Ms. DeCastris holds a Bachelors Degree in the Biological Sciences and a Masters Degree in Environmental Policy Administration/Geography from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (SIU). Valeri is retired from the state of Illinois and is a Rockford native. She managed analytical research laboratories at SIU and worked as a legislative researcher for the Illinois General Assembly in Springfield. Valeri held technical positions in the sciences with the State of Illinois in Springfield and Rockford. She returned to Rockford in 1995 after a two-decade absence and moved into her grandparents’ south Rockford home that she and her husband Dave Beccue restored. Her family has lived since in the home since 1923 and south Rockford before that. In 1996, Valeri took a position as SWIFTT’s first Executive Director. She has taught science at SIU and Rock Valley College and has a long history of notable volunteer work throughout Illinois. She is the founder and president of the Ethnic Village Neighborhood Association which has been instrumental in beautifying and improving south Rockford. She initiated and coordinated an Italian Sister City with Rockford (Ferentino, Italy) in 2006. A state grant that she wrote for decorative lights around her parish, St. Anthony of Padua in south Rockford led to the creation of its award-winning bronze statuary garden. She has been involved in many community planning activities that have significantly improved Rockford. She was instrumental in planning Midway Village’s Immigration Exhibit (It’s largest) and creating Immigrants Park at Winnebago and Cunningham Streets. Her volunteerism has been recognized with several awards including a National Make a Difference Day Award, Crusader Clinic Spirit of Caring Award, Rockford’s Italian Hall of Fame as well as those from SWIFTT, the Rockford Park District, and Friends Neighborhood House among others. Valeri and Dave are urban pioneers and are continually striving to improve their neighborhood and city.