By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — For the past 30 years, students from Notre Dame University have had the opportunity to spend the summer mentoring youths at Project Renewal.
Project Renewal Executive Director Ann Schwickerath views the opportunity as mutually beneficial. “They support our mission to help children and families, and they’re getting school credits and hands-on experience.”
Each year, undergraduate students at the South Bend, Indiana, university have an opportunity to sign up for a summer service project through Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns. Individuals and groups receive assignments to serve in an underserved, disadvantaged community, with stipends and scholarships provided by 120 Notre Dame Alumni Clubs across the country. The Notre Dame Alumni Club of the Quad Cities (NDQC) has sponsored a summer service project participant at Project Renewal since the early 1990s. “It is a fabulous program,” said Katie MacLennan, an NDQC member. “It is very similar to what was called Urban Plunge in my day, but this one centers around incorporating Catholic social teaching and learning.”
Located in Davenport’s central city, Project Renewal offers underprivileged students in grades K-12 the opportunity to learn life skills, get help with homework, enjoy healthy snacks and engage in various activities.
During the school year, students stop by after school. Project Renewal expands its hours during the summer, offering educational and experiential learning opportunities and healthy meals. Project Renewal utilizes additional staff and volunteers during the summer to accommodate the expanded hours, Schwickerath said.
The summer project participant lives at Project Renewal for 10 weeks and works alongside summer staff and volunteers to provide support to the kids. This year’s participant, Lauren Skolos, said she helped with daily activities including preparing and serving breakfast, helping students with math worksheets and daily readings, playing outdoors with the youths and supervising lunch and field trips. She also assisted with daily cleaning and sanitization of the site. “Overall, my primary responsibility was to be a mentor and positive role model for each and every child throughout the course of the summer,” she wrote in a post-project essay.
Living on-site offers the Notre Dame participants a broader understanding of the people served by Project Renewal. “They become immersed in the neighborhood and the lives of the children,” Schwickerath said. In return, the Notre Dame students offer youths an expanded worldview, the sense that they are loved and that people care about them. “No one can have too much of that.”
For Skolos, the summer service solidified her desire to work with children in need after graduation. “This experience has taught me to always be compassionate, understanding, and willing to lend a hand or an ear, because you never truly know what someone is going through. It has also instilled in me that children are truly the basis of our society, and deserve all of the love and support they can get in order to achieve long-term happiness, success, and bettering of the community around them.”