Ann Schwickerath, Executive Director of Project Renewal, is the recipient of a 2023 Nation of Neighbors℠ empowerment award and a $10,000 grant.
Project Renewal was founded by Sister Concetta Bendicente in 1974. Sister Concetta came to Davenport, Iowa from Chicago to serve from her order, the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ. “She moved into downtown Davenport and immediately noticed the need for a positive presence in the neighborhood,” said Ann. “And that need still exists today.”
Sister Concetta led the effort to turn a condemned house into a safe and loving space for children to grow. In 1989, Project Renewal purchased land across the street and turned it into a park. It was affectionately named Sister Concetta Park.
The organization purchased the house next door to the original home in 2002 to further expand the program. It currently serves as the youth center. Ann has lived in the original home (along with another full-time staff member) since 1993.
“We are unique,” Ann shared proudly. “We operate and live in the neighborhood we serve. We serve all grades, and all services are free!”
Project Renewal works with all members of the neighborhood, but its focus is serving youth in grades kindergarten through 12th grade. The organization provides after-school and summer programming. “We have children that are with us for every grade,” shared Ann. “It allows us to build deep, trusting relationships that can last a lifetime.”
The after-school program helps children with academics, life skills, recreational activities, and social/emotional skills. Learning continues in the summer, breakfast and lunch are served, and children attend weekly field trips. “We help build self-esteem, support academics, and give experiences and opportunities youth may not have otherwise,” said Ann.
Project Renewal employs four full-time and three part-time employees along with many volunteers and seasonal staff. The organization is in the initial stage of an expansion project to increase its physical footprint to increase opportunities for children and expand staffing and awareness in the community. It is a three-phase approach that began with purchasing a neglected, unsafe rental unit in the neighborhood.
The new space will serve as a health and wellness center as well as a space for STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) activities. Two apartments will be added to the second floor to allow two more staff members to reside in the neighborhood they serve.
The Nation of Neighbors grant will help purchase the furnishings needed for the new health and wellness center and enhance current programs. “We are growing in a good and cautious way,” shared Ann. “Every generous donation builds more opportunities for our youth.” After the new center is up and running, renovations will begin on the existing youth center, followed by timely maintenance and modernization of the original site.
“I love planting seeds in children’s lives and watching them grow,” shared Ann. “Some children even call me mom – what an honor it is to receive that title!”