Illinois Public Media News
Illinois Public Media's Jim Meadows talked with Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney about a series of attacks in the past several weeks, where groups of young men have attacked lone individuals on the street late at night. In 21 attacks spread out over a month and a half, the victims have been mostly young men on the University of Illinois campus. Champaign Police are asking anyone with information on any of the attacks to call 217-351-4545, or contact Champaign County Crimestoppers anonymously at 217-373-TIPS.
(Photo by Jim Meadows/WILL)
The city of Champaign's new Fire and Police Memorial will be dedicated Tuesday evening at West Side Park.
Connie Finney, wife of Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney, co-chairs a committee of fire and police officers' wives. She organized the effort to choose a design and raise money for the new memorial. Finney said the memorial features a flagpole on a granite base featuring the names of Patrolmen Thomas Doddsworth and Robert Tatman and Firefighter Edward Hoffman.
"Fire and police officers put themselves out there every day," she said. "They make sacrifices that most people wouldn't do."
The new fire and police memorial replaces one erected on the same site in 1913, after Patrolman Dodsworth was killed while trying to arrest two suspected bootleggers. The old memorial had been the site of annual ceremonies held by the Champaign Fire and Police departments in previous years, but Finney noted the structure had deteriorated over the years.
"Being close to 100 years old, the concrete was crumbling, and it was kind of crooked," said Finney. "And one of the plaques was very hard to read. So I talked to my husband and said, 'You know, you really need to do something about this, because it doesn't look that great, and people really don't know it's a memorial.'"
So far, donors have contributed about $40,000 for the memorial. Finney said when another $60,000 is raised, statues of a police officer and firefighter will be added to the memorial site.
Fund-raising efforts for the new Champaign Fire and Police Memorial include the sale of bricks, which will pave the memorial site. For information on making a contribution, contact the city of Champaign at 217-403-8700.
More than a dozen social service agencies strapped for cash are getting an infusion of money from a religious organization.
It's the second year, the campus-based Illinois Disciples Foundation (IDF) has given out money from its endowment. This year $189,000 is going to 14 groups that range from the Wesley Evening Food Pantry to Crisis Nursery to the Greater Community AIDS Project. The group's director, Jen Tayabji, said many of those groups face a funding slowdown thanks to the recession.
"Some of it is state funding that's been cut or payments that are behind, and a lot of grant-making organizations have cut grants altogether because their endowments have lost so much money," Tayabji said. "So to be able to give these grants makes a huge impact on these organizations, and they've been very grateful for the money they can get."
Mary Ann Daly is a resident at Rantoul's Generations of Hope, where seniors volunteer to live near and assist troubled children. She said she agrees that charitable funding is crucial.
"We do save the state money, but it still is a very expensive program," Daly said. "We have to have social workers and therapists and people there to to work with these kids."
Tayabji said the IDF's endowment has grown despite weak investment performance - in part because the group sold off its former building on campus two years ago.
The board president of the Lincoln Trail Libraries System said she hopes a compromise can replace a new policy of charging Tolono and Mahomet library members $200 a year to check out materials from the larger Champaign Public Library.
The topic was a major topic of discussion at a meeting of the Lincoln Trail board Monday in Champaign.
Board president Roseanne Reidner said a recent change in Lincoln Trail's Reciprocal Borrowing policy allows a member library to restrict out of town borrowing in some cases. She added the Champaign policy is extreme, especially since it bars inter-library loans.
"The change that we made in the Reciprocal Borrowing Policy really was meant to allow some restrictions in reciprocal borrowing, and not to take the borrowing down to zero," said Ridener. "And it was to have nothing to do with the Interlibrary Loan."
Patrons in the Lincoln Trail Libraries System can normally borrow materials for free from any public library in its nine-county region, but Champaign library officials say residents of Mahomet, Tolono and Savoy are using their library so much that it is causing a strain on the system during times of tight budgets.
Reidner said she will organize a "brainstorming" session with Champaign, Tolono and Mahomet library officials in the next few weeks to try to come up with an alternative plan.
Reidner said the principle of allowing reciprocal borrowing is important to all member libraries in the nine-county Lincoln Trailsystem, and she said she wants to preserve that principle.
"But at the same time, we realize that there are certain financial concerns," she said. "We hope that those can be resolved, and we also hope that people are able to use their home library more."
Champaign library officials say the use of their library by out of town residents is up sharply --- especially by members of the Mahomet and Tolono libraries. Officials with the larger library say that is a financial strain on them. Ridener attributes the heavy use of the Champaign library to changing lifestyles, with many people finding it more convenient to use the library near where they work, rather than using a library in the town in which they live.
The Champaign Public Library plans to institute its new policy in November, on a six-month trial basis.
(Photo courtesy of Lester Public Library/flickr)
This week marks the anniversary of one of the largest efforts to raise money for the nation's farmers, who in 1985 were battling lower land values and higher interest rates. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers looks at how this benefit concert has helped small family farms in the last 25 years.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
Twenty five years ago this week, the Champaign area was all about Farm Aid. The 12-hour event in Champaign, Illinois featured more than 40 acts, including organizers Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, and Neil Young. It drew in more than $9 million dollars to help the nation's struggling farmers. But beyond raising money, Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports that the concert helped shed light on the challenges facing farmers in the 1980s.
