Rockford

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.

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

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. 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Healthcare workers in Rockford are calling on legislators to invest more in caregiving.

 

 

Members of SEIU in Rockford are rallying behind a proposal that would widen the current assessment scoring used to determine eligibility for home care programs. Brenda Brockman with SEIU called it a step towards restructuring long-term care options. 

 

Jennifer Kuroda

Audubon Mural Project Rockford is hosting a free Zoom event on Tuesday night with the goal of bringing more bird murals to Rockford.

Vaccine Expansion A Key Priority For Winnebago County

Mar 3, 2021
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The Winnebago County Health Department reports there are continued efforts to increase local capacity to provide COVID-19 vaccines.

At a press conference covered by WREX-TV, the county’s public health administrator, Sandra Martell, said more than 4,000 vaccinations had been given out at the National Guard site on Sandy Hollow Road. The health department is also trying to expand vaccinations geographically.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

Rockford voters overwhelmingly decided to continue to fund their road improvements with a one-percent sales tax.

79% of voters said yes to the city’s road tax referendum in Tuesday’s primary election. Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara thanked voters for investing in their infrastructure. The sales tax has been in place since 2007, when voters decided to move from funding their road improvements with a city sticker.

Mass COVID-19 Vaccination Center Opens In Rockford

Feb 22, 2021
facebook.com/WinnebagoCountyHealth

A coronavirus mass-vaccination center opens Tuesday  in Rockford at the site of the old K-Mart on Sandy Hollow Road.

Members of the Illinois National Guard will be on hand to administer COVID-19 vaccines as they are allocated. Illinois Emergency Management Agency Director Alicia Tate Nadeau, at a press conference covered by WREX, said this is part of a greater state effort to roll out vaccinations.

“We have a long way to go to get everyone vaccinated, but this site is just one example of how we’re going to close that gap and get [the] vaccine to the most needed.” 

Spencer Tritt

In the first varsity basketball game of the year, the gym was so quiet and the crowd so sparse, Auburn High School junior guard Robert Chaney could hear his mom yelling from the stands. 

 

The Knights came out slow but cruised to a blowout win against Guilford. Basketball is usually the longest sports season of the year. Get into a shooting slump? No big deal, shoot out of it, and be your best when the games really matter. Now, it’s one of the shortest seasons -- only about four weeks -- so Chaney says they have to keep their heads down.

 

Chase Cavanaugh

2020 was the year Chicago Rockford International Airport saw the single largest amount of cargo pass through. 

Last year, 2.7 billion pounds of cargo transported to and travel through the facility. This is compared to 2.3 billion in 2019. Deputy Director of Operations and Planning Zach Oakley said it’s a sign of local economic growth.

Chase Cavanaugh

2020 was the year Chicago Rockford International Airport saw the single largest amount of cargo pass through. 

Last year, 2.7 billion pounds of cargo transported to and travel through the facility. This is compared to 2.3 billion in 2019. Deputy Director of Operations and Planning Zach Oakley said it’s a sign of local economic growth.

The Winnebago County Health Department announced mixed progress this week when it comes to COVID-19.

At a Wednesday press conference covered by WREX-TV, the Department noted that it did not receive its allocation of the COVID-19 vaccine this week. So they had to postpone some residents’ appointments as a result. However, Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara complimented a low positivity rate of 4.4% .

Rockford Church Offers Shelter Alternative

Feb 3, 2021
SecondFirst Church

Some homeless individuals choose not to stay at traditional overnight shelters. With the help of a grant, a Rockford church is giving these people a safe and warm alternative.

The Rockford Overnight Café at the SecondFirst Church started accepting guests Jan. 18. Rebecca White Newgren is the pastor of the church. She said some homeless people with mental illnesses are not comfortable in all spaces.   

Spencer Tritt

This school year, schools identified around 420,000 fewer homeless students than last year. That would normally be a hopeful sign, but not during the pandemic. Advocates say there aren’t fewer students experiencing homelessness. It’s just that schools can’t find them.

Last week a record number of women were sworn into leadership roles at Rockford United Labor. 

 

 

Sara Dorner, a local labor representative for AFSCME Council 31, made history by being elected the first female president of Rockford United Labor. But she says women aren’t new to the picket line. 

 

“We've always been here, this is nothing new. We're just happy you're seeing us now,” said Dorner. 

 

The annual tally of people who are homeless in the Rockford region is going to be more challenging this year. That’s due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

 

 

Rockford city officials and partner agencies are gearing up for the "point-in-time count." The survey of people experiencing homelessness takes place once a year over a 24-hour period. The PIT covers Winnebago, Boone and DeKalb counties.

