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Transform Rockford to Host Community-Wide Holiday Book Drive, November 19 – December 7

Transform Rockford, a local organization with a mission to transform the community from within and become “Top 25 by 2025,” is pleased to announce it is teaming up with local organizations and hosting its first annual community-wide holiday book drive, November 19 – December 7. The goal of the drive is to bridge the Christmas break reading gap by putting books in the hands of young students and to encourage residents that children, as early as infants, should have access to books.

Community members are encouraged to donate new or mint-condition books from infancy through pre-k levels at one of the following locations:

·       Transform Rockford, 303 N. Main Street, Suite 110

·       Rockford City Hall, 425 E. State Street

·       Winnebago County Administration Building, 404 Elm Street

·       Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, 102 N. Main Street

·       Rockford Chamber of Commerce, 303 W. State Street

·       Rockford Area Economic Development Council, 100 Park Avenue

·       Rockford Police Stations:

o   District 1 – 1045 W. State Street

o   District 2 – 1410 Broadway

o   District 3 – 557 S. Newtowne Drive

·       Midland States Bank Locations:

o   Machesney Park, 613 Harlem Road

o   Cherry Valley, 1972 Pawlisch Drive

o   Rockford – East State Street, 6838 E. State Street

o   Rockford – Spring Creek Road, 2218 N. Mulford Road

o   Rockford – North Main Street, 1401 N. Main Street

o   Rockford – Highcrest, 1700 N. Alpine Road

o   Rockford – Inside Schnuck’s East State Street, 6410 E. State Street

o   Rockford – Inside Schnuck’s Charles Street, 2642 Charles Street

o   Loves Park – Inside Schnuck’s Harlem & Alpine, 180 Harlem Road

“By hosting a community-wide book drive, all residents in the region can contribute to the Transformation Plan particularly in the area of education and supporting students and families, ensuring all are ready,” said Transform Rockford Executive Director David Sidney. “Statistics show that students who read at home have a higher success rate in school and children who read at grade level by the time they enter into third grade are less likely to drop out of school.”

Transform Rockford’s goal is to collect 2,000 books which will be donated to students enrolled in early childhood programs throughout the region. Transform Rockford Steering Committee members, staff and volunteers will wrap the books and directly hand them out to students during the last week of school before winter break.

“Winnebago County wholeheartedly supports Transform Rockford’s holiday book drive,” said Chairman Frank Haney. “Putting books in the hands of children during the winter break is both a gift to our young people and an investment in them. This is yet another way our community can create a culture that values and celebrates reading.”

For more information on how to donate or get involved, contact Transform Rockford Strategy & Communications Manager Katryna Kirby at (815) 977-5840 or Visit Transform Rockford’s Facebook page to stay up-to-date on book drive details.

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Local Organizations Announce Partnership with Erikson Institute to Take a Community-Wide, Neighborhood-Level Approach to Achieve Readiness For All

The community is on a journey to become “Top 25 by 2025,” and Transform Rockford, Alignment Rockford and Rockford Public Schools (RPS) are excited to announce a partnership that will help the region hit its goal. At a news conference today, the three organizations announced a partnership with Erikson Institute, a premier early childhood development program that takes a holistic, population-based, measured approach to assess the readiness of kindergarteners in five developmental domains. Rockford is the largest community Erikson Institute will work with in the state.

Erikson Institute uses the Early Development Instrument (EDI), a population measure that provides a snapshot of children’s health, development and school readiness in the context of their neighborhood, to compel stakeholders on how the community, as a whole, can better support early childhood development. Erikson will work with RPS to collect data in five areas to provide a precise and holistic snapshot of a child’s development in the context of their community.

“We know our community needs to focus on literacy, but if we only focus on literacy, we’re never going to achieve our goals,” said Alignment Rockford Ready to Learn Team Co-Lead and Senior Minister at Unitarian Universalist Church of Rockford, the Rev. Dr. Matthew Johnson. “The work is about readiness to learn. It’s about health outcomes, school attendance, access to immunizations, nutrition and social work and we’re glad to be partnering with Erikson Institute to address these issues.”

“Research is confirming that what happens in early childhood plays a big role in lifelong health, well-being and learning,” said Erikson Institute Associate Director Jaclyn Vasquez. “I’m excited to work alongside organizations and residents here in Rockford. The community impressed me since day one – they’re organized, efficient and ready to drive positive change. I know that once they receive specific data from Erikson, stakeholders and residents will get to work to help transform their city and get students on the right path.”

