Inclusion & Caring: Then & now: Syrian family finds new beginning in Rockford

ROCKFORD — In the midst of global terror and chaos, the Al Hammawis are learning how to be Americans.


The Syrian refugee family of eight arrived in Rockford by way of Jordan about two months ago with help from Catholic Charities, the Rockford area’s primary refugee resettlement organization. Hamed, Amal and their six children, who range in age from 1 to 16, are adjusting to life in the United States. They’re going to school, learning English, making new friends and trying to make their way around a strange city.

In the wake of the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks on Paris, Gov. Bruce Rauner has called for Illinois to stop accepting Syrian refugees, citing security. The state has accepted 169 Syrian refugees since 2010, according to the Department of Human Services. Five families, including the Al Hammawis — 35 people in all — have found new homes this year in Rockford, according to Catholic Charities.

As the war rages between the government of President Bashar al-Assad and various rebel groups, including Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, more families will likely look to the United States as a place of refuge. In September, President Barack Obama said the United States would welcome 10,000 more Syrian refugees. About 1,600 were admitted in fiscal 2015, according to the U.S. State Department’s Refugee Processing Center. More than 4 million Syrians have fled the conflict in their home country, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

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Unity, Pride, Culture: A holly, jolly and busy Stroll on State in downtown Rockford

ROCKFORD — Peggy Kaczmarek and her daughter Lauren live in Rockford, but they’d never attended Stroll on State until today.

“We didn’t really know what it was,” Lauren said.

“It brought so many people from Rockford to downtown, so we wanted to see what was going on,” Peggy said.

At 4 p.m., they watched ice sculptors make a giant ornament and the “Peanuts” character Snoopy in the Rockford Register Star parking lot.

The s’mores, however, “that was the high spot so far,” Peggy said. “That was a surprise. It’s not something you see at a festival.”

Snow from last weekend’s historic storm had already melted, but the third annual Stroll on State was still a display of a hustling, bustling holiday wonderland, complete with ice skating, delicious food and drink, Christmas trees, carolers, a parade, a riverside festival of lights, fireworks and Santa Claus.

By dusk, thousands of visitors young and old clogged the State Street bridge and adjacent streets, keeping everyone huddled and warm in temperatures that dipped into the 20s. Families stood in long lines to board horse-drawn carriages or to enter Santa’s village.

An official attendance estimate was not available. Last year, organizers say, 60,000 people attended the Stroll, double the inaugural year in 2013. Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau President/CEO John Groh said he expects this year’s attendance to exceed 60,000.

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Education: The “Hour of Code” is Coming to RVC! RSVP Today!

The “Hour of Code” is for everyone!

The CIS Division of Rock Valley College is celebrating National Computer Science Week, December 7-13, by joining many other institutions across the US and hosting an “Hour of Code” event on December 12th 8am-12:30pm at Rock Valley College in the Woodward Technology Center, Room 152.
Dec 12, 2015 @ 8am-12:30pm
Rock Valley College Main Campus
Woodward Technology Center, Room 152

Hour of Code.

The Hour of Code is a global movement reaching tens of millions of students in 180+ countries. One-hour tutorials are available in over 40 languages. No experience needed. Ages 4 to 104.

Space is limited. RSVP today! See

Four, one-hour tutorials will be offered & one online tutorial. No experience needed.

8:00am       LightBot. Explains the concept of “Coding” (Ages 5-104)
9:10am        Create “Flappy Birds” app and save on your phone when finished (Ages 5-104)
10:20am     Build “My Web Browser” iPhone app using SWIFT  (Ages 10 -104)
11:30am      Build “I have a Dream!” Android app using App Inventor (Ages 10 -104)
Online         Choose from multiple Tutorials (email will follow with details)

  • Click HERE for more details (Videos from Will.I.Am & Presidemt Obama)
  • Click HERE to download event poster

If you have any questions about the event, please e-mail Professor Chuck Konkol at

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Economy & Jobs; Leadership: Rockford couple get an investment bite on ‘Shark Tank’

ROCKFORD — Only when they were halfway out of the meeting room on “Shark Tank” did things finally start looking up for Tracie and Glen Burress.