Angie Walker is a housing advocate with the City of Rockford. She says the coronavirus adds a level of difficulty. 

The Winnebago County Health Department reported Wednesday that COVID-19 vaccination is proceeding smoothly. 

Public Health Administrator Sandra Martell said among the different health care systems, more than 10,000 doses of the vaccine have been administered. During a COVID-19 update livestreamed on WREX, Martell announced 104 new cases.

"And unfortunately, we have lost two additional of our community residents, which brings our total death count to 380," she said.

UPDATE: Victims Identified In Rockford Shooting, Suspect Denied Bond

Dec 29, 2020
Connie Kuntz

Three people are dead after a shooting Saturday night at Don Carter Lanes in Rockford. Police Chief Daniel O'Shea confirmed there is a suspect in custody.

The Winnebago County Coroner's Office identified the three victims as:

  • Thomas Furseth, 65, of Machesney Park
  • Jerome Woodfork, 69, of Rockford
  • Dennis Steinhoff, 73, of Rockford.

Winnebago County Coroner William Hintz said all three victims died from gunshot wounds.

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.

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.

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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. 

Rockford City Council Approves $168 Million Budget

Dec 9, 2020
Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

The Rockford City Council approved a $168 million budget for 2021 amid an economic downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Carrie Hagerty is the finance director with the City of Rockford. She said that the goal for the new budget is to weather the ongoing financial pressure of the pandemic.

“We don't anticipate any changes in staffing levels in this budget. So we're really just maintaining the levels of service that we are providing today, through the 2021 budget,” said Hagerty.

7 New COVID-19 Deaths And 79 Cases In Winnebago County

Dec 2, 2020

The Winnebago County Health Department reported 79 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday.

This brings the total number of cases in Winnebago County to 18,804. Public Health Administrator Sandra Martell also said there were seven new deaths.

“We must remember that as we go through all of this and we look optimistically to the vaccine, that it’s through this pandemic we have lost a significant number of our residents,” she said. 

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It's not too late to sign up for the 3rd Annual Dasher Dash 5K. You have until one minute before midnight on Friday, Nov. 27, to register.

Because of the pandemic, spokesperson Melissa Pratt said there isn't a designated course this year, so anyone can participate.

"First and foremost, we want people to be really safe," she said, "and being able to run in their small group that they're used to being around or, you know, running on their own, is definitely safer."

Pratt added that she hopes people who don't necessarily live in Rockford know they are welcome.

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

A Rockford police officer has been cleared in the shooting of an unarmed black man fleeing a traffic stop back in October. 

Winnebago County State’s Attorney Marilyn Hite Ross announced that Rockford Police Officer Dominik McNiece was legally justified in his shooting of 21-year-old Tyris Jones. 

Rockford Mayor Announces Reelection Bid

Nov 19, 2020
City of Rockford

The mayor of Rockford is seeking reelection in 2021.

Mayor Tom McNamara made the announcement this week, touting successes such as growth downtown, in the health care industry, and at Chicago Rockford International Airport. A central campaign message is his desire to make further improvements in those areas.

“We have had great progress these last four years and we want to build on that progress," he said. "We know there is so much more work to be done.”

The Winnebago County Health Department Thursday announced seven new deaths in the county from COVID-19. Public Health Administrator Sandra Martell said there has also been a significant increase in cases throughout the region.

“We’re reporting new cases of 234, our total case count throughout the pandemic is 15,719.”

Martell and Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara said there is going to be a significant step-up in enforcement against businesses that violate mitigation rules. Some measures include daily ticketing, closures and ineligibility for business relief grants.

Chase Cavanaugh

A newly proposed scholarship would give Rockford Public School students an opportunity for free tuition and fees at Northern Illinois University.

Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara said the impact of the Rockford Promise scholarship program for the Rockford community is beyond just education.

“We know that educational attainment is an education in and of itself is directly tied to public safety. It is directly tied to neighborhoods; it is directly tied to economic development,” he said.

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Due to the climbing positivity rate of COVID-19 in Winnebago County, this week the Rockford Mass Transit District is implementing restriction on some of its services.

 

 

Last month Rockford city bus drivers went down to City Hall to call for improved safety precautions on the buses. This month RMTD responded with some slight changes, but Jodi Williams, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1333, said she’s still worried. 

 

In Youth We Trust 2021 Grant Cycle Is Open

Nov 11, 2020

The Community Foundation of Northern Illinois has a unique program that teaches high school students in Boone, Ogle, Stephenson and Winnebago counties about the grantmaking process and how philanthropy works. It’s called In Youth We Trust.

Jennifer Smith is the engagement director for CFNIL. She said the kids look at all aspects of grantmaking and then award grants to adults and youth alike. 

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