“Erikson Institute is here to help our community understand where our vulnerabilities are in early childhood so that we can strategically focus our efforts on solutions that invoke systemic change,” said Alignment Rockford Executive Director Anisha Grimmett. “Our school district is considered the education experts and provides the appropriate levels of support to children in the classroom, but we also have to provide children with the critical support they need outside of school, allowing them to come into the classroom ready to learn.”

Directly following the assessment, Erikson Institute will provide Alignment Rockford, Transform Rockford, RPS, and participating private schools with data that shows where children have strengths and opportunities for growth across geographic areas and neighborhoods throughout Rockford, informing the schools, stakeholders and local service providers where efforts and resources should be focused.

“This is where Transform Rockford comes into play. Our team leads for education and families & neighborhoods have already been collaborating to determine how we advance the Supporting our Students and Families strategy identified in the Transformation Plan,” said Transform Rockford Executive Director David Sidney. “Having data from Erikson Institute will allow our residents and community stakeholders to tackle our weaknesses and build on our strengths to help in the transformation process of our city.”

“The initiative provides data that we do not currently have,” said Heidi Dettman, RPS 205 Executive Director of Academics. “It is, for all intents and purposes, the missing link to help us more deeply engage community partnerships to wrap around supports for our students and families. We will be able to gather information about children’s experiences in the early years, monitor their developmental trajectories and outcomes, and help to predict later school success.”

Five years ago when the community set on a journey to transform Rockford, residents joined in a call-to-action for improving the living and working conditions in our region. In October 2017, the community established a partnership with Tamarack Institute, an internationally recognized program that develops and supports strategies that engage local people to solve major issues in their own community. Thanks to the Collective Impact Support team, led by Northern Illinois Center for Non-Profit Excellence, and the support of several local businesses and foundations, Tamarack hosted a workshop to help the community identify a significant complex social issue in the area to solve and agreed to align around 3rd grade literacy as a keystone outcome for student success. In June 2018, using the Data Walk best practice tool, stakeholders teamed-up to create a deeper, shared understanding of the issue and began building a common agenda to achieve this key educational milestone. Bringing in Erikson Institute now allows Transform Rockford, Alignment Rockford and RPS to take a community-wide, neighborhood-level look at achieving readiness for all.

For more information on Erikson Institute, visit


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Rockford Listed as One of the “15 Best Places to Move to in the U.S.” by Prominent Consumer Magazine

According to prominent consumer magazine Reader’s Digest, Rockford has been recognized as one of the “15 best places to move to in the U.S.” The recently published article highlights small cities and big towns across the United States that are flying under the radar and touts these places as “the perfect destinations to set-up house and put down roots.” Rockford is the only Illinois city included on the list, next to other prominent cities including Salt Lake City, Utah; Reno, Nevada; Kansas City, Kansas and Burlington, Vermont.

“Word is getting out and people are noticing that Rockford is on a comeback,” said Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau President & CEO John Groh. “Our community offers acres and acres of forest preserves and parks, numerous museums and bike paths and year-round recreation. We should all be proud to call Rockford region home.”

The article specifically boasts Rockford for its small-town charm, unsuspecting, cultural, culinary and outdoor spaces, describing our city as a truly “off-the-beaten-path experience.” It also mentions that Rockford is home to dozens of museums, including the top-ranked family Discovery Center museum, offers a cable-run wake park and one of North America’s top Japanese gardens, has more than 10,000 acres of natural land for outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy and mentions the new Embassy Suites convention center which is scheduled to open April of 2020.

“We’re excited that a well-known media outlet sees the assets and opportunities, along with the strengths of our community,” said Transform Rockford Executive Director David Sidney. “Being recognized as one of the “15 best places to move to” is another sign of positive transformation our community is experiencing.”

To read the full article, go to

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Transform Rockford Welcomes New Steering Committee Members

Transform Rockford is pleased to announce the election of two new members to its Steering Committee. The newly elected members are Benjamin Bernsten and Daniel G. Saavedra.

“I am pleased to welcome our two newest members,” said Transform Rockford Steering Committee Chair Bobbie Holzwarth. “They each have a unique background, with diverse experiences that make them an asset in helping with the transformation process of our city.”

Benjamin Bernsten was named the President of Goodwill Industries of Northern Illinois in May 2018. Since joining Goodwill in 2012, Ben has been responsible for all aspects of Goodwill’s retail operation and legal affairs within its 18-county territory. He’s created numerous new programs and revenue generating operations including Goodwill’s e-commerce program. Ben graduated from the University of Wisconsin Law School in Madison, WI. He resides in Rockford and is actively involved in the community, serving on other numerous boards including Rock River Water Reclamation District, The Workforce Connection, Northwest Community Center, and GiGi’s Playhouse.

