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Research Park offering free technology training program, which you can apply to now

From the press release:

CHAMPAIGN -- The University of Illinois Research Park is launching a free technology training program to increase skills in programming and data analytics that will elevate the tech sector workforce in Champaign-Urbana.

The program will train students and professionals seeking programming skills needed for technical roles and project work. Participants also will receive coaching and mentoring by experienced local tech professionals. 

The Research Park Technology Training Program application is now open and interested participants are required to apply by June 29, with workshops scheduled to start on July 7.

“The Research Park Technology Training Program aims to create a more inclusive and diverse tech community, and to help employees impacted during the economic factors of the COVID-19 pandemic, “ said Laura Frerichs, Executive Director of the Research Park. “We seek individuals that are passionate about career opportunities in Champaign-Urbana’s burgeoning digital and technology industry.”

Workshop topics include data analytics, coding, website development and other programming skills. No previous programming skills are required, although familiarity with technology is necessary. 

Participants can customize workshop tracks, and will have the ability to earn a tech “badge” to certify completion. Participants also will have access to job shadowing and mock interviews with local tech employers.

The deadline to apply is Monday, June 29 at 5 pm. A simple application form – and more information - can be found at researchpark.illinois.edu. 

The program is being offered in summer 2020 as a pilot with a limit on participants to maximize interaction and networking; future trainings will be scheduled in the fall.

Questions? Contact Laura Bleill, lwbleill@illinois.edu or call 217-244-7744.

Top image by Anna Longworth.

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City of Urbana announces Small Business Assistance Program

Joining City of Champaign's small business grant program, City of Urbana has announced they will be assisting small businesses with financial relief.

From the press release:

CITY OF URBANA SMALL BUSINESS ASSISTANCE PROGRAM

In response to the economic hardships experienced by small businesses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Urbana is launching the Small Business Assistance Grant Program in an effort to retain jobs and stabilize local businesses. Applications may be submitted effective immediately. To apply for the grant there is a convenient fillable form and important information at urbanaillinois.us/reliefgrant.

“The City of Urbana is excited to offer this program to our small businesses that were impacted by the pandemic,” Sheila Dodd, Manager Grants Management Division, said. "We are working together to make our community healthy again."

The program will serve businesses with up to fifteen (15) employees at the time of application. Grants provided will be up to $10,000 per eligible business through the Small Business Assistance Program application process. Business will qualify for assistance through the CDBG-CV Small Business Assistance Program meeting specific criteria.

Priority will be given to minority and women owned business applicants on a first-come, first-served basis. Funding may be prioritized to the business retaining greatest number of low-to-moderate income fulltime equivalent employees.

This program is a gap financing program in response to the COVID-19 outbreak for businesses that have lost business as a result of social distancing. It is also intended to support businesses that want to open new lines of business in response to the crisis, such as manufacturing medical supplies needed to respond to the disease or providing cleaning or in-home health services.

Business must be located in the City of Urbana and must show the impact of COVID-19 through recent financial statements. Grant funds may be used for: 

  • Employee wages and benefits (including fringe benefits associated with employment, such as health insurance)
  • Accounts payable
  • Rent
  • Utilities
  • Personal Protective Equipment
  • Signage
  • Business modifications or retooling to meet new social distancing standards
  • Other COVID-19-related costs

Please go to urbanaillinois.us/reliefgrant for complete information. 

Top image by Anna Longworth.

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We want to map C-U’s little libraries, and we need your help

Little libraries have gained popularity in the last five-ish years — I bet you have a couple in a short walking distance from your house. These free book sharing spots are a delight to encounter.

In my time staying at and close to home, I've paid more attention to the ones in my neighborhood. I can see one from a window in my house, and it's really endearing to see people regularly stop to pick up a book, drop off a book, or take a look inside.

Smile Politely wants to map C-U's little libraries, but we need your help to do it. Email us locations (and photos, if possible) of the ones in your neighborhood; we'll begin to plot them on a map. Feel free to also leave the locations and photos in the comments section on social media pages.

Top image by Jessica Hammie.

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Unit 4 announces three possible options for school in the fall

An email went home to Unit 4 parents yesterday from Superintendent Susan Zola that outlined three possibilities for returning to instruction in the fall. All will depend on state and public health guidance. From the letter:

Our planning teams are now busy working to identify several possible scenarios for how school could reopen in Fall 2020. These scenarios will involve three plans or options that would accommodate a range of parent, student and staff needs. 

Option 1 would include a full return to school and student activities. This option will involve several practical considerations based on guidance we will eventually receive from the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and the Governor’s Office. Although we would return fully to school and activities, they would not look the same as in years past.

Option 2 would include a combination of returning students to school and re-starting student activities but also have a continued remote learning portion. This option also involves several practical considerations but would work to balance an opportunity for some in person instruction while we continue providing remote learning instruction outside the school building.

Option 3 would include beginning the year with all students working from a remote learning model. This option would continue the learning that was done during the Spring of this year but with additional learning platforms and increased outreach for parents and teachers to ensure learning standards were achieved.

