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AARP AARP States Arkansas Community

 Five Arkansas Groups Share in AARP Community Challenge Grant

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AARP Arkansas announced on Wednesday, June 28, 2023, that five organizations throughout the state will share $51,000 in funding through the 2023 Community Challenge grants – part of the largest group of grantees to date with $3.6 million awarded among 310 organizations nationwide. Grantees will implement quick-action projects that help communities become more livable by improving 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 Arkansas is committed to working with local leaders to improve residents’ quality of life through tangible changes,” said AARP Arkansas State Director Ashley McBride. “We look forward to supporting quick-action projects that will jumpstart long-term change in their communities, especially for Arkansans 50-plus.” 
 
Projects funded in Arkansas include:  

  • Grace Gardening, Inc. - This project will support a community garden program that provides raised beds and ergonomic benches to accommodate older gardeners, while also offering summer "Yoga in the Garden" sessions. 

    Grace Gardening is a nonprofit that creates sustainable community gardens making use of upcycled and recycled materials. Currently the State Street Good Earth Garden is their premier garden site with plans to replicate the success of this sustainable, low maintenance and highly accessible gardening model to growers and other sites in Jefferson County. In addition to AARP funding, Grace Gardening will be utilizing community support from 880 Cities, a nonprofit with a mission to enhance mobility and public spaces so we can create vibrant, healthy and equitable communities, and the AARP publication “Creating Community Gardens for All Ages.”  
     
    “Grace Gardening is committed to improving the health and wellness of all residents of the Pine Bluff, Arkansas, community, with a specific focus on people aged 50 and older, through our gardening programs,” said Audrey Long, executive director. “We look forward to seeing the AARP Community Challenge grant in action starting with enhancing the accessibility to our site for our elders and those with disabilities with better walking and seating areas that supports our “sit and chat” atmosphere. We’ll continue with our programs: “Yoga in the Garden” series, our community “Compost with Us” campaign, in addition to providing supplemental nutrition to our program participants with our “Street-side Free Farm Stand” where we partner with local food pantries & individual donors and, finally, our (Hugelkultur) raised beds where we grow organically grown food.    
  • Breakin Bread Community Kitchen - This project will help make needed infrastructure improvements to the largest free meal site in the county, which primarily serves low-income older adults. 

    Breakin Bread Community Kitchen is in Heber Springs, Arkansas, and is a 501c 3 that has a board of directors made up of local businesspeople, educators and retirees, all of whom volunteer their time and talents. 17 teams of volunteers provide meals for those struggling financially, which directly impacts those with food insecurity in Cleburne County. Volunteers, many over the age of 50, prepare and serve free meals. Breakin Bread allows other organizations, such as the Disabled American Veterans, to use their space as a meeting location, making it truly a hub in the community.  
     
    “This project will help make needed infrastructure improvements to the largest free meal site in the county, which primarily serves low-income older adults,” said Bruce Shearer, board member. “Breakin Bread is a stalwart in our community and the Community Challenge Grant from AARP will allow us to better serve the people of Cleburne County.”   
  • Cabot Animal Support Services - This project will create a "Crops and Canines" program, enabling older adults to grow their own food while enjoying the company of supervised dogs to reduce stress, anxiety and depression. 

    Utilizing the funds from the AARP Community Challenge Grant, Cabot Animal Support Services plans to create a community garden program that is enriched by the interaction of adoptable dogs with the target audience for this effort, those in the 50-plus population prone to food insecurity or who lack adequate access to green space.   
     
    “This project will create a "Crops and Canines" program, enabling older adults to grow their own food while enjoying the company of supervised dogs to reduce stress, anxiety and depression,” said Brandy Buie, Cabot Animal Support Service, Marketing and Fundraising Coordinator. “We will accomplish this goal in conjunction with The Peak Center of Cabot and the Cabot High School Agri Department. Together, we hope to promote health and well-being and to decrease the ratio of food injustice that many adults 50-plus in Lonoke County experience.”   
     
