared in a variety of print and online publications, and are available at no cost to anyone who requests copies.

Jennifer Kuroda

The Christmas Bird Count is a "bird census" program with the National Audubon Society. Every year for the past 121 years -- in the United States, Canada and beyond -- thousands of volunteers have gone out over a 24-hour period and counted birds.

Jennifer Kuroda is the president of the Sinnissippi Audubon Society. She said counting birds help scientists track specific birds.

Winnebago County saw two deaths and 160 new cases of COVID-19 reported Wednesday. But with the first shipments of vaccines in local hospitals, officials are cautiously optimistic.

Public Health Administrator Sandra Martell said there’s been a decrease in positivity rates, hospitalizations and no spike related to Thanksgiving cases. She said this could help in scaling back mitigation measures. But she cautioned that the public needed to remain vigilant.

Girl Scouts Pivot Toward Digital Cookie Orders

Dec 16, 2020
Girl Scouts of the USA

Girl Scout cookie orders have gone online as a result of the prolonged pandemic.

The organization had already developed the “Digital Cookie” platform to place orders over the internet, but it’s seen much greater use since the pandemic put a halt to “booth sales” in public. 

Ann-Marie Soderstrom is the communications manager for Girl Scouts of Northern Illinois. She said Digital Cookie has also allowed girls to develop their tech experience and help troops get their message across better.

Rock Valley College ATC Financing Approved

Dec 16, 2020
Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

The Rock Valley College Board of Trustees approved an increase in the budget for its new Belvidere campus amid opposition from several Rockford community leaders. 



DeKalb City Council Approves Hunter Properties Taxing Zone

Dec 15, 2020
Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

In DeKalb, the City Council approved a controversial taxing zone to pay for added security at Hunter Properties.

The new Special Service Area in DeKalb would mean that Hunter Properties would pay additional property taxes to foot the bill for security improvements near the Annie Glidden North neighborhood. Some community members, like Sasha Cohen, think the new designation shifts financial burden from Hunter properties to its tenants.

The pandemic postponed many festivals across the state. But one group of northern Illinois folk festival organizers found a way to give back to its past artists. 

The Woodstock Folk Festival is a one-day summer event that started in 1986. It normally takes place on the third Sunday in July but not this year.

Carol Obertubbesing is the president and secretary of the festival. She said Woodstock Wednesdays, a weekly video performance, gives some musicians and storytellers a platform to showcase their talents.

Good soil biodiversity means clean drinking water, balanced greenhouse gases and a reliable source of worldwide medicines and vaccines.

So what can we do at home to keep our local soils healthy? Elizabeth Bach is an ecosystem restoration scientist with The Nature Conservancy, based at the Nachusa Grasslands. She said it can be as simple as watching how much salt you throw down this winter.

Women are in spaces that were traditionally filled by men. This includes the clergy for some religions. A few northern Illinois female faith leaders shared what it’s like for them to be in a position that some reserve for their male counterparts.

Violet Johnicker is the pastor of Brooke Road United Methodist Church in Rockford. Johnicker said her father was excited about and supported her to decision to be a minister and her mother understood the life because she herself was a preacher’s kid.  

On a new episode of Teachers' Lounge: Mike McHale. He’s a professor at Rockford University and a math and physics teacher at Byron High School. Mike is also a cross country coach and we talk about running during the COVID-19 season. He and host Peter Medlin chat about the potential closure of the Byron Nuclear Generating Station and the effect it could have on the school, community -- and his own personal connection to the plant.

Susan Stephens

The Northern Illinois University Board of Trustees approved several major fiscal measures at its latest meeting Thursday. 

First, they approved a fiscal year 2022 budget request of $98.9 million. This is compared to $93.6 million last fiscal year. They also approved several cost changes for students. Chief among them is a new 80 cent per credit hour fee for culture and diversity programming. President Lisa Freeman said the money will help attract “high value” speakers that a lone student organization couldn’t bring in on its own.

Going Nuclear: Byron Fights To Save Its Power Plant

Dec 10, 2020
Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

At the end of August, Ashley McGarry heard the news that Exelon Generation planned to retire the Byron Generating Station, the nuclear power plant about 90 minutes west of Chicago. But it wasn't exactly "news" to McGarry; she’s from Byron, and for her it’s more of a headline that gets recycled every few years.

4 New COVID-19 Deaths Reported In Winnebago County

Dec 9, 2020

The Winnebago County Health Department reported four new coronavirus deaths Monday. This brings the total up to 296 area casualties. Public Health Administrator Sandra Martell also reported new cases in the area.

“We’re reporting 121 new cases," she said. "Our total case count is 20,043.”  

Winnebago County is one of 50 counties in the state with the highest death rate from COVID-19. Current plans would prioritize the first round of vaccines to these counties. Local health departments are responsible for these initial allocations.

Spencer Tritt

Most Illinois students have been learning remotely for some if not the entire fall.

Students of all grade levels are struggling with the academic and emotional stress of remote learning in a pandemic.

School districts have offered additional social-emotional support to try and help them manage the array of challenges.

Illinois State Fire Marshal

The Illinois State Fire Marshal is participating in the Keep the Wreath Red Campaign this holiday season.

Public Information Officer JC Fultz said it involves hanging wreaths at their office in Springfield and at the Quinn Fire Academy in Chicago.

“This campaign actually began in Illinois in Naperville in 1954 as a way to raise that fire safety awareness. So the wreath is lit with all red bulbs, and when there is a fire-related fatality in the state, we will change one of those bulbs to a white lightbulb.”

Most vending machines disperse snacks or maybe a cup of coffee but a northern Illinois performing arts center is taking it up a notch for its fundraiser.

The West Side Show Room in Rockford is introducing the Elf-O-Matic vending machine. Mike Werckle, the artistic director, said the original idea was to have people purchase online gifts and pick them up from the Christmas vending machine.