Daniel G. Saavedra is President and co-owner of Rockford-based Saavedra Gehlhausen Architects. He has more than thirty years of experience in the architectural profession and has received recognition for excellence in architectural design for more than thirty projects his firm has developed nationally and regionally. His experience includes more than 400 projects in the religious, health care, commercial, institutional, and residential, facilities. Some of these projects are the SwedishAmerican Regional Cancer Center, various projects at Rock Valley College, Rosecrance, Anderson Japanese Garden Visitors Center, Poplar Grove United Methodist Church, Practice Velocity, and many more. Dan grew-up in Colombia and came to Illinois in 1984 after obtaining his degree in architecture from the Universidad La Gran Colombia in Bogota, Colombia. Dan resides in Roscoe and is actively involved with as a trustee for the Rockford Art Museum and Northern Illinois Conference for the United Methodist Church. Dan has also volunteered in many non-for-profits organizations in the region including Transform Rockford.

Other Transform Rockford Steering Committee members include:

  • Nate Boelkins, UTAS
  • Tom Gendron (Emeritus), Woodward
  • Bill Gorski, Retired from SwedishAmerican
  • Bobbie Holzwarth, Holmstrom Law
  • Christie Jarrett, Stenstrom
  • Doug Jensen, Rock Valley College
  • Jim Keeling, Hinshaw Law
  • LoRayne Logan, Workplace Staffing
  • Paul Logli, United Way of Rock River Valley
  • Peter Provenzano, Supply Core
  • Dave Schertz, Retired from OSF
  • David Sidney, Transform Rockford

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Transform Rockford Introduces New Team

Transform Rockford is excited to announce it has a new team in place to help Rockford get on path to becoming a Top 25 community. The team is comprised of local residents who grew up, live in the area and are committed to making positive changes to the region.

David Sidney, Executive Director

David Sidney has been with Transform Rockford since the beginning. He served as a volunteer leader of the Shared Values team and facilitated several visioning sessions. He served as Project Director, a staff position since January 2016 and was named Executive Director June 1, 2018. Before working for Transform Rockford, David was an urban planner, first with Gary W. Anderson Architects and then with the City of Rockford. David is a Rockford native and graduate of Auburn High School and holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in urban planning from the University of Illinois. In addition, he has a master’s in Christian ministry from Northern Seminary. David is married to Michelle and has a son, Judah, and another child on the way.

Jason Holcomb, Project Development Manager

Jason Holcomb joined the Transform Rockford team in 2018 after working for nearly ten years as a disability advocate both in the non-profit and private sector. He began volunteering at Transform Rockford in 2016 serving on the Project Support Team. He also completed a seven-month internship with Transform Rockford as part of his master’s program. Jason is a graduate of Christian Life High School and holds a bachelor’s degree from Wheaton College and master’s degree in social work from Indiana University. Jason is married and the proud owner of two cats.

Katryna Kirby, Strategy & Communications Manager

Katryna Kirby is the newest member of the Transform Rockford team, starting in September of 2018. Prior to joining the team, Katryna most recently served as Public Relations & Community Engagement Specialist at SwedishAmerican and Account Executive at Chartwell Agency in Rockford. She also serves as Board President for Seward Park District located in Seward, IL. Katryna is a Byron High School graduate and holds a bachelor’s degree in recreation, park and tourism administration from Western Illinois University. She resides in Pecatonica with her husband Pete and two children, Jude and Cora.

Diane Zammuto, Operations Coordinator

Diane Zammuto joined the Transform Rockford team in August of 2018. A lifelong resident of Rockford, Diane has been a strong supporter of educational institutions and an advocate for children. For the past ten years, Diane served as an assistant to the Development Coordinator at Keith Country Day School and was the lead organizer for the annual Classics and Chrome Car Show. Diane resides in Rockford with her husband and has four grown sons.

“Transform Rockford is excited to have a new team in place who will work hard to facilitate positive change in the Rockford region,” said Transform Rockford Executive Director David Sidney. “These individuals care deeply about the region and bring several skills and talents to the team that will help us manage and foster relationships with businesses and community members and help improve the social and economic well-being of the region.”

Transform Rockford was formed in late 2013 when more than 1,300 people attended a community meeting and learned the “brutal facts” of the Rockford area. Members joined in on a call to action for improving the living and working conditions in the region. Today, the Transform Rockford team is in the implement projects and measurement phase where projects are moving forward, action is taking place and results are being shown.