In order to develop these options fully, the District created several task force groups which included administrators, teachers and staff.  Given the limitation on public gatherings these groups have been meeting remotely. The task force groups include:

PreK-8th grade Instructional Teams
High School Instructional Teams
Health/Wellness and Safety Teams
Transportation and Food Service Teams
Financial Oversight and Funding Teams
Employee/Staff Teams

These teams are meeting over the next few weeks and we will be presenting a unified plan in mid-July. As with everything these days, the plans are subject to further guidance from IDPH, ISBE, and the Governor’s Office. The Reopening Plan will focus on educational, social-emotional and safety of students and staff, with a special emphasis on our most vulnerable students and families.

Photo from Unit 4 website.

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The City of Champaign is offering a COVID-19 Relief Grant to help small businesses

Small businesses in Champaign that have been impacted by COVID crisis can apply for a grant of up to $15,000. According to the city's website: "Eligible small businesses may request reimbursement for expenses incurred April 1, 2020 through June 30, 2020.  Individual grant amounts will be based on need and documentation of expenses provided by applicant."

Applications can be submitted beginning June 24th at 8 a.m., and will be accepted on a first come first served basis. 

You can read more and find the application here.

Photo from City of Champaign website.

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Orphans Treasure Box bookstore is having bi-weekly sidewalk sales

The bookstore has been keeping their retail outlet closed since March, and is continuing to stay closed for now, but these sidewalk sales give shoppers the opportunity to browse books in person while maintaining a safe distance from each other, something that can be difficult in the store.

The sales are a fundraiser for the store's ReStart program, which employs single moms who are homeless or coming out of homelessness. 100% of proceeds will go towards an emergency fund which assists the women with interest free loans should unforseen circumstances and needs arise. 

The fundraising sales will be held on Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Suggested donations for books range from 25 cents to $2. Cash or check only, and no change will be given. Masks are required for shopping, and customers are asked to keep physical distance. 

Those looking for specific titles can check out the online bookstore, which has continued to operate over the past few months. They will ship orders or have them available for curbside pickup. 

Book donations can be placed in the shed behind the building at any time.

Orphans Treasure Box
826 Pioneer Street
Champaign

Photo by Julie McClure.

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The State of Illinois is funding water access for residents affected by the Mahomet Aquifer leak

In 2016, Mahomet residents utilizing the Mahomet Aquifer found their water source contaminated by a gas leak. With the help of Spiros Law, some of those residents moved forward with a lawsuit aimed at People's Gas, who have yet to resolve the problem. Now, the state is going to put a total of about $7 million into extending the Sangamon Valley Public Water District to provide clean water to those homes. This will be done in two phases: $3.8 million for Phase I then $3.5 million for Phase II.*  From Spiros Law:

“We hoped that a large corporate entity like Peoples Gas would come forth and take responsibility for the damage it has caused to the Mahomet Aquifer by now,” said James Spiros, founding partner of Spiros Law. “However, that still is not the case and now the taxpayers are left with the burden of correcting its mistakes. We have been and will continue to fight on behalf of our clients to ensure that Peoples Gas is held fully accountable for the contamination it caused to our clients’ property, their water, and the Mahomet Aquifer.”

Spiros represents 38 plaintiffs living in 15 homes, including several seniors and children. You can read more about the contamination of the aquifer here, and legislation passed by State Senator Scott Bennett aimed at better protecting the aquifer here.

*Editor's note: the amount was originally stated incorrectly. These are the corrected amounts. 

Image from Spiros Law, P.C. Facebook page.

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Smile Politely seeking Culture writers

Our culture section attempts to capture the essence of C-U. We write about the people, places, and events that make this community a pretty awesome place to live. That looks a little different right now, but there's still a lot to cover. 

We're looking for some writers for this particular section, and in order for this to really work, you must have at least a mild grasp on the world outside of Champaign-Urbana, yet also be able to keep up with what's happening locally, and preferably be able to tie the two together.

This section is great because we can cover a bit of anything and everything, and whether you are more of a niche writer or one that is open to a wide swath of topics, this could be a place for you.

If this sounds like something you're interested in, fire an email off to info@smilepolitely.com.

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U of I researchers created a saliva COVID-19 test

Martin Burke, a U of I chemistry professor, spoke about this huge development during a webinar yesterday. The test will figure into plans to bring students back to campus in the fall. Here are a few important details, you can read more in this report from Illinois Public Media:

  • They have the capacity to test 10,000 people a day.
  • Students would be tested upon return to campus, then intermittently throughout the semester.
  • There will be 20 testing site throughout campus.
  • The University of Illinois app has capability to help track exposure. 

Photo from University of Illinois Facebook page. 

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Krannert Art Museum is examining racism reflected in art

If you want a little art history education in response to the issues of racism that continue to permeate our culture and conversations, head on over to Krannert Art Museum's Facebook page. They are utilizing the space to "engage art and museum practices that address racism and oppression, including interrogating KAM’s own history in relation to these subjects."

Various KAM curators are reflecting on specific pieces of art and that how work either examines, challenges, or supports the racist and oppressive practices throughout history.

© Joan BlaeuPernambuco North, 1662. Image from Krannert Art Museum Facebook page.