    The Cabot Animal Support Services promotes responsible pet guardianship, humane treatment of all animals and pet sterilization to end needless overpopulation through education and community resources. As part of their mission, they work to bring about change necessary to strengthen the human-animal bond. Cabot Animal Support Servies is a tier one pilot shelter for the Human Animal Support Services (HASS) program, which promotes community collaboration to reimagine the traditional model of animal services and provides policies, tools and training to create change, reducing intake and housing most pets in homes, not kennels. HASS aims to create critical engagement among animal welfare organizations to build a system to better address the modern needs of communities when it comes to animal services.
  • Central Arkansas Library System Foundation - This project will increase digital literacy among older adults by creating a mobile tech classroom that staff can take into assisted living facilities to conduct workshops on how to operate devices such as smartphones and tablets. 

    The Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) is recognized as a leading community institution. The library’s mission is to provide resources and services to help residents reach their full potential, and to inspire discovery, learning and cultural expression. CALS's history dates back to 1910, with the opening of the Little Rock Public Library. It is the largest public library system in Arkansas. The library’s mission is to provide resources and services to help residents reach their full potential, and to inspire discovery, learning and cultural expression. CALS is the largest public library system in Arkansas, with approximately 11% of the state’s population living in its service area over 15 branches in urban, suburban and rural locations across Pulaski and Perry counties. The CALS Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit, supports educational and cultural programming for the patrons, communities and neighborhoods being served by the Central Arkansas Library System and its branches. 
     
    “This project will increase digital literacy among older adults by creating a mobile tech classroom that staff can take into assisted living facilities to conduct workshops on how to operate devices such as smartphones and tablets,” said Hannah Saulters, CALS Grants and Development Coordinator. “Building on the success of our digital literacy program, our project proposes taking lessons and skillsets our staff have cultivated inside of library branches and sharing them with residents of assisted living facilities. With support from AARP we will be able to purchase the necessary technology and materials to set up a mobile tech classroom, which will lead seniors through a four-week long curriculum with courses on topics such as accessing online library resources, setting up email accounts, downloading and using apps and online safety and privacy."
  • WSBZ Farms - This project will advance rural agriculture and support socially disadvantaged small farmers aged 50-plus by installing a greenhouse, sharing germinated plants and providing a prep station with equipment to clean and package produce. 

    Founded in 2019, WSBZ Farm’s mission is to advance farming workforce development and economic growth opportunities for socially disadvantaged farmers.  
     
    WSBZ Farms economic impact to local agricultural owners over the age of 50-years-old will have a projected per-year revenue of $40,000-$80,000 per farm, according to the farm's grant application. This project will support socially disadvantaged small farmers aged 50-plus in a rural area by installing a greenhouse, sharing germinated plants and providing a prep station with equipment to clean and package produce. 

    The 2021 Rural Profile of Arkansas notes, "the average Arkansas farmer is 57-years-of-age." In this rural arena located 10 miles south of Little Rock and 30 miles North of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, WSBZ Farms is organizing and training a farming community consisting of 500 farmers over the age of 50; convening and cultivating a 15 member Beginning Farmers Coalition to conduct long-term planning activities and facilitate multi-system, interagency approaches with collaborations from multiple stakeholders; conduct farming workshops for 300 attendees; and, providing individual coaching and support to 200 farm owners and aspiring owners.  
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AARP Community Challenge grant projects will be funded in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. True to the program’s quick-action nature, projects must be completed by November 30, 2023.  
 
This year, the 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. 
 
AARP is also bolstering its investment in rural communities, mobility innovation, transportation options, and health and food access. 
 
“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. “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.”  
 
The grant program is part of AARP’s nationwide Livable Communities initiative, which supports the efforts of cities, towns, neighborhoods and rural areas to become great places to live for people of all ages, especially those age 50 and older. Since 2017, AARP Arkansas has awarded 22 grants and $254,084 through the program to nonprofit organizations and government entities across the state.  
 
View the full list of grantees and their project descriptions at aarp.org/communitychallenge and learn more about AARP’s livable communities work at aarp.org/livable

About AARP Arkansas
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