Transform Rockford is providing strategic support to forty-five community based projects, including the Grade Level Reading program, a partnership with Alignment Rockford to provide support for the third grade reading initiative to ensure every child is reading at or above grade level by the end of third grade. One way the project received support recently was through the Read 815 campaign where students in Winnebago County were challenged to read one book per week during the summer months.

The Great Neighborhoods project also is currently underway. The project engages neighborhoods to focus on the assets it has, to begin mapping those assets and to ultimately uncover what makes their neighborhood great, unique and desirable. Transform Rockford created a Great Neighborhoods resource guide, neighborhood directory and website for community members to utilize and learn best practices. Recently, Transform Rockford and The Great Neighborhoods project helped beautify blighted properties in downtown Rockford by decorating and adhering weather-resistant boards over windows to help spruce-up the neighborhood.

“It’s truly an exciting time for Transform Rockford and for the region as a whole,” said Transform Rockford Steering Committee Chair Bobbie Holzwarth. “The Transform Rockford team is getting its hands dirty and with our many volunteers, community partners, and stakeholders, making valuable changes in our region.”

To learn more about Transform Rockford’s progress and how to get involved by either joining in on a community conversation or volunteering on a team, visit or call (815) 977-5840.

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Transform Rockford 815 Choose Civility Team to Host Second Annual Summit for High School Juniors and Seniors

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The second annual 815 Choose Civility Summit will be held on Tuesday, October 2 from 12 – 2:30 PM at The Nordlof Auditorium, 118 North Main Street, Rockford. The Summit targets high school juniors and senior leaders and influencers who reside in the 815 area who are committed to making impactful change in their respective schools. 815 Choose Civility is a community initiative formed as part of Transform Rockford, a group working to transform the community from within with the goal of becoming a top 25 community by 2025.

The 815 Choose Civility Summit will feature a panel of experts, including Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara, Winnebago Chairman Frank Haney, Rockford Park District Executive Director Jay Sandine, Rockford Police Assistant Deputy Chief Carla Redd and local students. Nicole Stein from WREX will moderate the program.

In addition, the program will include discussions on civility and what it means to be “civil,” fake news vs. real news and provide a collaborative activity on civility. At the conclusion of the program, a challenge will be pushed out to the schools and each student will sign and take the Civility Pledge, “I pledge to conduct myself in a way that is honest, respectful, considerate and kind, even toward those with whom I disagree.””

“The second annual 815 Choose Civility summit is a great way to inform and inspire our local students on the importance of civility,” said 815 Choose Civility Member and Attorney with Hinshaw & Culbertson Sherry Harlan. “These students are the future of our community and the more we can educate them on civility, the better the chance they will take ownership and create a culture of civility in their own classroom and at home.”

To learn more about the 815 Choose Civility community initiative, visit the Facebook page at or contact Transform Rockford at (815) 977-5840.

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Second Annual Day of Compassion Event to be Held September 29

One Body Collaboratives, in partnership with Transform Rockford, is excited to announce it is hosting its second annual Day of Compassion Event on Saturday, September 29 from 9:30 – 11:30 AM at Trinity Learning Center (TLC), located at 207 North First Street, Rockford. The event is an opportunity to demonstrate the importance of collaboration and alignment of resources to meet needs of individuals and families.

One Body Collaboratives currently partners with 16 churches in the region that host Gap Ministries which distribute items to those in need in the community. Residents are encouraged to attend the Day of Compassion event and donate items that are most in demand, including baby necessities, household items/supplies, school supplies/uniforms, food, clothing and more.

“We’re extremely excited to host the 2nd annual Day of Compassion event that brings together collaboration between our churches, ministries and residents,” said One Body Collaboratives Executive Director Mary Cacioppi. “Our local churches are too often vast, yet greatly underutilized resource pools in our community. This event is a way to celebrate and centralize all valued players while helping to rebuild lives in our community.”

In addition, Compassionate Impacts, a Transform Rockford project, will be highlighted during the event. The project creates ways to engage the community in acts of service to help those in need by facilitating “Service to All, and Service By All.” The goal is to transform the community’s compassion by encouraging random acts of kindness to aligned efforts with impactful outcomes. A demonstration of the Compassionate Impacts software will also be available to view at the event, which provides a web-based platform for all community members to work seamlessly together to help fill existing service and resource gaps.

