By CBS 2 Chicago Staff

CHICAGO (CBS) — Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, much of our life is anything but normal.

Through it all, we have been listening to your stories – and our commitment to telling them, and getting results, is stronger than ever.

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We hear you. You are the reason we do what we do. So as we close out the year, here are some stories from 2021 that reflect on all the good being done in the community – to illustrate why we say we don’t cover the news, we uncover it.

Suspected Ghost Businesses Receive COVID Small Business Loans

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government gave out millions of your tax dollars to struggling businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program.

But some people who may or may not be legitimate small business owners got the free funds – many of them in south suburban Markham. A full investigation into the suspected ghost businesses began just 24 hours after CBS 2’s Jermont Terry began asking questions.

In total, our story exposed more than 1,400 ghost businesses in the Markham area, including a lawn care service that a Markham police officer claimed to own. The officer has been suspended, and more than 10 more Markham employees are under investigation for PPP loan fraud.

Dangerous, Bullet-Hole Riddled Playground Fixed

Sometimes, it’s the small things that make the biggest difference in a community – like a playground.

In December 2019, the playground outside William Penn Elementary School, at 1616 S. Avers Ave. in North Lawndale, was full of dangers. The slide was even shot up with bullet holes. Thanks to the reporting of CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov, it is now fixed.

Kozlov’s reporting also got results for Sullivan High School in Rogers Park, where crews worked through the heat of the summer to get the building ready for the new school year – only to find the second-floor gymnasium window wouldn’t open. The Chicago Public Schools first told Sullivan High they would be responsible for the replacement costs, but after our story aired, CPS agreed to cover the bill.

Action At Last After 311 Complaints Were Getting Marked ‘Completed’ When They Were Not

From sinkholes to heaps of trash, we have uncovered piles of trash to story after story of 311 complaints marked as “completed,” even though residents say the jobs are not getting done.

CBS 2’s Tim McNicholas has been uncovering problems with the city’s 311 system for years. This year, something is finally being done about it.

In September of this year, the City of Chicago passed an ordinance to conduct a full review and assessment of 311 operations to date.

DCFS Transportation Vendors Were Shackling Foster Kids, And Now It’s A Crime

On orders from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, transportation vendors regularly shackled foster kids in Illinois who had done nothing wrong.

The youngsters had chains on their arms, their legs, and sometimes the entire length of their bodies.

But as of August, that practice is now a crime. It came as a result of the reporting of CBS 2’s Chris Tye – who for months uncovered new cases of shacking, even after DCFS :>promised they’d stopped.

A Fight To Interview A Teen Who Was Locked Up In A Psychiatric Ward By The State

CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov wanted to interview a 17-year-old boy who in turn wanted to tell his story about how he was locked up by the state in a psychiatric ward weeks longer than he should have been.

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But a law banned him from speaking with journalists. His case ultimately f=”https://chicago.cbslocal.com/2020/09/30/teen-spends-67-days-longer-than-necessary-in-psychiatric-ward-and-now-dcfs-is-fighting-his-request-to-tell-his-story/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>ended up in court – and Kozlov fought to interview him and won. Thanks to her efforts, all youth in Illinois DCFS custody are now entitled to speak with journalists.

Pastor Teaches Life Lessons In The Boxing Ring

Reporting isn’t just about speaking truth to power – sometimes it’s simply about people making a difference. One of those people is Pastor Anthony Wright, who is using the boxing ring to help young people learn about life and overcoming adversity.

At the Ring of Hope community center, these lessons are taught.

“We’re able to teach them boxing is not necessarily a tool of violence; but really they call it a sweet art, it’s a science,” Wright told CBS 2’s Ryan Baker. “It’s a sweet science.”

Through Wright’s boxing program, boys and girls channel their fears, frustrations, and energy.

Action After Illinois Department Of Employment Security Sends Social Security Information Wrong Claimants

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck and unemployment skyrocketed, CBS 2 made a promise to help those struggling to find a job or file for unemployment benefits. But our Working for Chicago reporting has gone beyond just posting job listings – we exposed systemic failures in the state’s unemployment services.

We were the first to tell you about rampant fraud in the extended benefits programs, and we uncovered how the Illinois Department of Employment Security was contributing to that fraud by mailing people’s Social Security information to the wrong claimants.

Now, there is hopefully a final fix. After CBS 2’s Chris Tye documented dozens of cases, in June of this year, Gov. JB Pritzker singed a bill making it illegal to send full Social Security numbers through the mail. It will apply to all state agencies – including IDES.

ILogin Unemployment Verification System Keeps Legitimate Claimants From Getting Money

CBS 2’s Tara Molina has also been on the Working for Chicago beat since the start of the pandemic. This year alone, she uncovered why Illinois was one of the worst states in the country in reporting unemployment fraud to the federal government.

She was also the first to report on problems with the ILogin ID verification system – a supposed solution that ended up keeping legitimate claimants from accessing money.

In October, after IDES launched that system, 49,000 people were stuck in the department’s callback queue. Last month, after Molina exposed the program, the backlog dropped to the lowest we’ve seen all year – just under 8,000 claimants.

After Long Struggle Insurance Denial, Donor Gives 5-Year-Old Girl New Wheelchair

Sometimes, it is our viewers at home who offer the best solutions. That is exactly what happened for 5-year-old Martina Roon.

After a two-year struggle and an investigation into insurance denials, Martina finally got a new wheelchair. It was an anonymous donor – not the insurance company – who stepped up.

It all came together after a report by CBS 2’s Tim McNicholas.

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CBS 2 Chicago Staff