Renewal Day shines a light on people with disabilities

Barb Arland-Fye
Volunteer Brenda Fox and participant Paige enjoy singing and moving to one of the uplifting songs during the Renewal Day for persons with disabilities Feb. 24 at Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport. Organizers dedicated this year’s retreat to the memory of Oliver Rentmeester, a kindergartner and parishioner who died of cancer Oct. 23.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — Organizers of this year’s Renewal Day for persons with disabilities dedicated the retreat to the memory of Oliver Rentmeester, a kindergartner who died of cancer Oct. 23. Oliver’s family belongs to Our Lady of Victory Parish, which organizes and hosts the annual retreat.

Two months shy of his 6th birthday, little Oliver demonstrated an innate sense of kindness that inspired the retreat’s theme, “Be the light,” said Karen Kilburg, the lead organizer. A paper star and paper candle, both green for Oliver’s favorite color, decorated a framed photo of the smiling boy that sat on a cabinet during the retreat in the parish hall. Both decorations represented the craft projects that participants and their helpers created during the retreat.

Kilburg shared the story of a little candle’s sense of insignificance amidst a collection of larger, more beautiful and colorful candles, until all of them were lit to illuminate a darkened room. Each of the candles shed the same light. “God created all of us to give light in a dark world. Like the little candle, we can all give light and brighten the world,” Karen said. “We need to be the light to others.”


Participants, their helpers and all of the volunteers took that message to heart as they created and decorated names for their tables, colored paper candles, prayed, sang and danced to the music. They also sang Happy Birthday to participant Maddie Wright, whose 25th birthday was coming up in two days. She blushed and smiled. Maddie loves the interaction with other participants at Renewal Day and doing crafts. She and her parents, Kari and Gary Wright, are members of Our Lady of Victory. Maddie imagines that Renewal Day may be even better than the Christian Experience Weekends (CEW) in which her mom participates.

In the kitchen, parishioner Jan Tappa, a retired restaurant owner, led volunteers in preparing sandwiches, chicken noodle soup, salad and dessert for the gathering. She has volunteered at the annual retreat since the beginning, in 2005. “You think you’re doing it for them (the participants) but the feeling that they give back to us is so much more enjoyable,” Jan said.

Parishioners Andrew Riesberg, 16, and his brother, Isaac, 12, both volunteer because they enjoy assisting participants, making crafts and listening to the music.  “It’s fun to help people,” Isaac said.

For Christina Fox, volunteering at Renewal Day is a family affair. Her mom, Brenda Fox, is Karen’s sister. Both of them assist Karen and so does Karen’s mom, Janis Kilburg, who was unable to help this year because of illness. Christina said she enjoys making connections every year. She especially appreciates the sense of community, “knowing that Christ is in this room” and looks forward to the memories made every year.

“It’s very nice to see other families and how they interact with their adult children,” said parishioner Kevin McDonough, as he sat during lunch with his son, Danny, 28, who has autism. “We’re all here together, sharing similar concerns for our children who are adults.” That sense of community is vital to families, he believes, so that they don’t feel alone in their journey with special needs.

Parishioners Lynn Olds and her husband Chris are longtime Renewal Day volunteers. “I just find joy in seeing these adults sing and dance. This year the feeling is amplified because I have a (4-year-old) grandson recently diagnosed with autism,” she said. Lynn gave a talk at the retreat titled “How the stars in the sky and people are alike and important in our lives!”

Her talk explored the wonder, meaning and even the science of stars and the God who created them. Each star is different, just like the people in the room at the retreat. “No one in this room looks, acts, talks or thinks like anyone else. We have all been given different gifts,” Olds said in her talk. “Have you ever heard the saying, ‘Reach for the stars?’ It means that nothing is impossible. It means that if we try, we can do hard things … Family, friends, caregivers and other people help us to be the most amazing people we can be. We need God to show us our gifts so we can be awesome in this world.” She encouraged participants to “Show your light and goodness to everybody you meet.”

Parishioner Amanda Clarke, a wife and mother of five children, also gave a talk focused on letting “Jesus light up your world!” She shared passages from Genesis and the Gospels of John and Matthew to encourage and inspire participants. “Let Jesus be your guiding light, showing love and kindness wherever you go,” she said. “Let us be the reason that someone smiles or feels loved.”

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