Tracie and Glen Burress hold hands while watching themselves present sockTABS on ABC's Shark Tank on Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, at Giovanni's in Rockford. The couple won $50,000 on the show with 30 percent ownership of their venture going to Daymond John, the CEO of FUBU. SUNNY STRADER/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER/RRSTAR.COM

Tracie and Glen Burress hold hands while watching themselves present sockTABS on ABC’s Shark Tank on Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, at Giovanni’s in Rockford. The couple won $50,000 on the show with 30 percent ownership of their venture going to Daymond John, the CEO of FUBU. SUNNY STRADER/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER/RRSTAR.COM

The Rockford couple pitched their SockTabs to a panel of celebrity entrepreneurs during Friday’s episode of the popular ABC reality show. Each of the five “sharks” shot down the Burresses’ offer: a $50,000 investment in exchange for 20 percent ownership in their company.

Defeated, the couple started to walk out of the room, but they were stopped by Daymond John, one of the investors and CEO of the FUBU apparel line. John offered to invest $50,000 in SockTABS in exchange for 30 percent of ownership.

A deal was sealed.

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Inclusion: You’re invited to a Community Informational Meeting

From RHA website

In keeping with the tenor and tone of this week’s Affordable Housing News Round Table discussions we invite you to a moderated informational community meeting about RHA Housing Plans including the South Newtowne proposal. This meeting will provide a mutually respectful exchange of information and answers to questions that have been presented.

Last week we heard many calls for more information, such as:
Where does RHA get its direction from?
How did RHA decide on its Housing plan?
How did the RHA and Gorman relationship start?
How will 1100 households be moved?

RHA as the responsible agency for Rockford’s public housing “system” will discuss history and redevelopment planning. Gorman as RHA’s contract developer and housing implementation partner will address housing components.

Saturday, November 21, 2015
9:00 am to 11:15 am
Heartland Community Church

1280 South Alpine Road

See more at:

Unity, Pride, Culture: Stroll On State ~ Saturday, Nov 28th


Merry and Bright: a downtown holiday” returns on November 28, 2015 with Stroll on State! Stroll on State is a spectacular holiday event to attend with your family and friends to get you in the holiday spirit. There are plenty of activities to do, decorations to see, and delicious food to eat at this event to celebrate the holiday season downtown.

When: Saturday, November 28, 2015
Time: 3 – 9 p.m.
Where: Downtown Rockford along East State Street
Cost: Free!

More information…

Leadership & Youth; Caring – Rockford Christian students rally around classmate


Rockford Christian students running a race this weekend aren’t just doing it to get exercise.  They’re showing a classmate support.

The fourth and fifth graders have been training on Wednesdays for the Jingle Bell Run.

They started training runs at half a mile.  Gradually, they’re ready to take on a full 5K this Saturday.

The students doing the race are raising money for the Arthritis Foundation.

A nonprofit that helps one of their classmates, named Connor.

“It helps my sickness,” said Connor Kossman.  “I have juvenile arthritis.  This raises money for that, and I just love to run.”

Connor is running in the Jingle Bell Run Saturday.

He personally raised $3,000 for the cause as well.

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Team Effectiveness Training Sessions for Volunteers

If you are a Transform Rockford volunteer, you are invited to attend one of the two upcoming “Team Effectiveness” training sessions.

The objective of the training is to provide proven techniques, skills and resources that help teams get results through building trust, dealing with conflict, raising commitment, and holding each other accountable.

This will be a highly interactive session so participants will learn from each other as well as exploring the tools and skills mentioned in Patrick Lencioni’s book  “5 Dysfunctions of a Team” and VitalSmarts’ book “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking with the Stakes are High.” The training is sponsored by TR’s Leadership Development team.

  • Wednesday, 11/18 – 9am-12pm.  Rockford Health Physicians. 3401 N. Perryville Road, 2nd Floor Conference Room
  • Monday, 11/23 – 4pm-7:30pm.  Puri Business Center of Rockford University

Pre-registration is required. Please contact Sue Askeland at to register.  A minimum of 10 participants per session is required to hold a training.