“The community identified this model of resource alignment during the development of the community’s Transformation Plan,” said Transform Rockford Executive Director David Sidney. “Faith-based organizations and communities are contributing their pool of resources in an aligned manner to change the way we serve others and be served, for lasting transformation in our region.”

To learn more about the Second Annual Day of Compassion Event and view a list of needed items, visit or contact Mary Cacioppi at or (815) 985-1311.

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New support tools for neighborhoods

The Great Neighborhoods project engages neighborhoods to focus on the assets that they have and to begin mapping them. Every neighborhood has attributes that make it a Great Neighborhood; things that make it great, unique, and desirable. Every neighborhood also has some challenges. We want to help recognize the good, and help you work with others to make what is good even greater and work to resolve some of the challenges. It’s part of a mutual benefit that goes beyond an individual neighborhood and makes our community even greater. We have recently launched a website dedicated to the Great Neighborhoods project and includes many useful resources including a Resource Guide and a Neighborhood Directory. 

New Website!

Aside from the built environment, communities are made of people. And the strongest communities are the ones in which people are connected and engaged. To connect more with your neighborhood check out our recently launched website dedicated to the Great Neighborhoods project that includes many useful resources including a Resource Guide and a Neighborhood Directory.

Please visit the Great Neighborhoods website at for more information.

Neighborhood Directory

Our Neighborhood Directory allows citizens to become more involved in their neighborhood and see why other Rockford citizens love their neighborhoods too. In the directory, you’ll find 54 neighborhoods and neighborhood associations identified and some of their assets as recognized by community members themselves.

Assets that have already been acknowledged include schools, shops, museums, gardens, parks, beautiful homes, and the friendliness and involvement of neighbors. 

Please view the Neighborhood Directory located on the Great Neighborhoods website at to learn more about the neighborhoods in the area.




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Grade Level Reading – Read 815 Challenge

Grade Level Reading – Read 815 Challenge

Winnebago County Chairman Haney and City of Rockford Mayor McNamara hosted a press conference on Tuesday, July 10 to launch the Read 815 Community Campaign Kick-off.

Reading proficiency, especially for 3rd graders, can show indicators for future student success. At a recent community forum facilitated by Tamarack Institute, regional challenges to 3rd grade literacy were addressed by a number of community stakeholders. The county has responded with their Read 815 initiative challenging every student in the Winnebago County to read 1 book per week between now and the start of the school year.

Chairman Haney says, creating a culture of reading in our community is critical to our long-term success. It impacts everything – from quality of life for our residents and their families to our communities’ ability to attract and retain business to public safety.”

Summer reading is just one of the strategies to improve reading scores and aligns with the collective impact movement of other efforts to improve literacy in the community.  Alignment Rockford’s is providing backbone support for the 3rd grade reading initiative which seeks to improve 3rd grade literacy across the region so that all 3rd graders will be reading at grade-level.  Existing programs, along with the County’s new challenge, will work together to create long-lasting systemic change in our student’s literacy levels.  Other initiatives are being pursued by the Rockford Public Library, Rockford Park District, and the Literacy Council.

The Read 815 challenge is supported by both Fred VanVleet (Toronto Raptors) and Dean Lowry (Green Bay Packers), along with Alignment Rockford and other collective impact partners are working to create a culture of reading in our region. Pick up a book for you or your children and start reading to be a part of that movement too!


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Culture of Collective Impact & 3rd Grade Reading

Last fall, the Collective Impact Project team hosted the first of a series of workshops to help our community identify to apply the collective impact approach to a complex social issue.  The team partnered with Tamarack Institute to facilitate the process and help build local capacity.  Five priority areas were considered:  poverty reduction, employment & workforce development, community safety, healthy living, and education.  Utilizing a “dotmacracy” voting process, education emerged with the most votes at the October 2017 workshop.

On June 5, 2018, we held a workshop that addressed both this Collective Impact as well as how the community can use Collective impact methods to provide excellent education to all our children from cradle to career.  Utilizing the community’s transformation plan and metrics, third-grade reading emerged as the keystone outcome for ensuring every child is reading at or above grade level by the end of third grade.

Rockford Public Schools District 205, Alignment Rockford, and NICNE (Northern Illinois Center for Nonprofit Excellence) grade level reading and other statistics, current curriculum programs in place to improve outcomes in the classroom, and challenges related to student success.  With the help of community members and other stakeholders, Sylvia Cheuy (Tamarack Institute) facilitated conversations about collaborative governance, community innovation, and community engagement. Click Here to view the PowerPoint presentation from the workshop. To learn more about this collective impact effort, please contact Alignment Rockford at