Responsibility: Rockford launches city wellness center as ‘health partner’

 Dr. Janusz Mejer talks about an audiology booth Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014, at a wellness center for city of Rockford employees at the former Fran Kral car dealership in downtown Rockford.

ROCKFORD — As a clinic physician, Dr. Janusz Mejer sometimes saw 60 patients a day.

He’ll see only 12 patients a day when the city of Rockford Wellness Center officially opens next week in the former Fran Kral car dealership, 120 N. Third St., that aldermen voted to buy last year for $400,000.

“It’s better,” said Mejer of the caseload. “You can actually provide the medical care. That’s why you go to medical school.”

Mejer is one of four Marathon Health for Life employees who will staff the center under a contract with the city. The city is self-insured and provides coverage for 3,200 employees.

It is betting that its $888,746 investment in Marathon and the center will save $250,000 the first year and $4.5 million over five years.

“The wellness center is expected to reduce costs to our health fund through the redirection of our current health care spending to direct contracting with a primary, wellness focused medical provider for our employees and their families,” City Human Resources Director Julia Scott-Valdez wrote Thursday in a memo to the city’s Finance and Personnel Committee.

The center opened quietly this week so the staff — the physician, a nurse practitioner and a full- and a part-time medical assistant — could get familiar with procedures and work flow. The official opening is next week.

The center will provide clinic services such as illness treatment, lab work and free medical dispensing. Some medicines will be free.

The center will key in on preventative care, providing cholesterol tests and other screenings, and coaching for health issues, nutrition, weight loss, stress management, smoking cessation and exercise. There is an audiology booth to test hearing and eye charts on the wall for vision testing.

The center will also give chronic conditioning coaching for patients with diabetes, heart trouble, high blood pressure or back pain.

Nurse practitioner Kristina Passanelli said traditional clinics follow a fee-for-service model. But the wellness center is designed to be a health partner, not a health nagger. Instead of telling patients they need to lose weight or eat better, she said it’s her job to help them set goals and tackle barriers in the way of those goals.

“This gives us the tools to empower patients and engage them in their own health care,” she said.

Brian Leaf: 815-987-13 43;; @b_leaf


Interconnectedness: Rockford’s Fall ArtScene at 37 locations Oct. 3-4

Rockford ArtScene
Staff Report

Rockford Area Arts Council’s 27th Annual Fall ArtScene Oct. 3-4 will showcase original works of art at 37 different locations across the Rockford area from 5 to 9 p.m., Friday, Oct. 3, and from 4 to 9 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 4. Some galleries will offer extended hours until 10 p.m. Admission is free, and it’s a great opportunity to purchase local artwork.

Enjoy new exhibits and original works of art in varied media of watercolor, acrylic, wood, sculpture, pottery, furniture, jewelry, photography and multi-media. ArtScene has something for everyone, including the chance to meet new friends — nearly 10,000 people attend ArtScene each year. This year, 10 new galleries and studios will be exhibiting great art.

Visit for more information and maps. Following is a complete list of participating venues and artists.


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


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.

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;