Two people in red shirts working on a garden bed.

AARP helping RI communities become more livable with Challenge Grants – Herb Weiss 

By Herb Weiss, contributing writer on aging issues

Photo:  Volunteer grandmas working in a straw bale garden, courtesy West End Community Center

One might say that the Washington, DC-based AARP puts its money where its mouth is. The nation’s largest aging advocacy group recently announced that it is investing $3.6 million in 310 Community Challenge grants for quick-action projects to help these communities become more livable. AARP says its grants will improve public places; transportation; housing; digital connections; diversity, equity and inclusion; and more, with an emphasis on the needs of adults aged 50 and older.

AARP defines a livable community is one that is safe and secure, and it offers choices in where to live and how to get around. A livable community enhances a person’s independence and allows residents to age in place. It also provides a variety of opportunities for its residents of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds to participate in the community’s civic, economic, and social life.

And, a livable community also equitably serves residents of all ages, ability levels, incomes, races, ethnicities, and other backgrounds. 

“These grants continue to lead to long-term, positive changes in communities across the country,” said Nancy LeaMond, AARP Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy & Engagement Officer in a June 28 statement announcing the grant recipients funded in all 50 states, Washington, DC, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  

“This year, we are proud to support the largest number of projects in the program’s seven-year history, which will improve residents’ quality of life through tangible changes so everyone can thrive as they age,” says LeaMond.

AARP Community Challenge accepted applications across three different grant opportunities, including existing flagship grants in addition to new capacity-building microgrants for improving walkability and community gardens. New demonstration grants will focus on improving transportation systems, with funding support provided by Toyota Motor North America, and housing choice design competitions. 

True to the programs “quick action” nature, these projects MUST be completed by Nov. 30, 2023.

AARP’s newest funded recipients

“AARP Rhode Island is committed to working with local leaders to improve residents’ quality of life through tangible changes,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Catherine Taylor. “We are proud to collaborate with this year’s grantees as they make immediate improvements in their communities to jumpstart long-term change, especially for Rhode Islanders 50 and over.”

“I am extremely excited and honored to have received the AARP Grant,” says Jack Lenz, Director of Development at the Providence-based West End Community Center, Inc.  Lenz was pleasantly surprised that his application was one of 311 chosen from 3,600 submitted.

Lenz noted that this was the first funded AARP grant, chocking it off to “beginner’s luck” because he is new to fundraising. 

According to Lenz, The West End Community Center run’s one of the largest food pantries in Providence. “We see many people struggling with food insecurity as well as access to fresh produce and transportation every day,” he said, noting that this “revolutionary method of growing vegetables was particularly effective for areas with of contaminated soil. “Growing vegetables directly out of the straw bales makes growing vegetables safer,” he says.

Lenz plans to seek out other grant opportunities to continue funding this gardening initiative to make it permanent and to expand it.

Since the program’s debut in 2017, AARP has awarded $12.7 million through more than 1,060 grants in nearly 700 communities reaching 100 million people. The projects have been completed across all 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, says AARP’s website. During this time AARP with AARP Rhode Island have awarded 17 grants and some $203,522 through the program to nonprofit organizations and government entities across the state.

According to AARP Rhode Island’s website, Rhode Island’s newest grant funded recipients were:

Providence Streets Coalition (PVD Streets). “Walk, Talk & Chalk” will bring people over age 50 and civic leaders together to sketch out – literally – the plan for improving safety, mobility, and access for people of all ages and abilities in Providence. The Providence-based PVD Streets, using AARP’s Walk Audit Toolkit, will organize six walk audit assessments throughout the Capitol City. The goal is to bring aged 50 and over residents to walk with city planners, elected leaders, and neighborhood organizers.

Mount Hope Community Center (MHCC)AARP’s grant funding will allow The Providence-based Mount Hope Community Center to host a weekly seniors’ group that has expressed interest in accessing computers to help them stay connected with family and friends, access online resources, and learn new skills. This grant funding will allow MHCC to purchase laptops and create a more modern computer lab for its members. This project will provide access to technology and trainings to improve our seniors’ quality of life, reduce feelings of isolation, and promote independence and engagement.

Bike Newport. The New Port-based bicycle advocacy organization’s project, “Cycling Without Age Ride,” provides a powerful opportunity for pilots and participants to connect in conversation with each other. Bike Newport will target two principal populations: Disabled veterans of all ages and senior veterans. Bike Newport will collaborate with the Rhode Island Chapter of Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and the Rhode Island Veterans Home Community Living Center in Bristol, RI, to bring the participants together by scheduling ride outings utilizing an electric-assist trishaw called “The Chat”. This project will counteract isolation and provide outdoor adventure and camaraderie for the participating people 50-and over and disabled veterans through piloted rides, with trained volunteer pilots.

West End Community Center. This project will distribute 200 straw bales to participating community members and demonstrate how simple safe and cost effective it can be to grow their own vegetables using this revolutionary urban agricultural method. Last summer the Providence-based organization built a straw bale garden consisting of 10 bales next to its parking lot where gardening brought people coming together in to grow vegetables to share with the community.

Taking a Look at Last Year’s AARP Grant Recipients  

Last year, AARP targeted $ 44,852 to fund four Rhode Island projects located in Central Falls, Woonsocket and Providence.   

Groundwork Rhode Island and its community partners received $ 14,000 to convert an underutilized green space in Central Falls for use by residents of all ages to enjoy, by installing seating and tables for dominos and chess.

The $10,278 grant that the Downtown Woonsocket Collaborative received transformed the outside location of the Aging Well senior center into a safe, inviting space for outdoor exercise as well as creating a gathering place for Woonsocket’s age 55 and over community. 

The Providence Streets Coalition’s $12,574 grant allowed the bicycle advocacy group (for a week) to transform a parking lane into a temporary urban bike lane.

Finally, the Southside Community Land Trust used its $8,000 grant to allow its youth staff to continue its work on beautifying outdoor spaces to cultivate herbs and vegetables for seniors in Providence to enjoy.  They also will collaborate with an artist to create a cookbook that preserves senior’s traditional recipes and stories. 

Rhode Island’s 39 Cities and Towns might glean ideas to enhance their communities for older residents by looking at the “best practices” listing of AARP Challenge Grants funded over the past two years.

For more details about AARP’s Livable Community Initiative, email [email protected].

View the full list of 2023 grantees and their project descriptions at and learn more about AARP’s livable communities work at

View the full list of 2022 grantees and their project descriptions at



Herb Weiss, LRI -12, is a Pawtucket-based writer who has covered aging, health care and medical issues for over 43 years.  To purchase his books, Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly and a sequel, compiling weekly published articles, go to

Herb Weiss 2-volume book set, Taking Charge

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