The Danville teacher's strike has prompted a couple of community organizations to help working parents.
The executive director of the Danville Family YMCA, John Alexander, said the facility's Days Off program has been extended and operating as if it were a holiday or other day that kids have off from school. He said staff from the YMCA's Before and After School programs have helped out, with child care available from 7 am to 6 pm. The center allowed 22 kids to stay there on Tuesday. With the strike lasting at least through Wednesday, Alexander said he expects that total to go up, but he said some parents still are not sure what to do.
"We're getting calls from parents - they're trying to look at their options," said Alexander. "Especially if they have maybe a relative that's willing to watch the kids a couple of days, they may bring their children in on those other days when a relative or friend may not be able to take care of them. So they're trying to judge just exactly how to take care and handle this situation."
Alexander said the Y's before and after school staff will be available as long as the District 118 strike goes on.
"Their hours are longer because of the fact that we're open from 7 to 6, but we're also not conducting those school responsibilities and what we call our Y-Kids program at each of those for schools," said Alexander. "So, it's a little bit of a trade off in that case. Longer hours, but we do have a rotation of staff to try and pick up the slack."
The YMCA charges $21 a day for the Days Off program. The Boys and Girls Club of Danville is also providing child care in the wake of the District 118 strike. The next negotiations for the teacher's union with the school board and a federal mediator are set for 6 pm Wednesday.
Retiring Urbana Police Chief Mike Bily said his biggest achievements in 26 years with the department did not make headlines.
Bily is retiring September 22nd. The Urbana City Council confirmed Assistant Chief Patrick Connolly to succeed him Monday night. Bily said overseeing a successful department often had to do with simply helping the community.
"The investigators to an outstanding job," said Bily. "The officers who work patrol 24/7, 365 days a year do good things every single day that receive very little notoriety. Those are the types of things I've proudest of, not any single personal accomplishment."
Connolly said his top goal is now filling vacancies, including the now-vacant assistant chief's position and open lieutenant positions.
"But I also recognize the needs of the city," said Connolly. "So there has to be a balance, and the mayor has been incredible with working with us so far, and I'm going to continue with that relationship, but I'm certainly not going to demand anything up front. We're going to work with the city as closely as we always have."
Connolly said becoming a chief has been a career ambition in his 33 years in law enforcement. He has been with Urbana Police since 1988.
A Champaign County Board member said he expects the first meeting soon of a board subcommittee assigned with looking at the Olympian Drive extension project.
The panel was put together by Chair Pius Weibel after county board members failed to reach consensus on a project, or different options of that plan. Republican Alan Nudo said he and many of his colleagues were embarrassed by how the board looked after the lengthy discussion at last Tuesday's committee of the whole meeting. The new panel is expected to meet with Urbana and Champaign officials in the next few days.
Meanwhile, Urbana Chief of Staff Mike Monson said the immediate goal will be to extend Olympian Drive to Lincoln Avenue, and then carrying it out to US 45. Nudo said the new subcommittee has the ability to get the Olympian project approved to Lincoln, which he said he has backed all along. However, Nudo added that further road development should head west instead of east.
"All Republicans were taking a look at it very hard to see if it was really necessary financially, if we could afford it, and what (how much money) the feds were going to put in there," said Nudo. "We stayed together on that, but personally I've always felt that Lincoln is the prudent way to go, and quite frankly, I think the next step is to look at Duncan (Duncan Avenue in West Champaign). Nudo Duncan is really the more opportune area to connect before 45, but that's, again, a whole other issue."
Monson said most funding for extending Lincoln to Olympian is in place, and would cost roughly $20-million, but Nudo said he expects the project to run at least $10-million, when considering amenities like larger medians and bike paths. The project would rely on a mix of state, federal, and local matching funds. Monson said large trucks cannot drive on the northernmost part of Lincoln, which he described a narrow, winding road meant only for cars. He said that will require the Champaign County Board to sign off on this first phase of the plan for Olympian, and to determine what amenities the public wants.
"If you do a side path, that's going to cost extra," said Monson. "Wetlands, landscaping, those things can all add to the cost - or not. Actually the roundabout that we're talking about would save a half-million dollars. Those decisions haven't been made, so an exact cost isn't known."
The subcommittee also includes Republican Greg Knott, and Democrat Ralph Langenheim. A fifth member will be chosen soon. That panel is expected to have a concrete recommendation for the county board to vote on by November.
The Champaign County Head Start program kicked off the new school year Thursday with 56 more children.
With the help of $810,000 in federal funding, the program has expanded its early childhood division to serve more infants and toddlers. Enrollment has been added to its existing center in Rantoul, and a new site in Urbana. Kathleen Liffick is the director of the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission's Early Childhood Division. Liffick said the expansion only meets about 36 percent of the community's need for Early Head Start services.
"But it is a small step and we're glad to be able to do that," she said. "We will be certainly be looking for additional expansion opportunities should the federal government make those available."
Playground enhancements were also made with a $68,000 Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois grant at sites in Rantoul, Savoy, and Urbana.
The new Urbana center is located at 108 South Webber Street. For questions about enrollment or to complete an enrollment application, call 217-384-1252 to speak with a family advocate.
(Photo courtesy of the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission)
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