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AARP challenge grants change lives, communities across Nebraska for the better
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AARP challenge grants change lives, communities across Nebraska for the better

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AARP Nebraska challenge grants have enhanced trails in several communities across the state.

For more than 60 years, AARP has been working to promote the health and well-being of older Americans through information, advocacy and resources.

Part of this work involves improving the places where people live so they can thrive, no matter their age, disability or background.

A major initiative to accomplish this is through the awarding of annual Community Challenge grants, which are intended to make immediate improvements in communities, encourage promising ideas and jumpstart long-term change.

Through the generosity of these grants, a number of successful projects were completed in Nebraska in 2021, including:

• The transformation of a vacant alleyway into a mini-park in Imperial.

• The conversion of a parking lot in North Omaha into interactive public space.

• The installation of two park benches and two ADA-compliant picnic tables in a community park in Lawrence.

• The support of a Bike Share to Go project in Lincoln. 

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A 2021 challenge grant is supporting an e-bike education project by BikeLNK, Lincoln’s bike share system.

Over the last five years, AARP has awarded 13 grants totaling $123,150 to both urban and rural communities across Nebraska including Hebron, Kearney, Grand Island, Hastings, Haigler, Omaha, Lincoln, Imperial and Lawrence.

“We know that we all want to live in places where there are transportation options, housing is affordable and works for our needs as we age, and that we have access to the outdoors and public spaces and ways to stay connected with loved ones and neighbors,” said Todd Stubbendieck, AARP Nebraska state director. “Ultimately, our vision is a future where urban, suburban and rural communities are great places for all.”

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An interactive installation draws nearby residents to a former vacant lot on 24th St.  The city’s project, completed in 2018, features park-like benches along the bus route and planters for accessible gardening near senior housing.

Community Challenge grants give priority to projects that deliver inclusive solutions meeting the needs of diverse populations. They also reward proposals that directly engage volunteers through permanent or temporary solutions that aim to achieve one or more of the following outcomes:

• Create vibrant public places that improve open spaces, parks and access to other amenities.

• Deliver a range of transportation and mobility options that increase connectivity, walkability, bikeability, wayfinding, access to transportation options and roadway improvements.

• Support a range of housing options that increase the availability of accessible and affordable options.

• Increase civic engagement and demonstrate the tangible value of “Smart Cities” with innovative and tangible projects that bring residents and local leaders together to address challenges and facilitate a greater sense of inclusion.

• Support local recovery from the coronavirus pandemic with an emphasis on economic development, improvements to public spaces, and transportation services.

• Ensure a focus on diversity and inclusion while improving the built and social environment of a community.

• Other community improvements. In addition, AARP wants to hear about local needs and new, innovative ideas for addressing them.

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A 2018 challenge grant to the City of Omaha helped transform a vacant lot into a vibrant community space along 24th St. in North Omaha. Left to right: Chris Wayne and Manne Cook, City of Omaha Planning Department, and Lee Myers, AARP volunteer.

The Community Challenge grant program is part of AARP’s nationwide Livable Communities initiative. Grants are awarded to 501(c)(3), 501(c)(4) and 501(c)(6) nonprofit organizations and government entities in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Other types of organizations are considered on a case-by-case basis. The program provides direct support to all community types, with nearly 40% of past projects benefiting rural communities, 20% supporting suburban locations and 40% improving urban places.

Projects may demonstrate an ability to garner additional funds or support from public and private funders, encourage innovation, overcome local policy barriers, and receive greater overall awareness and engagement.

Grants can range from several hundred dollars for small, short-term activities to several thousand or tens of thousands for larger projects.

One thing is certain, particularly in Nebraska. These grants change lives by improving the communities where they live.

“AARP is pleased to support fresh and innovative approaches from local leaders to make Nebraska’s communities more livable for people of all ages,” Stubbendieck said. “Every year, we are excited to watch these Community Challenge grant projects come to life within a matter of weeks and months, reaping near-immediate benefits for area residents.

“We know that it takes time to build great communities. We hope that these grants will provide an immediate improvement and will be a spark for further community-supported growth and development.”

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