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Some of the Winners Were ...

We followed-up on 2017 AARP Community Challenge grantees. Take a look at what they achieved!

  • A resident of Port Orford, Oregon, sits on a newly installed stone bench.
    Photo courtesy Port Orford Street Revitalization Project

    Have a Seat and Stay for a While

    To encourage pedestrian traffic, the very small city of Port Orford, Oregon (population 1,159, average age 56), installed seating with attached planters. The benches five the business district a boost and "provide a needed place for people to rest, people watch, talk to friends and enjoy the town," explains Karen Auburn, president of the Port Orford Street Revitalization Association. A construction crew from a nearby correctional facility built four bench-planter combos. Residents and local organizations have adopted the bench-planters and are responsible for their maintenance. The electric company is watering the plants. High school students made  plaques to recognize the inmates for their work and AARP for helping to fund the building supplies. Adds Auburn: "Our nonprofit Revitalization Association is so dependent on grants. This successful project supported by AARP is so important in our small, poor community."

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  • A FitLot exercise tent in New Orleans, Louisiana
    photo courtesy fitlot

    NOLA Gets Fit

    A FitLot is an outdoor fitness park that makes the benefits of indoor exercise training free and accessible to the public. At the FitLot park in New Orleans, Louisiana, coaches provided 36 hours of free training to, says an organizer, “an extremely dedicated group of seniors in a community that suffers from one of the largest health disparity gaps in the country.” AARP Community Challenge grant funding also helped to construct a footbridge and walking path from the community fitness lot to the Lafitte Greenway, an active rails-to-trails pedestrian path.

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  • Residents of Cutler Bay, Florida, show off the senior center's new exercise equipment.
    Photo courtesy town of cutler bay

    Exercise Equipment Anyone Can Use

    An AARP Community Challenge grant made it possible for Cutler Bay, Florida, to install four pieces of "universally accessible" fitness equipment (three of them wheelchair accessible) under a shade canopy in Cutler Ridge Park. “This project is the perfect combination of our efforts to increase available services to our active adult community, and our efforts to increase access to fitness amenities throughout the Town,” said Mayor Peggy Bell.

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  • Four women plant sidewalk trees in Jersey City, New Jersey
    Photo by Benjamin Norman

    Turning a Gray Space Green

    In Jersey City, New Jersey, residents, students and volunteers (including from the Americorps VISTA program) planted trees and other greenery in a stark public housing complex as part of a beautification effort called The Tree Lovers Crew. The power of plants, and planting them, served a similar purpose in Marion Gardens, a public housing complex in Jersey City, New Jersey. There, also in the fall of 2017, dozens of volunteers — including residents, high school students and Mayor Steven Fulop — came out to plant trees, shrubs and flowers. “The planting area was entirely concrete with a white cement wall topped with barbed wire, which made the area feel wholly unwelcoming and seemed to encourage litter and vandalism," says Brian Platt, the city's director of innovation. "The tree planting was meant to bring in more green space, allow for more water filtration by increasing the pervious surface, and promote a healthy and clean neighborhood."  

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  • A welcome sign to the Bark Park in Gulfport, Mississippi
    Photo by William Colgin

    Building a (Bark) Park After the Storm

    After Hurricane Katrina nearly leveled the Bayou View West neighborhood in Gulfport, Mississippi, in 2005, the Federal Emergency Management Agency bought out the remaining residents and handed the property over to the city. Funded by an AARP Community Challenge grant Gulfport’s first dog park, the Bark Park, attracted more than 200 happy people and dogs on its opening day in 2017. ("Our Bark Park continues to grow in notoriety and popularity. It is constantly being used," says David L. Parker, Gulfport's economic development director.) If the area floods again, homes won’t be at risk. And once the park dries out, people and pups can return. 

