Grant Funding Available for Projects that Lead Long Term Change

by Apr 8, 2019Society

Jean Setzfand

Jean C. Setzfand is the Senior Vice President of AARP Programs unit that produces interactive educational programming designed to address key life concerns while boosting technology skills for consumers 50+ caring for a loved one, looking for a job, staying independent through safe driving. Additionally, Programs drives towns, counties and cities to be more livable for all ages by providing educational programming and resources aimed at local leaders, policy makers, planners and citizen activists.

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Of the trends that I’m following today, one that is undeniably ‘en vogue’ is all things local. You could say that “local” is the new black. From locally sourced foods to ‘traveling like locals,’ Americans today have reinvested and refocused their interest in their home and communities. At AARP, our interest in communities has existed since our beginning 60 years ago.

Our focus on community is well timed as our country experiences some powerful demographic shifts. In a nutshell, our country is going to be older in perpetuity. Many communities will experience dramatic increases in the share of their population that is 50 and older as people live longer, remain in their communities and younger people move from rural and ex-urban areas into metropolitan centers.

This profound demographic shift is already happening and communities need to take action. With those facts in mind, AARP works with community leaders to define those actions. We’ve learned through our work that what’s good for an 80 year old is good for an eight year old, such as:

  • Safe, affordable housing and transportation options
  • Good health for ourselves, our loved ones, and our environment
  • Opportunities to learn, support our families and enjoy our lives
  • Connections with our neighbors
  • Governments that are responsive to our needs


AARP State Office staff and volunteers are working with local leaders, nonprofit partners, businesses, and residents in over 330 places that are members of the AARP Network of Age Friendly States and Communities to help achieve that vision.


The Power of Quick Actions

It often takes time to see communities change and build, however, quick actions can be a critical spark for longer-term progress. As we traveled the country and participated in events with mayors and local community leaders, we kept hearing how important it was to get the ball rolling or break a logjam on major projects.

As such, in 2017 AARP launched the AARP Community Challenge Quick Action grant program to fund projects that build momentum for change in communities to improve livability for all residents. To date, we’ve funded nearly 220 projects in every state and several U.S. territories. Grants have been given to governments and nonprofit organizations and have ranged from several hundred dollars for small, short-term activities to thousands for larger projects.

We’re pleased to share that applications for the third year of the program are currently being accepted at through Wednesday, April 17, 2019, 11:59 p.m. ET.

While the program has funded projects from a range of different scopes, we have also heeded the sage words of the former Hollywood Squares host, Peter Marshall, who said, “small deeds done are better than great deeds planned.”

Over the first two years of the program we have seen the grant awards clustering in a few main areas:

  • Over half (52 percent) of projects were focused on creating vibrant public spaces
  • One in three (33 percent) of projects were focused on enhancing transportation and mobility options
  • Less than one in ten of projects were focused on making other community improvements (eight percent) and housing options (seven percent)

To see some of the grants that have been funded you can click here for summaries from 2018, here for summaries of 2017 and here to see videos of some of the 2017 and 2018 grantees in action.


Results of Grants

Over the first two years of the program, we have seen some powerful results from grantees’ small deeds and larger deeds.

Beyond the immediate impact that residents in communities see and feel, we’ve seen a range of other results, largely clustered in the following areas.


Executing a temporary project to build support leads to a permanent installation, or leverages additional public investment.

Given the quick-action nature of the Community Challenge grants and the requirement that they be part of a longer term change, we’ve seen a number of cases where the grant helps accelerate a municipality’s process. Quotes from grantees demonstrate the various ways that the grant helped them achieve this:

“After we met with the municipality to tell them about the grant. They [were] delighted and agreed to take advantage of this opportunity to make other improvements needed to the area. They will work to enhance the avenue with major changes, like paving, improved lighting, bus stops and transit signboards. So we have inspired a lot of action!“  – Puerto Rico grantee

“Our design efforts catalyzed city led funding fundraising for the project, with $100,000 being funded from Capital Improvement Project Funds” – Utah grantee

“This pilot project is now scheduled to be implemented as a permanent street improvement, with additional traffic calming and infrastructure projects along the surrounding streets.” – Tennessee grantee


Leveraging of additional funds and support from private and philanthropic partners and funders.

