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.”