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Monthly Archives: September 2014

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Transform Rockford Spotlight: Sam Schmitz

Volunteer spotlight


Name: Sam Schmitz

Age: 62

Occupation/profession: President, Goodwill Northern Illinois and Wisconsin Stateline Area Inc.

In Rockford area since: Moved to Rockford in 1979.

Transform Rockford involvement: I am a member of the Process team. We are providing volunteers and participants with the training and facilitation skills to ensure the process works.

Quote: One of the core values is “Trustworthiness.” To me, trustworthiness is the cornerstone for everything that is successful. Personal relationships, business partners or in this case, the process for transforming Rockford, can only flourish in an atmosphere of trust. For this effort to be successful, collectively we must be committed to highest levels of honesty, integrity and truthfulness in making our decisions that will transform our community/region.

Favorite thing about Rockford and why: It is hard to name one favorite “thing” about Rockford, but you have to give credit to Rockford residents who proudly state that they love Rockford. We just need a few thousand(s) more of us! It is that level of pride that will help carry us to a new and successful chapter in the history of this community.

In 2025 I hope … that we can look back with pride and recognize the arduous and successful journey we started in 2013. I truly believe we are in the early days of that “bounce”, whereby we have hit rock bottom and are now on our way to building a community that will celebrate our diversity and prosperity in the decades ahead.

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Unity, Pride and Culture: Georgette Braun: Cultural journey the tie that binds

PHOTO/ RRSTAR.COM FILE PHOTO Georgette Braun is a columnist for the Rockford Register Star and

Comedian Milton Berle said that a committee is a group that keeps minutes and loses hours.

It’s among the nicer disses about a group of people appointed for a specific function.

Given that longtime community group volunteer and retiree Barb Berman has attended hundreds of committee meetings over the years, I was surprised when she talked to me at a luncheon last week about certain committee meetings. She said the meetings were “the best part” of a first-time event this month that she was involved with planning and putting on.

The event: the Sept. 21 Midtown Ethnic Parade and Festival, which featured hundreds of delightfully costumed children and adults representing some three dozen cultures in Rockford on a 70-degree Sunday afternoon.

Dori Kearney, director of development for the Midtown District Association who spearheaded the effort, told participants in an email: “We did Rockford, Midtown and ourselves proud!”

Berman was happy about how the event turned out, too, but it was the journey that was most appealing.

“Where else do you get together with this many cultures in the same room at the same time?” she said. Berman was referring to the hourlong committee meetings held monthly from February through July and weekly last month and this month, each attended by 15 to 20 people.

“The American Indians — they were fun to be around. And so were the Israelis, the Hispanics and the Italians, she said, trying not to leave anybody out. “There were no harsh words. Everyone respected each other. I don’t recall anything being sensitive.”

Berman is a retiree who had served as executive director for the Arthritis Foundation. She also has volunteered for 25 years with the Rock Valley Heritage Kiwanis Club Key Club, whose high school members perform acts of community service. And she is on the board of the Ethnic Heritage Museum. Berman has served on dozens of committees with dozen of groups.

Yet the cultural parade/festival committee meetings stand out because she was rubbing elbows with and enjoying people of pretty much all the cultures in the city. But there was this, too: “There was a real let’s-get-it-done attitude,” Berman told me.

Her relishing the pre-parade/festival committee work sets an example for those who embrace the Transform Rockford movement.

Realization of Transform Rockford’s goal — to turn Rockford into a top-25 city by 2025 — surely would be a welcome end game.

May the many committee meetings that help get us there be embraced Barb Berman-style.

Georgette Braun: 815-987-1331;; @georgettebraun


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The Man Who Wrote the Book on ‘Toxic Charity’ Speaks in Rockford

ROCKFORD — Even before he stepped on the stage, it was clear that the author of ‘Toxic Charity’ has won some local converts.  Belvidere Chamber of Commerce Director Tom Lassandro came early to get author Bob Lupton to sign a copy of his book, “Toxic Charity — How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help.”
Story“My acquaintances, business acquaintances, friends — we all write checks,” Lassandro tells ‘Eyewitness News,’ “and really have no idea where these monies go to. Do they have an effect other than supporting a program?”

Lupton was invited here because he believes many of those checks to charity are hurting and not helping our community.  “They way we are doing our charity actually increases dependency rather than frees people from poverty,” he said in an interview before his presentation.

Lupton made it clear to a packed room at Giovanni’s that he is not anti-charity.  Rather, he told the crowd he is against any charity which fosters dependency.  “Charity that enables people to become increasingly dependent, that erodes work ethic, is harmful charity.”

He argued for chariteies which empower those who need help by really listening to them. and then not just giving them things but doing things which can help them help themselves.  “This message is how do we transform charity so that it truly helps people.  So it is not a matter of eliminating charity, it’s a matter of de-toxifying charity.”

For a community like Rockford struggling with exploding poverty despite tremendous charitable giving, it’s a message that hit home for many.

Denise Delanty attended the event, and told us afterward, “I think his philosophy is really finding out what the needs are. Not just assuming a need and then giving or donating but determining the need of the individual community, so I think absolutely it would work in this community.”

