Thumbs up to Josh Shearer of Anna and his quest to make art education available to every high school student in Illinois. Shearer recounts how his life was changed by Nancy Murray, his senior art teacher at Century High School. Art programs have been dropped in some school districts as budgets shrink. Shearer is spreading the word that grants are available through the Illinois Arts Council. Century schools superintendent Landon Sommers said the available grants fund the development of an arts program and provides funding for four years of instruction. “What breaks my heart is that poor people, poor people, can’t afford an art teacher,” Shearer said. “It makes me want to swear.”
Thumbs up to the announcement of a new $500 million loan program aimed at boosting the quality of life in poor rural communities. Illinois treasurer Michael Frerichs visited Murphysboro this week to talk about the program, which allows funds to flow through local banks to help individuals obtain loans at below-market rates. The Ag Invest arm of the program extends loans to farms to allow them to purchase equipment or offset costs related to crop production. The Finally Home program is aimed at helping individuals purchase homes or refinance existing homes in cases of hardship.
Thumbs down to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposal to shift pension and health insurance liabilities from the State of Illinois to institutions of higher learning over the next four years. Southern Illinois University president Randy Dunn said the idea has been floated for years, so it did not come as a surprise. He said the rapidity of the transition is onerous from institutions that are still in recovery mode as the result of financial shortfalls resulting from the state going two years without a budget. Dunn suggests the university would have to raise tuition and fees as a way to meet part of the cost, already an issue that is blamed for falling enrollment at SIU.
Thumbs up to the University of Illinois’ Master Naturalist program and the Illinois residents who complete the course. The 10-week course provides instruction in biology, botany, ornithology, geology, climate, environmental ethics and various other courses of study. Residents who compete the program are required to provide 30 hours of volunteer services per year at Illinois state parks, national wildlife refuges or other entities. Various state parks as well as Crab Orchard and Cypress Creek national wildlife refuges benefit from the program.
Thumbs up to the brave participants in the annual Polar Plunge promotion. The plunge is a fundraising event for the Special Olympics. It takes a brave soul to jump into a body of water when the air temperature is hovering around the mid-30s, yet there always seems to be plenty of volunteers willing to take the plunge. “It doesn’t feel so cold until you get out,” said Luke Downen, a member of Pi Kappa Phi who took part in the plunge at Campus Lake. We appreciate Downen’s commitment, and will have to take his word for the amount of discomfort involved.
Thumbs up to the Makanda Township Fire Department for selling reflective signs used to mark houses. The signs are used to make it easier for emergency personnel to find rural homes. In the case of a medical emergency or other safety issues, just a few minutes spent searching for a home can make the difference between life and death. And, anyone who has ever spent any time delivering pizza or flowers after dark can tell you how frustrating it is trying to find an address after take. The signs are available for $15 and can be purchased at the fire station at 5420 Old U.S. Highway 51.