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  • A bicycle lane demonstration project in Wilmette, Illinois
    Photo courtesy Go Green Wilmette

    Bicycle Safety

    Supplies for this protected bike land demonstration by the nonprofit Go Green Wilmette in Wilmette, Illinois, were bought with funds from an AARP Community Challenge grant. On the shopping list: Wikiblock Koda Planers and a Diodati bike stencil (the design downloads are at Better, plastic planter inserts and, in honor of autumn, pumpkins. Board member and physician Anne Nagle reports that since the project, Wilmette has earned bronze-level recognition from the Bike Friendly Community Award from the League of American Bicyclists. "I believe the AARP grant and pop-up demonstration showed the committee we're commited to making our streets safe for people of all ages and abilities." 

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  • Volunteers set up a community garden
    photo courtesy knox

    Growing a Healthier Community

    We’ve been noticing the trend for a while now, but it was confirmed to us during the inaugural year (2017) of the AARP Community Challenge, our “quick action” grant program. So many of the applicants were seeking funds for creating raised-bed gardens. As cleverly stated by the editors of Popular Mechanics, “raised garden beds take the hassle out of horticulture.” By raising the soil level off the ground, such gardening structures “reduce the back-bending effort needed for jobs such as planting, weeding and harvesting.” Among the raised-bed-seeking applicants AARP did assist was one from the Broad Street Community Garden in Hartford, Connecticut, where staff and volunteers from a nonprofit called Knox built raised garden beds that children, people with disabilities and older adults can access while sitting or standing. Says Ron Pitz, the nonprofit's executive director: "These new raised beds along with the repaired fence, picnic table and shade pergola have enhanced the garden empowered its gardeners to lead healthy, sustainable lives."

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  • A before-and-after clean-up scene of a bus stop location in Jackson Hole, Wyoming
    Photo courtesy Senior Center of Jackson Hole

    A Bus Stop Makeover

    AARP grant funding helped the senior center in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, clear weeds and trash from a bus stop with no seating and install a bench and landscaping.  Several dozen older adults and people with disabilities live across the street from the bus stop. Also nearby is a housing complex where many young families live. "All of these residents will benefit from having a safer, more comfortable and aesthetically pleasing place to wait for the bus, and it will enourage them to more fully participate in the larger Jackson Hole community," wrote Becky Zaist, executive director of the Senior Center of Jackson Hole, in the center's grant application. With the funding granted and the cleanup complete, neighbors came out to help landscape the area. Next on the wish list: Installing a bus shelter.

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  • A calligraphy class in Philadelphia's Chinatown
    Photo Courtesy PCDC

    Hosting a Cultural Exchange

    Among the goals of the Go, Go, Go: Making Our Community More Livable project in the Chinatown district of downtown Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was to enable residents to build friendships in a linguistically and culturally accessible way. (One out of 5 Chinatown residents is an older adult and nearly 90 percent of those individuals have limited English proficiency.) In 2017, the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation hosted weekly painting classes and launched the Chinatown Garden Club. More than 150 people — ranging in age from 3 to 87 — participated in the programs. The turnout helped prove the need for a shared community space. “Chinatown has grown significantly over the past decade, introducing an influx of high-income young urban professionals, but still does not have its own safe and accessible public space — a community center, library, rec center or park — to build community among its diverse residents,” notes John Chin, executive director of the PCDC. “The Go, Go, Go project demonstrated that accessible community events and clubs start important dialogues between disparate groups and unite them in taking ownership of their neighborhood.” In 2018, the PCDC launched a program with storytelling sessions and calligraphy classes (shown) that, says deputy director Rachel Mak, are "bridging our divided community and preserving our community's identity and stories."

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  • A crosswalk demonstration project in Bozeman, Montana
    Photo courtesy Western Transportation Institute

    Pedestrians Crossing

    An AARP Community Challenge grant helped the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University and the city streets department of Bozeman, Montana, create demonstration crosswalks, painted illusionary speed bumps, mock medians (made from straw wattles) and a "mobile tool kit" for taking traffic-calming pop-up projects on the road. 

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