WNIJ Partners With Report For America

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 ApartmentsWigs, 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.

https://www.ywcanwil.org/

An organization with the goal to empower women and eliminate racism has added new members to its board.

Nicole Radford and Tammie Stanley are the newest board members of the YWCA Northwestern Illinois

Karen Brown, board chairperson, said all members are leaders in their fields. 

“They are all volunteers in the community. They all have a desire to give back,” she said. “And they truly have a passion for the work and the mission that the YWCA Northwestern Illinois has.” 

https://www.newgenresartspace.com/drawing-as-sound

Some Rockford high school students were pushed out of their usual creative territories in efforts to design something unique.  

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. 

Yvonne Boose

Like most cities across the country, Aurora's local businesses were hit hard by the pandemic. A nonprofit group is partnering with a social space to create revenue opportunities for area vendors.  

Art and Market Aurora is a new indoor market coming to the City.  

Local Nonprofit Aurora Downtown worked with community venue Society 57, 101 S. River Street, to make this possible. 

https://www.staterepwest.com/

Illinois lawmakers passed sweeping changes to the state’s criminal justice system.  

 

 

The Illinois House followed the state Senate to approve a stripped down set of reforms from the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus. It includes changes to police certification, the use of force and the cash bail system. The bill now goes to Governor J.B. Pritzker.

The original package drew early opposition from members of law enforcement including Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana. 

 

https://www.facebook.com/BlackDoctor.org/

Vaccinations for COVID-19 are underway in Illinois, but not everyone is eager to take the shot. A recent virtual town hall meeting answered questions and tackled concerns for the Black community.

“Making It Plain: What Black America Needs to Know About COVID-19 and Vaccines” was moderated by health experts, faith leaders and several organizations. The event was hosted by the Black Coalition Against COVID-19. 

Some may ask why a conversation was needed specifically for the Black community. 

GreenRoom Improv

Comedy provides joy and healing for some people. A northern Illinois entertainment group is keeping the waves of laughter rolling by adapting to the times.   

The GreenRoom Improv has figured out a way to include its virtual audience in their shows.  

David Hunter is the director of the organization. He said it's important to connect with the public, especially during this time. 

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.

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

A federation of Illinois labor unions says closing the Byron and Dresden nuclear stations would devastate workers and communities in the state.

 

 

 

An updated report issued by the Brattle Group for the Illinois AFL-CIO says the closures would cost the region thousands of jobs and millions of dollars. Pat Devaney is the treasurer for the organization.

 

 

https://pixabay.com/

Your education doesn’t have to stop when you graduate. The Lifelong Learning Institute at Northern Illinois University has upcoming online sessions for those who have an appetite for knowledge.

Jason Klein, the director of P-20 initiatives at NIU, said that absorbing knowledge keeps us young. 

https://www.robinleegarbermusic.com/

Many musicians lost out on live performance gigs due to COVID-19 but one northern Illinois artist found ways to keep the music playing for herself -- and others.

Under pandemic restrictions, folk and jazz musician Robinlee Garber’s paid gigs turned into non-monetary internet shows. 

Susan Schubert

Welcome to WNIJ's Poetically Yours. Poetically Yours showcases poems by northern Illinois poets. This week's segment features poet Susan Schubert.

Schubert is a member of A-Town Poetics in Aurora. She is a published author with two memoirs available on Amazon. They are “The Way I Remember It: A Memoir of a Trip to Europe 1971” and “My Place of Dreams: A Love Story.”

Schubert has won accolades for her short stories and photographs.

Staff at Pine Acres Rehabilitation & Living Center

Illinois nursing home residents are restricted from having visitors because of COVID-19 but volunteers from Northern Illinois University found other ways to engage with seniors at one local center.

Dementia residents of DeKalb’s Pine Acres Rehabilitation & Living Center were used to interacting with NIU students before the pandemic. One way they did this was through the Music and Memory program.  

Connie Kuntz

An Illinois state agency announced the 2021 theme for its 34th annual Poster, Poetry and Prose contest.

Kristi Morris is the environmental education coordinator for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. She explained the topic for its upcoming contest.  

“The theme is 'Fight Food Waste: Our Environment Can't Be Replaced,'” Morris said. “And it is based off our new curriculum units that we just partnered with the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.” 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Some Rockford residents think it’s not too late to stop the Rockford Public Library from closing the books on two west side branches. 

 

A campaign to save the Rock River and Rockton Centre library branches from permanent closure is underway. Bill Rose, a Rockford alderman, said that closing the branches doesn’t solve the libraries long term financial problems. 

“We know COVID is gonna impact us but we can't be a top community when we're closing libraries,” Rose said.

 

Unsplash

If you are an Illinois resident worried about a possible eviction, a nonprofit group of attorneys has some free legal advice.

 

 

Prairie State Legal Services provides free legal services to people with low income and those over the age of 60 in northern and central Illinois. Marisa Wiesman, with the organization, wants to clear up any misconceptions about the pandemic eviction moratorium.  

 

First, there’s a reason the moratorium is renewed every month and it’s unclear how long it will last. 

Connie Kuntz

Welcome to this week's Poetically Yours. Poetically Yours showcases poems by northern Illinois poets. This week's episode features Christopher D. Sims. 

Sims is from the West Side of Rockford and first shared his poetic gifts onstage at Haskell Elementary School thanks to Dorothy Paige-Turner. 

Rooted in Black joy and celebration, his poems wind through the landscapes of this country's past and present. He hopes they will inform, engage and entertain. Sims, who originally wrote rap and hip-hop lyrics, said his poetry has a bebop cadence.

Here’s his poem "Kwanzaa."

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.    

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.

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.

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.

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. 

https://www.facebook.com/woodstockfolkfestival/

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.

https://www.facebook.com/TheBrookeRockford

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.  

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.

https://store.thewssr.org/

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.

https://www.facebook.com/rockfordartmuseum/?ref=page_internal

A northern Illinois art museum is following up Saturday morning cartoons with afternoon caricature fun.

The Rockford Art Museum has a youth Cartoon Club. Jaymee Fedor is the education and engagement manager at the museum. She said she recently moved back to Rockford from Philadelphia, where she had a community of children who attended her drawing workshops at the library where she taught.

Pages