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Our Story

Setting kids up to succeed, make good choices

By Ann McGlynn

Editor’s note: This article appeared in St. Paul Lutheran Church’s Journey magazine.

It’s pretty quiet at the Treat House on this Friday afternoon. It’s about 2:20 p.m., and Ann Schwickerath is sitting in the living room chatting with visitors. There’s a knock on the door – the sign that the quiet is about to come to an energetic end.

“Hi! My name is Alejandro,” the first kiddo in the door says as he shakes the hand of one of the visitors. He is followed by a couple of others, then a few minutes later, a couple of others, and then a few more – until about 30 kids fill the house at 5th and Warren streets in Davenport. “How was your day?” Ann asks one of the kids in the afterschool and summer program she’s led with Carl Callaway, for nearly 25 years. “Stars all week!” she exclaims while checking a school planner. “Howdy, pal!” Ann says to yet another as he comes inside, sheds his coat, and sets down his backpack.

The kids counter with questions like “Can I go do homework?” and “Can I get a treat?” The organization is officially called Project Renewal, but everyone knows it as the Treat House. There’s no sign outside of the two houses and park that make up the campus – because no sign is needed. Ann and Carl live in one of the houses. The free-of-charge program is centered in the other house, with a computer lab, study space, shelves of games, and a well-stocked pantry and refrigerator. With about 50 kids on the roster at any given time, the afterschool program runs from 2:30-5:30 p.m. and the summer program at Sister Concetta Park from 9 a.m.-3 p.m.

“We’re a family here,” says Ann. “We watch out for each other. We help each other out.”

Sister Concetta Bendicente came to Davenport from Chicago to serve from her order, the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ. She moved in to the neighborhood just west of downtown Davenport, near St. Mary’s Church. Sister Concetta often spent time walking through the area. One day, she encountered a group of kids along Fifth Street. They were crying and scared – their grandfather was having a seizure and they thought he was dying.

Sister Concetta set her sights on a condemned house at Fifth and Warren streets. She led the effort to fix it up, and to be a positive presence in the neighborhood, caring for the elderly, homeless, and children. This was in the mid-1970s, when social service agencies were few and far between. Over time, the focus shifted to children. They turned the empty lot across the street into a park.

The name became Project Renewal. The once-condemned house is where Ann and Carl live. The park is Sister Concetta Park. And more recently, the organization purchased an empty house next door to expand its program.

The goal? Educating, building self-esteem, and affirming each child for his or her individual worth. Time there focuses on non-violent conflict resolution skills, interpersonal relationships, constructive use of time, and appropriate social behaviors.

Volunteers are an important part of Project Renewal. Regulars, like Amy and Dixie, huddle in small groups in the upstairs loft to listen to kids read aloud, or help as they finish their math homework for the day

Project Renewal also serves as a learning place for people interested in working in under-resourced communities. For example, a partnership with Notre Dame brings students to Fifth and Warren streets every year. Last summer, kids in the Treat House summer program took swimming lessons, were a part of a weekly Thursday night cookout, volunteered for the Bix at Six practice runs, and participated in the city’s park & rec programs.

With the house filled with chatter, games, homework, and computer time now, Ann and Carl say goodbye to their visitors. It’s a bright and sunny day, and the kids are about to head out to play at the park. “Some of our families are overcoming past or present obstacles or abuses,” Ann said. “We’re hoping to set them up to succeed, to make good decisions, to make good choices.” But most importantly, Ann said, “We’re just a neighbor.”

We Are Unique

1.
We serve children in all grades K-12.
2.
We operate out of a house in the neighborhood, where staff and volunteers also live.
3.
There is no charge for the services we provide families.

Testimonials

I am thankful for all the great things you have done for me through my life that have helped me become who I am today.

-Keshawn

I have so much gratitude for all of the help you have given me since I was little, to my sister too. For years you were the only people I could open up to and be honest with and that was so crucial at the time. The program gave me a safe place to be, and furthermore you were one of the only people in my life to hold me truly accountable and set higher expectations. You have always supported the path I am on and I greatly appreciate that. Thank you for being a stable support in my Life. It really means everything to me.

-Mary

I was honored to be able to come back to the program that made me the responsible man I am today and help with kids who were no different than I was. I wanted to positively impact those kids just like I was positively impacted by the helpers when I was a kid at the Treat House. The summer I spent working with all the kids was an amazing experience that I will never forget. I hope one day that the kids I worked with will come back when they are older and work and help with the program kids and let them know that you can do anything you want to do as long as you stay positive. I am completely blessed Project Renewal was there for me as a young kid from a struggling neighborhood, to feel safe and grow into a graduating college student. I don’t know where I would be without their help. I will be forever grateful for all that they have done for me and continue to do for kids in the area.

-Nick