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Hard Rock gifts $2K to African-American Resource Center at Booker in Rockford

Booker Washington Center
Mae Meeks works with Christian Whitby, 7, and Zakiyah Gray, 6, on Tuesday, March 14, 2023, at the African-American Resource Center at Booker in Rockford. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)
By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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ROCKFORD — Rockford Casino: A Hard Rock Opening Act and its customers donated $2,000 on Tuesday to the African-American Resource Center at Booker, a nonprofit that works to elevate all people’s quality of life through an array of educational, recreational and cultural programs.

The money comes from vouchers that go uncashed at the casino, and Hard Rock provides a matching donation. The casino has made monthly donations to different nonprofits, and customers were able to donate their unused vouchers to the AARC during Black History Month in February.

“We know it isn’t just about running a casino or an entertainment business in-house, it’s all about building roots in the community,” said Miguel Pascual, Hard Rock Casino Rockford‘s director of human resources. “We know as we get into the community, we can’t succeed if the community and/or the organizations that benefit the people don’t succeed as well.”

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Karen Waller, operations manager for the African-American Resource Center, said the money will help offset costs of running its programs. The center has a teen resource program that provides kids exposure to life skills and mentoring, as well as helping with academics and any issues they may be facing at school or home.

It also organizes service learning, where teens volunteer to help at organizations such as the Rockford Rescue Mission, and it puts together field trips to help show the youth what could be possible for their future. For example, they recently visited a STEM program at Northern Illinois University and they’re planning a trip to the Chicago-Rockford International Airport to learn about careers in aviation.

“You’d be surprised what sticks with them after a while. They may not get the light turned on immediately, but it comes,” Waller said. “We have numerous seniors and adults who come here and tell us about their stories and the history they have with Booker. It’s all rewarding.”

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The center runs an Illinois Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, program that helps pregnant women and families get financial assistance and work toward self-sufficiency. That’s part of a plethora of resources the center offers for people of all ages.

The center serves up to 20 kids a day during the school year and roughly 30-40 during summer, Waller said.

“We have a number of kids who look forward to coming here every day and who do not want to leave at the end of the day,” Waller said.

Miguel Pascual and Aleksandra Micevic of Hard Rock Casino Rockford present a $2,000 check to Karen Waller and Geneva Anderson of the African-American Resource Center at Booker on Tuesday, March 14, 2023, in Rockford. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)

This article is by Kevin Haas. Email him at or follow him on Twitter at @KevinMHaas or Instagram @thekevinhaas