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Solomon Powell, Ann Schwickerath, and Gabriella van Rij at Project Renewal
Davenport, IA

Interview with Project Renewal's Executive Director Ann Schwickerath

We’re a non-profit organization with an afterschool and summer program for children in grades K through 12, providing them with educational support, recreational activities, and social opportunities that they wouldn’t normally have. All the services we provide for our families are at no charge to them. The families we serve are in the low or extremely low income households. Some families are single-parent households, some have both parents, but the parents are working 1 or 2 jobs or are working and going to school, trying to complete or further their education. Those that aren’t doing that perhaps don’t have the mental capability to help their children, however, they know that they want more for their children. And many of these parents are trying to overcome past or present obstacles and abuses in their lives.

A unique aspect of Project Renewal is that, because we allow all ages in our programs, a whole family can come here after school. So, a typical day after school, kids come here, they get help with their homework, they get a treat, and we’re actually known in the neighborhood as “the treat house.” Some of the kids, especially the younger ones, are eating lunch at 11:15 in the morning, and they don’t get here until 3 PM in the afternoon. By that time, they’re pretty hungry, so we provide them with healthy treats and snacks.

As part of the afterschool activities, we strongly encourage and try to motivate the kids to bring their homework and we provide role models, adults and older kids, to help them with their homework. Some kids need that one-on-one support. Some kids just need directions explained and can do the rest. And by doing their homework, that’s how the kids earn privileges to get on computers and play games and other fun things we have going on.

In the summer, we do tons of field trips and opportunities for experiential learning. If kids come here after school and they don’t have homework, we give them something to do.

This is the third year where we’ve had 100 percent retention of our school-aged kids. And right now, we have about 55 kids in our pogroms. I’ve been here 25 years, and it used to be that we’d see 100 kids in a year because there was so much turnover due to families in the area dealing with housing problems or not having stable income to stay where they were, so a lot of people came and went, which is naturally hard on kids, but over the years, that has stabilized, and so some people see our stats and say, “Oh, the number of kids in and out of your programs have gone down,” but that’s actually a great thing because it means more kids are staying with us for longer.

What that means is they’ll start with us at 4th grade or at kindergarten and then most of them will stay with us through to graduation. As kids get older, we help them with job applications, or if they want to go to college or trade school, we help them with their applications for that.

Everything we try to do here is to mimic a family feel, a family atmosphere, and have positive role models that the kids can look up to.

Q: How do you keep up with funding?

Individual donors are our biggest source of funding. I do write grants, but year by year, I have to re-write and reapply and nothing is a given.  

Q: How did Project Renewal get started?

Project Renewal was founded by Sister Concetta Bendicente in the 1970s, who actually grew up in an orphanage in Chicago and made her way to Davenport to work out of the Social Action Department for the diocese. She lived 6 blocks from here and would walk through the neighborhood and see different needs not being met. She saw someone living out of a burnt-out apartment house, kids playing along the railroad tracks unsupervised, and one of the last straws for her was a day when she saw some kids crying their eyes out, and when she stopped to ask what was wrong, they said they thought their dad was dying, so she stopped and found out that he was having an epileptic seizure.

She would walk home each day and she’d see church steeples in the distance and she would wonder why these needs were being unmet when there were people around who could be taking action.

At that time, there weren’t the same number of social services that we have now, so with the help of the community, she bought and fixed up the house next to this one (where Project Renewal is housed) and started living in it, so that she could be a good and positive influence in the neighborhood, and she did a little bit of everything—help with transportation, housing, elderly, kids, etc. And as the years passed and more social services for the area were developed, Project Renewal’s focus narrowed to work directly with children.

For the first 20 years, Project Renewal was run by volunteers who’d make a live-in commitment. Eventually, there was just a lack of people who could commit to being a volunteer fulltime. So the board expanded its fundraising to hire someone who could work fulltime to keep that continuity—because each time new volunteers came in for a summer or a year, they’d need to reestablish relationships. And that personal connection and relationship is so critical and key in service, learning the underlining causes of why people are in certain situations. And that was Sister Concetta Bendicente’s vision: to live in the neighborhood and be that positive presence, not just another social worker in and out of a person’s life.

Q: What are your needs aside from funding?Volunteers who can come and help out on a consistent basis.

To learn more about Project Renewal or to find out how you can help, check out their website:

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