Jeremy Munson is a member of RAMP, which helps people with disabilities.  He says they’ve had discussions about the ramifications of ‘Toxic Charity’ on the Rockford area.  “It’s not just a theory, it is something that’s in practice. He’s made it work, its improved communities. No reason why we can’t do that here as well.”

Lupton was brought to Rockford by Rockford University and the Rock River Valley United Way.

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WATCH: Transform Rockford Vision Rally video

WATCH: Transform Rockford Vision Rally video:

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 7.14.49 AM

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Inclusion: Rockford’s rich cultural diversity on display

ROCKFORD — From the moving tunes of Scottish bagpipes to the pulsing beats of traditional Native American dance, there were roughly three dozen cultures represented by hundreds of participants Sunday at the Midtown Ethnic Parade and Festival.


Part celebration of Rockford’s vast cultural and ethnic diversity and part coming-out party for what boosters hope is a resurgent Midtown District, the event was deemed a success by organizers.

Plans are already underway to bring it back next year, said Dori Kearney, director of development for the Midtown District Association.

“We realized that Rockford is a cosmopolitan city and nobody is talking about it or realizing how many cultures are in Rockford,” Kearney said. “It is a celebration of everyone together.”

The event highlighted the region’s deep cultural and ethnic diversity. Argentinian, Vietnamese, Polish, Serbian, Jewish, Laotian, Native American, Scottish, Swiss, Italian and many more ethnicities and cultures were represented during the parade and festival.

The Midtown District has made strides to improve its image, spruce up its streetscape and revitalize its neighborhoods over the last several years. The festival on Sunday drew participants from across the city to a new event showing off the district.

“The Midtown District is one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the city,” said Brad Roos, president of the Midtown District Association. “We have an awful lot of folks from all over the world who have chosen to make Midtown home.”

Parade participants marched from Wyman Street down East State Street to Seventh Street at Sixth Avenue for a festival featuring ethnic food, music, crafts, a kids bounce area, climbing wall and more.

Dressed in a traditional Polish costume and carrying a Polish flag, Andrezj Zasadny immigrated to the United States from Poland 20 years ago to raise his family and pursue the American dream.

His 11-year-old daughter and 17-year-old son attend the Nicolaus Copernicus School of Polish Language at St. Stanislaus Church, 201 Buckbee Street.

Zasdny said his children learned the Polish language, traditional dance and songs at the school, connecting them with their heritage.

“We wanted to pass to them what we had in Poland,” Zasdny said. “It’s so nice they can still speak the language we used before and they can speak with their grandparents.”

Jeff Kolkey: 815-987-1374;


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Unity: A peace walk scheduled for this Saturday

A peace walk scheduled for this Saturday in



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September is National Peace Month: What do you think brings PEACE and Unity to a community?

September is National Peace Month

Take Poll and Find out what events are taking place in the Rockford Region to promote PEACE.




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Exports rise to record levels out of Rockford region

ROCKFORD (WREX) –  Exports from the Rockford Region rose a record 32% in 2013, according to new data analyzed by the Rockford Area Economic Development Council.


The agency said the total value of Rockford region export was $2.53 Billion last year, the highest on record.

“The Rockford Region makes world-renowned products and makes them well,” said Carrie Zethmayr, Executive Director, Trade & Investment, for the RAEDC. “Our brands are known globally, whether the customers are motorists, airlines or major equipment manufacturers.”

The rise in exports places Rockford 89th in the nation’s metro areas in exports.

“Transportation equipment exports led the way, more than doubling in 2013 to $1 Billion. That sector has been bolstered particularly by the expansion of the Chrysler assembly plant in Belvidere, as well as the growth of aerospace components manufacturers and other transportation equipment components manufacturers,” stated a news released from RAEDC.

“Export growth is a key driver of job creation, with an estimated one in five jobs in the U.S. attributed to exports,” said Zethmayr. “Additionally, companies that export typically pay higher wages.”


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Manufacturing & high-wage jobs– what Rockford’s looking for in TIF districts

Monday night, the City of Rockford turns economic development opportunities into law. Aldermen have approved new rules for allowing businesses to invest in struggling areas.


Manufacturing, commercial, lots of jobs, high wages. Those are key words describing the kind of development the city says it’s looking for. It’s creating priorities to boost this investment. With a unanimous vote, the City of rockford puts into law; new rules for economic development in tax increment financing, or TIF, districts. TIFs are incentive tools used to attract private investment, usually in high unemployment, low-income areas. Bringing the right kind of development those locations could have a positive impact on surrounding property values, but city leaders say the main goal is just getting investment in areas that need it. A new system could help make that happen.

“We’ve placed this up for public comment from other organizations thus far received no opposition,” says 1st Ward Aldermen Tim Durkee.

The city will now use a scoring system when negotiating development inside its 30-some TIF districts. Manufacturing-industrial businesses are highly-favored, providing high paying jobs for a large number of workers. Also approved at council, new policies like monitoring existing TIF districts and projects on an annual basis and posting results online for the public to see. This aspect of transparency is key for some aldermen. Frank Beach wants updates to happen even more often.

“It doesn’t mean anything if we can’t look at it on a more regular basis,” he says, referring to providing economic forecasts within TIF districts.

To which the city says, that’s possible.

“If we’ve got an operating requirement on a project that’s TIF-supported, that’s certainly something that could be evaluated as needed.”

Source: click here.