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.


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. 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. 

Election Day for DeKalb is coming up on April 6. Recently the two mayoral candidates took time to share their personal journeys with the community.   

The “Getting to Know You” conversations took place at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church and were streamed on Facebook Live for both Alderman Carolyn Morris and local businessman Cohen Barnes.  

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Workers from Easterseals in Rockford picketed in front of the organization’s former offices. Contract negotiations between the organization and the union are lagging over wage increases. 



Brenda Schlueter is a paraprofessional with Easterseals, an organization that provides educational services to children and young adults with behavioral or developmental disabilities. 


Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

The sixth-term Congressman took questions as part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences public lecture series,  "Rebuilding Democracy."


First United Methodist Church of DeKalb

A northern Illinois church is bringing back its free monthly Sunday dinners after they were interrupted by the pandemic.  

Vicki Boone is a volunteer at First United Methodist Church of DeKalb. She said the "R.E.A.L meal sharing food and friendship" program is bigger than a handout.  

“It stands for -- I think what we hope all churches would be at their best -- relevant, engaging, authentic and loving,” she explained.

Boone emphasized that this is at the heart of what the establishment does.  

Looking For Lincoln

An international performer took an audience on a musical journey highlighting the plight of runaway slaves during a conversation series Wednesday evening.

Reggie Harris is not only an entertainer; he’s also a lecturer and cultural ambassador. During his Looking For Lincoln performance, he said slaves used singing not only as secret coding but also as inspiration. 

Latrice Murphy Design & Photography.

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

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. 



A Rockford art initiative that started in 2019 reemerged this year and is expanding to other cities.

Martesha Brown, the director of advancement at the Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the public mural program, CRE8IV:transformational Art, was a success two years ago. 

Tricia Alexander

After tackling her own demons, a northern Illinois musician transitioned to helping others heal through her music and more.    

Tricia Alexander calls herself three things: a musician, a minister, and a mentor -- but music is the core of who she is. She said she started singing before she could put sentences together.


Many northern Illinois institutions have put a magnifying glass on their groups’ practices for equity, diversity and inclusion. Some Rockford organizations are pledging to work together to focus on these issues.  

The Rockford Area Venues and Entertainment Authority (R.A.V.E.) and Friends of the Coronado are teaming up to ensure racial fairness at Davis Park, BMO Harris Bank Center and Coronado Performing Arts Center.   

Martesha Brown, a R.A.V.E. board member, said the organization has wanted to focus on equity, inclusion and diversity for some time.    

Photo provided by Rhonda Parsons.

Welcome to WNIJ's Poetically Yours. Poetically Yours showcases poems by northern Illinois poets. This week features Rhonda Parsons. 



Two organizations from different sides of the world are collaborating to highlight a particular culture during Women’s History Month.

Womanspace of Rockford and Jhoole, a nonprofit in India, are working together for “Experience India.”

Shiraz Tata is a board member of Womanspace. She said the community has the desire to learn about other cultures.  


An Aurora nonprofit had to leave its space a few years ago. It housed a bookstore and served the community. Despite not having a home, the group continues to fulfill its vision with the help of others.  

L.I.F.T. (Live. Improve. Flourish. Thrive.) Aurora -- better known locally as Culture Stock -- has a goal to enrich the community through arts. 

Nicole Mullins is the founder and board president of the nonprofit. She said the building they were hoping to secure last year was acquired by another buyer. 

Poetically Yours Ep. 32 - Time To Spring Forward

Mar 12, 2021
Provided by Richard Holinger.

Welcome to WNIJ's Poetically Yours. Poetically Yours showcases poems by northern Illinois poets. Today's segment features poet Richard Holinger. 


Last month, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed into law massive changes to the state’s criminal justice system. Since then, supporters and critics continue to weigh in on how the measures will affect members of law enforcement and the community. 




A Rockford arts organization is accepting nominations for its annual arts awards.

Mary McNamara Bernsten is the executive director of the Rockford Area Arts Council. She said, although the pandemic brought changes, there was still a lot going on. 

“And so, it's really important to talk to your peers and talk to your family," she said. "You know, ‘What do you remember about that? And what were the videos that stuck out in your head? And what were the pieces of art that impacted you during that time?’” 

Kate Kilgore

A Rockford musician released a series of children’s books.

“Thembu the South African Penguin – Tales of Possibilities” highlights a young bird living with autism spectrum disorder.  

Dorothy Paige-Turner created the three books in the series. She said the South African penguin fascinates her. 

City of Dekalb

The search for DeKalb’s new police chief is finally over.



David Byrd is DeKalb’s newest police chief. The hiring of the Chicago native and 31-year veteran colonel with the Illinois State Police received no objections from DeKalb City Council.