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AARP AARP States Florida Livable Communities

Small Grants Deliver Outsized Impact

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For some older residents in the Panhandle, writing a will can seem daunting. It’s expensive, and in some rural areas, finding an attorney familiar with estate planning—and transportation to a law office—can be a challenge.

One creative solution: a local Wills on Wheels program. Funded by a $20,000 AARP Community Challenge grant, the initiative is setting up mobile legal clinics that travel to a multicounty region in the Panhandle to help people write their wills and complete other estate planning documents in case they become unable to care for themselves or manage their affairs. The service is free.

“People don’t necessarily like thinking about these things. They don’t realize that it will be much harder on their families if they don’t have these documents,” says Colleen Mullen, director of pro bono and volunteer engagement for the nonprofit Legal Services of North Florida, which partnered with the Apalachee Regional Planning Council to start Wills on Wheels.

The program is one of eight Florida entities to receive 2023 AARP Community Challenge grants—totaling $102,000. The grants are part of AARP’s Livable Communities initiative; the grants fund quick-turnaround projects aimed at making places more livable for all ages. Projects must be completed by Nov. 30.

Making places more livable

This year’s grants funded a variety of projects—from asphalt artworks to accessory dwelling units. ADUs are small homes or apartments on the same lot as single-family homes, such as in-law suites or backyard cottages. ADUs can help expand living options for older adults who don’t need nursing home care.

The grants to the Miami Center for Architecture & Design (for $15,000) and Habitat for Humanity of Hillsborough County in Tampa (for $13,500) are funding ADU design competitions.

Another Florida grant is paying for dozens of native trees at a park in Cape Coral to replace those Hurricane Ian destroyed in September 2022. The park is home to ball fields hosting softball leagues, including several for men 45 and older. The taller trees, planted by volunteers, are already providing relief from the scorching Florida heat, says Trish Fancher, executive director of the nonprofit Keep Lee County Beautiful, which won the $5,000 award.

“Within five years, there will be a nice canopy growing there,” she says. In addition to the shade, the trees help control storm runoff, remove pollutants from the air and soil, and provide habitat for the local wildlife.

In the Panhandle, the motivation for a Wills on Wheels program came after a different storm: Hurricane Michael in 2018, when some residents had trouble qualifying for government repair funds because of estate issues. Some believed they owned their homes, because that’s what their parents had told them, says Donald Morgan, director of growth management and senior planner with the Apalachee Regional Planning Council, which serves nine counties in the region. “Unbeknownst to them, that was never really
recorded,” he says.

Morgan says many people wrongly associate the need for a will and other estate planning with wealth, but everyone has something of value.

“What you’ve worked hard for all these years, whether that’s great or small, you want your wishes to be reflected,” he says. “The only way to do that is to have them written down.”

To learn more about AARP’s grant program and see the full list of awards, go to

Ann Hardie is a writer living in Atlanta.

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