Every year, youth from the greater-Fremont area receive grants from the Fremont Area Community Foundation enabling them to make a difference in their communities.
The ideas are always there, but without financial backing, the ingenuity remains untapped.
Fortunately, thanks to the Foundation’s Youth Philanthropy Contest, children and teens have exactly what they need to turn these ideas into realities.
“Once again, dozens of area youth embraced our challenge and used their creativity, talents and compassion to identify ways to make a difference in their communities,” said Melissa Diers, executive Director of the foundation.
From planting a community serenity garden, making soft tie-blankets for kids in need of comfort, refurbishing the home of a single-parent family, introducing kids to the fun of STEM projects and preparing meals for needy families; this year’s contest ideas will inevitably benefit not only certain people, but the community as a whole.
The Youth Philanthropy Contest invites area youth in grades K-12 to propose a project that will better their community. Once an application is approved for funding, youth have 9 months to execute their idea.
Eligible projects take place in the Foundation’s granting area – which is the greater Dodge County area, are charitable in nature and focus on public interests or serving the common good. During each of the past two contests, up to seven ideas were selected to receive a grant from the Foundation.
This year, however, 11 project ideas were submitted and all were so good that the Foundation decided to provide funding for all of them.
“It’s been very exciting to see the contest grow, every year we are so impressed by the creativity the youth have,” Diers said. “They keep surprising us with imaginative ideas to give back to their community and help those who are in need.
It gives us a chance to see just how well kids today understand that there are people in our world and own community who can benefit from some help.”
One project, spearheaded by the confirmation class of Elim Lutheran and St. Paul’s Lutheran Churches in Hooper—called “Comfort Bags for Kids at The Bridge”—is already underway.
Wednesday evening, confirmation students and their teachers delivered the first batch of comfort bags to Suzanne Smith, executive director of The Bridge (formerly Domestic Abuse/Sexual Assault Crisis Center). The bags — containing handmade fleece tie-blankets, a children’s book, hygiene items and a small plush animal — will be given to children arriving at the facility and hopefully provide “something positive and comforting for the children to keep as they find shelter and safety,” says the application.
“We are so grateful to you for this wonderful gift,” said Smith, who treated the group to a tour of the facility and shared information about the people served by the organization—oftentimes children, through a released statement.
Although all projects are excellent and unique in their own right, Diers mentioned that Trinity Lutheran Schools and Archbishop Bergan Catholic Schools “Building Hope” project really caught her eye. The project consists of the schools’ after-school STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) Club providing STEM Kits for children staying at Care Corps Family Services.
The kits are equipped with K’Nex sets so that children can build structures and come up with innovative ideas and concepts. The goal is to provide Care Corps with 20 kits, each containing a small K’Nex bridge and a set of 50 engineering challenges, created by students of STEM Club.
“We aren’t trying to create a bunch of engineers here,” said Brett Meyer, STREAM coordinator for Trinity Lutheran Schools. “What we are trying to do is help these kids build confidence in their abilities to create, innovate, imagine, invent and develop those critical thinking skills … With this they will be able to get lost in their imagination and not get lost in the stress of their situations.”
For more information about the Youth Philanthropy Contest, and to view a full list of projects with descriptions, people are encouraged to visit http://www.facfoundation.org/community-involvement/youth-philanthropy-contest.html, come to the Foundation office located in the First State Bank building at 1005 E. 23rd Street, Suite #2, or by calling (402) 721-4252.
Tammy Real-McKeighan — News Editor
It was a poignant moment for Jonah Renter.
In November, the Hope Center for Kids-Fremont partnered with a local church to host a dinner on the Thursday before Thanksgiving. Hope Center kids and their families attended.
“We had 200 people come and we served them,” Renter said. “It was really touching to see everybody from all different backgrounds come together under one roof and have a meal together and have fun and laugh. It was a pretty cool night.”
Life at the Hope Center has been pretty cool in general for Renter, who became the Fremont site director last month.
Renter enjoys serving an average of 65 youth in grades fifth through 12 who come to the center each weekday. Youth who attend have opportunities for homework help and recreational opportunities.
They can learn skills necessary to gain and keep employment.
Renter’s involvement with the Hope Center began a couple years ago.
Before that, the Omaha-born man was raised in Wisconsin and then lived eight years in Iowa. Renter was a respite worker with Imagine the Possibilities in Oskaloosa, Iowa, where he worked with individuals of all ages with disabilities, teaching life skills including money management and basic cleaning and cooking.
Renter came to Midland University on a soccer scholarship.
It was there he met his future wife Montana Hinrichs in the winter of 2014 at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes event.
Earlier that year, the Hope Center was launched in Fremont by joining with the Summer Lunch Program.
Students who enjoyed the summer program opted to try the afterschool program. Sessions first took place in Fremont Nazarene Church.
The local center traces its roots to the late Rev. Ty and Terri Schenzel, who opened The Hope Center for Kids in Omaha in 1998.
Schenzel, a former Fremonter, wanted to open a site in his hometown.
In January 2015, Ty Schenzel emailed his longtime friend, Troy Renter, asking for prayer.
Troy Renter encouraged his son, Jonah, to interview for a job at the Fremont site.
Jonah Renter got an interview and a part-time job as a program assistant, while still in college.
As a program assistant, Jonah worked with middle and high school students, tutoring them in multiple subjects. He gave instruction on team building and social skills.
Hinrichs began volunteering at the local Hope Center in the fall of 2015 and interning there in the spring of 2016. As time passed, Renter and Hinrichs began getting to know each other better at the center.
Their relationship blossomed and they married in June 2017 in the backyard of Fremont’s Hope Center at 555 W. 23rd St.