In several cases, seeing the initial results from the project helped a range of grantees attract additional funding for their work and the project from private and philanthropic funding partners. Again, some quotes from grantees help demonstrate this:

“As a result of the successful grant, we have been awarded another grant from a local foundation to create a program with a local university and medical center” – New Jersey grantee

“We have hosted a number of events in the space [activated alleyway] and recently received another grant from a local organization to make more improvements.” – Michigan grantee

“The Challenge award was a catalyst for another donation from our local Rotary Club to purchase a beach wheelchair and beach walker….the bathrooms at the beach were further equipped with grab bars and signage to demonstrate that they are wheelchair accessible” – Maine grantee


Launching a pilot program to test a concept, leads to a permanent program in the community.

Several grantees used their funds to conduct a test or pilot program in the community. In some cases the concept they were testing ended up not living up to their expectations, while in others, the grant led to a launch of new programming and engagement in the community.

“We are now launching a community “Art in the Alley” grant program to encourage community nonprofits and groups to determine future art installments in the alley.” – South Carolina grantee

“The completion of the mural project spurred interest in art in the community and has led to other small art projects in the neighborhood.” – Texas grantee

“Our fall program from the Community Challenge was so successful that we were compelled to continue it into the winter and through the spring.” – Louisiana grantee


Receiving the grant leads to greater awareness, recognition, partnerships.

 One of the most commonly cited benefits from grantees was the increased awareness and recognition work in their community. This led to increased engagement from the community, and importantly, launched new partnerships to extend the reach of their work and increase their sustainability.

“New intergenerational programs have been inspired. The one garden has spawned multiple intergenerational programs. For example, seniors have started to teach our kids pickleball.” – Massachusetts grantee

“As a result of the grant and the educational effort, we are now working with the city to map where senior homeowners live to get them information on how to best age in place.” – Arkansas grantee

“One of our goals was to raise awareness in the community. As a result of this grant we are receiving more and more applications to participate in our repair program.” – Virginia grantee

This is just a sampling of some of the results that grantees have seen, to say nothing of the immediate impact that residents will see by engaging with new programs, taking advantage of newly activated public spaces, having safer public spaces, or the ability to eventually access new types of housing.


What Can You Do?

We hope you’ll visit to learn more about the program and apply by April 17th. The program is open to 501(c)(3), 501(c)(4) and 501(c)(6) nonprofits and government entities and other types of organizations will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Projects need to be completed by November 4, 2019.

We know that there is an endless list of projects that organizations and local governments would like to accomplish, if only they had the injection of resources to make it happen. In 2019, we will accept applications in the following categories:

  • Demonstrate the tangible value of “Smart Cities.” This new category in 2019 will encourage communities to develop and implement innovative programs that engage residents in accessing, understanding, and using data to increase quality of life for all. The intention with this new category is to encourage applicants to demonstrate new ways to engage in decision-making about housing, transportation, economic development, placemaking, infrastructure, or other community aspect.
  • Deliver a range of transportation and connectivity options through permanent or temporary solutions that increase walkability, bikeability, wayfinding, access to transportation options and roadway improvements
  • Create vibrant public places through permanent or temporary solutions that activate open spaces, improve parks and improve access to amenities
  • Support the availability of a range of housing through permanent or temporary solutions that increase accessible and affordable housing options
  • Other innovative approaches to improving the community

Consider joining or sustaining the “local” trend…jumpstart a project that makes your community more livable by applying for an AARP Community Challenge grant in 2019.


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1 Comment

  1. Demographic Inspirations- Detroit, nonprofit founded Sept 2014, is a Neighborhood Revitalization organization Mission: Blight Removal, Reuse of vacant Land and Rehab unoccupied structures for Veteran homeownership. We also, implement sustainable projects that lends to Placemaking for residents and visitors, off-grid projects for urban gardening, Rain Gardens and projects that divert water runoff from entering into the City’s combined sewer system.


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