By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — For 45 years, Project Renewal has made a presence in the inner-city neighborhood where it is located, helping those in need with a listening ear and more.
The late-Father Marvin Mottet thought it was important to have a ministry of presence in the neighborhood and undertook that goal as head of the social action department for the Diocese of Davenport. That presence continues through Project Renewal’s outreach to youths.
Sister Concetta Benedicente, PHJC, of Chicago heeded the priest’s call. Ann Schwickerath, current director of Project Renewal, said Sr. Concetta lived at the convent at St. Mary Parish in Davenport and walked down Fifth Street to learn about the wants and needs of the neighbors. She found kids playing on the railroad tracks and someone living in a burned-out apartment. She decided she needed a closer presence, so her religious order bought a condemned red brick house at Fifth and Warren Streets along the railroad tracks. From there, Project Renewal was born.
Schwickerath said fewer social services existed in the 1970s. So Sr. Concetta offered to help obtain transportation and food for the elderly, children and the homeless. “Fr. Mottet had a vision to be a good neighbor,” Schwickerath said.
As various social service organizations started up, Project Renewal decided to focus on children.
The red brick home is still owned by Project Renewal, where its director lives. In 2002, the organization bought the house next door, now called the “Treat House” or “Youth House,” where all after-school and summer break activities are held. Across the street is Sr. Concetta Park, which features a Marv Mottet Memorial Patio.
Schwickerath began working at Project Renewal in 1993 as a summer intern and was appointed director in 1994. “It’s been a long summer,” she laughed.
At Project Renewal, students in grades K-12 are taught life skills, get help with homework, have a snack and engage in various activities. They arrive after school from schools in Davenport, and knock on the door. Schwickerath or one of the adult volunteers answers “come in.” Students learn that they cannot enter someone’s home without being invited in. They also learn how to speak respectfully with people of various ages.
They get a snack and wind down before doing homework. “If they do not have homework, we will find something (education-related) for them to do.” That might be math flash cards or reading out loud to a volunteer. Afterwards, they can talk with a volunteer about school or home life, play on the computer or go outside when the weather cooperates. The house is open until 5:30 p.m. each school day, but not on days when schools are closed due to bad weather.
During the summer, Project Renewal is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. to provide educational and experiential learning. Breakfast and lunch are served. Education involves reading, math and other subjects to keep students’ minds sharp. Experiential learning involves games, crafts, field trips and guest speakers.
Volunteers are very important to Project Renewal’s success, Schwickerath said. A good number of volunteers are students at St. Ambrose University in Davenport. “Some are here for work study placement, others for internships and others because they just want to help.” Community volunteers, including retirees, also help.
When Schwickerath first started, turnover of youths was high. “Over the last decade we have grown and retained our youths much longer.” When the youths reach high school, volunteer Amy Kersten has taken them under her wing to prepare them for real life and the future. She helps them fill out job applications and shows them how to find a job. She arranges for speakers and takes students on tours of community and four-year colleges. She teaches students that high school is not the end. “There is more out there after high school,” Schwickerath said.
Project Renewal is supported by grant money and private donations. Its annual Fit Fest (see accompanying box) also benefits the house.
St. Ambrose freshman Ariana Alcantar of Chicago knew she wanted to be involved in the community and found out about Project Renewal through the university’s Bee Careers. “I love working with kids,” she said.
Her volunteer work has made a bigger impact on her than she thought it would. “They have someone to talk to. We are seen as role models. It means a lot to us,” the biology and pre-med major said.
Freshman Alyssa Orona of Chicago said she chose to do her work study at Project Renewal. “I want to help kids so much that this fit me perfectly. I believe in focusing on literacy in children and I am able to help do that. I love it here,” said the social work major. “I feel I am making an impact.”
Project Renewal will sponsor its annual Fit–Fest on April 13 from 9-11 a.m. at Project Renewal, 906 W. 5th St., Davenport.
Fit-Fest is a series of 10 challenger/obstacles to complete with a partner, said Ann Schwickerath, director of Project Renewal. Obstacles will be physical activity or sports drills with options for people of all abilities to participate. Addition activities will be held in Sr. Concetta Park across the street.
All proceeds from the event will benefit Project Renewal.
For more information, visit www.projectrenewal.net or call (563) 324-0800. To register, sign up online at www.getmeregistered.com and click on Project Renewal. Cost is $20 for ages 13 and older; free for 12 and under.