Visit Project Renewal's Treat House after school and you'll see what director Ann Schwickerath '98 calls "organized chaos." A less discerning eye might miss the "organized" piece of the scene, though: 30-some kids sit, slouch and sprawl elbow-to-elbow as they chatter, do homework, eat snacks, play video games and clown around. It's noisy, cluttered and smells like feet.
Organized? Only a pro could tell.
And after 19 years, Schwickerath is a pro. As the accidental director of this after-school and summer program for Davenport's inner city kids-she went from an intern to director overnight, when the previous director unexpectedly stepped down -Schwickerath has played Treat House mom since 1993. Accident or not, she says it's the only job for her now.
It would be a tough sell for many people. Situated across from a one-time crack house (it was raided less than five years ago), down the alley from a soup kitchen on one corner and transitional housing on the other, and two houses away from a facility for court-ordered rehab for delinquent teenage boys, working at the Treat House might seem a little ... Dangerous? Schwickerath shrugs.
"You can run into trouble anywhere," she said. "This is a safe haven."
Project Renewal was created in 1973 by Sister Concetta Bendicente, PHJC, at Warren and West Fifth streets in Davenport. Disturbed by the large number of unsupervised children roaming the neighborhood day and night, she wanted to give the children structure, caring and a bite to eat. That bite to eat spawned the nickname, the Treat House. But it's clear the place-and the resident mom-provide sustenance on many levels.
"I remember every moment a child has sat on my lap and said, 'I wish you were my mom,'" Schwickerath said. "They all come to us with different emotions. Maybe they didn't get enough sleep. Maybe their house was raided last night. Maybe they didn't have dinner and are really hungry. But when they get here, they know what to expect. This is a home and we are a family."
The family includes assistant director Carl Calloway, several SAU student volunteers and volunteers from churches, schools and other organizations throughout the greater community. Three or four paid interns also assist during the full-time summer program, as did Schwickerath when she first came on board. Newly graduated with a University of Iowa social work degree and a burgeoning sense of social justice, Schwickerath brought her brand of quiet progress to Project Renewal.
As Project Renewal transitioned from a part-time playtime program to Schwickerath's family-style home with structure and rules, she began to get the urge to go back to school to pursue art education. She chose St. Ambrose, she said, because she didn't want to leave Treat House. Her choice turned out to be serendipitous.
"The social justice mission resonated for me," she said. "And the faculty and staff were so supportive. Still are. They prepare students who make great interns and volunteers here."
Schwickerath cites a wonderful synergy between the SAU students and Project Renewal's inner city kids.
"Our kids have maybe never known someone who's worked to achieve their potential and dreamed big," she said. "It's hard to break the cycle of their poverty without showing them what can be. They won't believe it can happen. St. Ambrose students reinforce that it can, just by being here."
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