Report for America

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.

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.

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

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.

A northern Illinois museum is accepting artists' applications for its annual fundraising fair. 

The pandemic forced last year’s Greenwich Village Art Fair into cyberspace.

Carrie Johnson is the executive director and curator of the Rockford Art Museum.  She said the 2021 in-person event will be reduced to one day because of pandemic-induced staff changes at the institution.  

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.

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.

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.

 A new mental health bill making its way through the state legislature would mean millions of dollars for increased access to mental health treatment.


State Senator Steve Stadelman’s bill would create a roadmap for counties looking to turn local tax revenue into support for those living with substance abuse and issues related to mental health. The Rockford Democrat said counties could see an additional $14 million of aid make its way to where it’s needed most. 


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

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

The DeKalb City Council on Monday voted unanimously on a settlement to require Hunter Properties to sell some of its holdings.



The DeKalb City Council delivered an agreement requiring the controversial landlord to sell four of its apartment buildings. City Manager Bill Nicklas said that the only solution to years of Hunter’s scores of violations and unpaid fines is a change in ownership.

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.  

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Members of Black Lives Matter DeKalb gathered Friday night to remember lives lost to police brutality.

The vigil at Memorial Park was organized to honor the lives of George Floyd, Daunte Wright, and Adam Toledo. Jocelyn Santana was one of the organizers of the event, and she says it felt like an important time for the community to come together and “heal.”

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

In the wake of the Derek Chauvin guilty verdict, Rockford activists continue calling for transparency in local police encounters.


For some the guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial hasn’t provided the resolution they were hoping for. Rockford activists say they’re still reeling from the list of deadly encounters with the police since the death of George Floyd in their own back yard. For Leslie Rolfe, an activist with the May 30th Alliance, the guilty verdict hasn’t translated to improved police accountability in the city.

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.

A Rockford coffee shop continues to engage the community through monthly conversations.

Katie’s Cup facilitated these discussions even before the pandemic, but once COVID-19 surfaced, the shop started having them virtually.

Michael Thomas is the pastor of Zion Lutheran Church. He said these monthly conversations help the faith community stay intentional when dealing with the public.

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. 

Provided by Quentin Johnson.

Welcome to WNIJ's Poetically Yours. Poetically Yours showcases poems written by northern Illinois poets. This week features Quentin Johnson.

Johnson was born in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea to missionary parents. He grew up in the Midwest, living in Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Michigan. He has lived most of his life in Illinois, having resided in Metropolis, Ashkum, Oak Park and Aurora.

The artist community experienced a major beating from the pandemic, according to an Americans for the Arts report. Some creatives are getting relief with the help of a national organization.

Todd Hansen, the executive director of Artist Rescue Trust (A.R.T.), said a bunch of his friends came up with a plan to create a nonprofit that would help artists and musicians.

A northern Illinois nature center is fusing the celebration of Earth Day and National Poetry Month.  

“To Create is in Our Nature” is the latest workshop being offered by Rockford’s Severson Dells Nature Center.

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.   

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

 A new proposal in Congress could promise additional resources to Illinois farmers on the frontlines of climate change. 


Northern Illinois congresswoman Lauren Underwood said the Farmers Fighting Climate Change Act she introduced will help farmers and ranchers deal with increased flooding and delayed planting seasons. Both are blamed on the warming climate.


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.

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. 

Sophia Varcados.

For some, music can be a great companion through good and bad times. On Sunday, a northern Illinois music therapist gives insight on how these tunes can also be used for healing.  

Jen Conley is a board-certified music therapist and a licensed professional counselor. She said music is gratifying but some people don’t recognize its deeper power. 

Poetry Out Loud

A Chicago student won the Illinois state championship for a national poetry competition.  

Catherine Herrera is a senior at William Howard Taft High School. The 17-year-old first took part in the Poetry Out Loud contest a few years ago. She said she originally entered the contest because she loves performance theater. 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Winnebago County residents can now apply for financial help due to hardships related to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Winnebago County officials announced on Monday that the money is available through a federally-funded $8.3 million Emergency Rental Assistance Grant for housing stability for renters and landlords.

Anqunette Parham is with the city of Rockford’s Human Services Department. She says the city and county have already given out hundreds of thousands of dollars in emergency rent assistance.