This year, Renter was also a student teacher at Fremont Middle School from January through May.
“I taught in the special education department with Heidi Melcher and also the history department with Lee Jennings,” Renter said. “It was a wonderful experience and I learned so much from the teachers there about classroom management, discipline and professionalism.”
Renter graduated in May with a degree in secondary education with endorsements in history and special education and was offered a full-time position as high school coordinator at Fremont’s Hope Center.
In that role, Renter taught classes in money management, social skills and how to get and keep a job. He organized mock interviews for students and local site visits with organizations in the community.
When the site director position opened, he applied and got the job.
Renter manages day-to-day operations at the local Hope Center. He also manages three full-time and two part-time staff and oversees youth. He meets with community partners and strives to create new partnerships with business leaders and other non-profit organizations.
One of his favorite parts of the job is working with the youth at the center.
“It’s a happy, noisy place,” Renter said.
On weekdays during the school year, the program starts at about 4 p.m. The Hope Center partners with the Food Bank of the Heartland to provide snack, which are basically small types of cold meals.
Volunteers and staff help tutor students during a homework time, which lasts for one hour for high school students and 45 minutes for middle school pupils.
“We check their grades monthly and set goals for them to accomplish with their grades and they receive prizes or incentives,” he said.
After the homework period, students can have free time during which they can play sports like soccer, basketball or football, or video games. They can play on computers, too. The center has 20 Chromebooks that youth can use for homework or play.
Next comes nightly classes. High school students have classes in financial literacy (money management) and employability skills. The center pays for students to take a Gallup Strengthsfinder test which can show them their top five strengths as individuals.
Students learn how to use their strengths in school or the workplace and on teams—and how to work with others who have different types of strengths, he said.
Community leaders of businesses and organizations conduct mock interviews with students. The leaders grade how well the students handle the interviews and provide feedback.
Younger students in grades fifth through eighth learn to work as a team and on social skills. They also are involved in Strengthsfinder questionnaires and EducationQuest (career exploration). Students can find out what they’re interested in and what type of schooling would be necessary for them to pursue their interests.
Hope Center sessions last until 6:30 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Sessions last from 3-6:30 p.m. Wednesdays and 4-6 p.m. Fridays.
“Fridays are just a fun time to hang out and relax,” he said.
Renter hopes to see programs grow and for more community members to join the Hope Center to create even more impact by sharing the love of Christ with students and showing them that they do have hope and a future.
He enjoys his work.
“I get to do what I love every day and I get to serve the Lord and work with my wife every day,” he said. “I like making an impact on the community and helping kids succeed in school and in life, in general, and showing kids their full potential and how successful they can be.”
Faculty members at Midland University recently pitched in to make the holiday season a little bit brighter for children at Care Corps in Fremont.
The faculty members came together to give kids at Care Corps, which provides housing opportunities for those in need, some holiday cheer by way of the most quintessential Christmas gifts for kids, toys.
The toy drive was spearheaded by Professor Connie Taylor and other members of the school’s Faculty Senate. All in all the group donated 42 toys for children from toddlers to teenagers.
The idea for those toy drive came to Taylor while she was shopping earlier this year.
“My husband and I were just shopping at Costco and were walking along and my husband saw this toy, and he said ‘That is incredible, I would have loved that as a child,” she said. “So I said let’s get it.”
While perusing the aisles, Taylor saw four costumes that she thought would be great for children although she didn’t have any young children to give them to at the time.
“Our son is 24, so we didn’t have anyone to give it to,” she said. “But I’ve joked with people that most people buy a toy for a cause and what I had to do was find a cause for this toy.”
That simple gesture led to the toy drive that provided a variety of toys for the children including Nerf footballs, a door mounted basketball hoop, board games including Yahtzee, Sorry, and Chutes and Ladders as well as the Defenders & Heroes multi-adventure uniform set that Taylor had first seen while shopping.
The toy drive began shortly after Thanksgiving, faculty members brought in the new, unwrapped toys for the children through December 13th.
“I pitched the idea to the Faculty Senate to see if it would be something that they would be interested in sponsoring, and the other members were very supportive,” Taylor said. “My vice chair Molly Zimmer was also very helpful in schlepping the toys up to my office and getting them where they needed to be.”
Following her pitch to her fellow Faculty Senate members, Taylor and the other faculty members needed to find an organization to donate the toys to, because they wanted to help kids locally.
“Brenda Wilberding was the one who connected us to Care Corps,” Taylor said. “We really wanted these toys to go locally to a local organization and she connected us with Care Corps and said they had a lot of families there and we were trying to make a lot of children’s Christmas’s a little bit brighter.”
While the Midland toy drive provided children with toys that brighten their holiday season, Care Corps has also been receiving an assortment of donations from the public that benefit residents in a variety of ways.
The agency is currently holding their 25 Days of Christmas Campaign that runs through the rest of this week leading up to Christmas.
According to Morgan Bridgman-Putnam, director of development and public relations for Care Corps, items in high demand that Bridgman said the public could consider donating include: Deodorant, paper towels, liquid laundry detergent, liquid body wash, ranch dressing, ground beef, potatoes, sugar, flour, flip flops, bleach, all-purpose cleaner, hand soap, razors, shaving cream, towels, over-the-counter medicine, powdered milk, antibacterial wipes, coffee, zippy bags, aluminum foil, chicken packages, plastic gloves and pillows.
All donated items can be dropped off directly at Care Corps, 723 N. Broad St.
Every little bit of generosity from the public makes a difference, Bridgman said.
“Care Corps is about meeting basic needs, we don’t want families living on the streets and this is an essential service in our community, to make sure that people and families are cared for and have their basic needs met.”