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Grants Are Small, But Community Impact Is Large in Connecticut

A group of older adults and Girl Scouts painting at tables
Girl Scouts and older Simsbury residents join together in a rock-painting project, part of the town's 350th anniversary celebrations.
Photo by For All Ages

The Girl Scout troop had just finished painting rocks with residents of a Simsbury adult-living community. As the girls made their way to the door one of the 6-year-old scouts ran back inside.

“She said, ‘I almost forgot! Can I give my new friend a hug goodbye?’ ” Deb Bibbins recalled. “And the woman said, ‘Of course you can give me a hug!’ ”

Bibbins, executive director of Simsbury nonprofit For All Ages, which seeks to change negative perceptions about aging, watched the older woman and the girl embrace. “I got chills,” she said. “Just seeing that there was a meaningful connection in 90 minutes—I felt like this is exactly why we’re doing this.”

The intergenerational art program will end with a town scavenger hunt on May 22, to mark Simsbury’s 350th anniversary. It’s one of seven projects AARP Connecticut funded through its 2019 Livable Communities Grant Program, a local expansion of the national AARP Community Challenge initiative.

The grants provide up to $2,500 to help nonprofits and municipalities pay for smaller-scale immediate improvements that don’t always qualify for other types of funding, said Anna Doroghazi, AARP Connecticut advocacy and outreach director.

The state office looks for projects that can be completed within a year, that increase access and mobility, that enhance underused public spaces and that help people connect socially, Doroghazi said.

Movies, smart homes

The first grants, in 2018, paid for outdoor movie nights in Bridgeport, a public courtyard in Mans-field, recreational trails at Goodwin University in East Hartford and a traveling smart home with a lending library of devices.

Last year’s grants are funding projects like the purchase of two iPads for occupants of the Retreat, an assisted living facility for low-income Hartford residents.

“It’s a population that doesn’t always have simple, easy access to the conveniences of computer technology,” explained Jason Black, communications director for Hartford’s Community Renewal Team, which manages the Retreat.

Staff and volunteers will use the iPads to play interactive games and listen to music with residents, who can borrow them to do Skype calls with distant friends and relatives, Black said.

“Sometimes when people get older, they’re separated from their families. This is helping to remove that isolation,” he said.

In Stamford, Fairgate Farm is using its grant to build a crushed-stone walkway to make it easier to reach the urban farm’s outdoor classroom and farmers markets.

For the Simsbury art project, 350 painted rocks—some linked to prizes—will be hidden in spots around town. The scavenger hunt will continue until all rocks are found. Bibbins hopes the activity will spark more cross- generation encounters.

“These projects are straightforward and small-scale,” Doroghazi said. “But they can still make a big difference and improve people’s lives.”

Other 2020 projects include bathroom accessibility upgrades at Holy Family Home and Shelter, in Willimantic, and a pocket park at the Custom House Maritime Museum, in New London.

AARP Connecticut is seeking ideas for 2020 grants. Nonprofits and municipalities can email ctlivable@aarp.org to learn how to apply.

Natalie Missakian is a writer living in Cheshire, Conn.

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