By Anne Marie Amacher
DAVENPORT — When Janee Jackson was in fourth grade, she and her siblings were sent to her grandmother’s house near Project Renewal during the summer. Jackson remembers watching a young, blonde-haired woman “bounding around” with children from the neighborhood in a nearby park. “She was always smiling.”
That young woman was the director of Project Renewal, Ann Schwickerath.
Jackson decided to check out what they were doing and joined in the summer fun of playing in the park, doing arts and crafts and participating in field trips – with the blessing of family.
“It was so cool,” said Jackson. “There was team building and trust. There was a bond.”
If it hadn’t been for Project Renewal, Jackson believes she would have been “barefoot, pregnant and living on welfare.”
Now an assistant teacher at Head Start in the Rock Island-Milan School District in Illinois and working on her master’s degree online through the University of Illinois, she thanks Schwickerath and Carl Callaway, assistant director, with getting her on the right track.
During her elementary school years she’d go to Project Renewal after school, do her homework and have a snack before getting involved in games and other activities. During high school, she volunteered at Project Renewal. It was a safe place where she knew she was cared for. And it was to Project Renewal that she turned during a crisis at age 15.
“I thought I was pregnant,” Jackson said. Unsure what to do, she went to Callaway. “The first thing he asked me: ‘Who did this to you?’” That led to Jackson telling Callaway about the molestation and abuse she endured from her mom’s live-in boyfriend. “My mom knew and did nothing about it.”
Callaway contacted the police and eventually the abuser was arrested. Jackson testified against him, and he served time in prison.
“Carl and Ann were with me through the nightmares and tears. They were a great presence for me in my high school years. Without them, I believe I would not be doing what I am now. I really believe that.
“They literally were my mom and dad. They stepped up for me. There are no two better people that have opened their doors to so many kids.”
Jackson eventually went to Scott Community College and graduated from St. Ambrose University before getting a full-time job at a newspaper and now in education.
“Janee is a great success story,” says Msgr. Mottet, president of Project Renewal’s Board of Directors.
Schwickerath said she remains with Project Renewal because of love for the kids. Janee and other youths who break from the cycle of poverty because of Project Renewal affirms her faith in what she and Callaway are doing.