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AARP Hawai`i Community Challenge Grant Beautifies Kaua`i

A $20,000 AARP Livable Communities Community Challenge Grant is helping to make Kaua`i a better place to live one brush stroke and one shovel at a time.

The grant to the Rice Street Business Association is helping to fund a variety of projects including the expansion and improvements to community gardens in Lihue at an affordable senior and low-income housing development and along Rice Street. It also includes beautification and murals at bus stops on Kaua`i, traffic safety improvements, community meetings to bring residents together to discuss improvements, and a Rice Street block party on October 29 that will include crosswalk painting, live music, activities for kids and food booths.

The projects will provide seed money to help Lihu`e become more walkable and livable and entice people to spend more time in Downtown Lihu`e, which should help Lihu`e businesses recover from the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown.

“People who are walking and biking are more likely to stop at local businesses, more likely to stay longer and enjoy those spaces and it also just creates more social connectivity,” said Abbey Seitz, of Better Block Hawai`i, which partnered with the Rice Street Business Association on the grant. “We obviously know people better if we’re out walking and biking and seeing people out in the garden all these different types of interactions that can happen on the sidewalk or in the parks that don’t happen if you’re in the car. So it’s important. I think we saw during the pandemic how it important it is to have these social connections with our neighbors in the community.”

The Community Challenge Grant will also fund an expansion of community gardens at the Lihu’e Court Townhomes, a community for seniors and low-income Kaua`i, new gardens at Kalena Park, and an expansion of a garden along an easement on Rice Street that was started by Sylvia Lessa.

“When I worked in this year and a half by myself, I would have everybody stop and talk to me and ask me what I’m doing and they would say oh that’s great I remember the rock wall and I remember the plants that used to grow here and I’ll bring you some plants. To me that’s part of what brings a community together.” Lessa said.

AARP funds will also be used to paint three bus stop murals. The first mural in Kilauea, is being created by muralist Kayti Lathrop, a Kilauea resident.

“The mural is all about Kilauea town and how it formed. So it includes the point where the Lighthouse is and the bird sanctuary and refuge. We’re going to honor some of the birds, especially the endangered birds that nest here and roost here. We’re also going to have different landmarks that were important to Kilauea and the sugar cane plantations in the past that brought people from all different parts of the world into the community here.”

The Kaua`i grant is one of three awarded in Hawai`i this year and part of $3.4 million awarded among 260 organizations nationwide. Grantees are completing quick-action projects that help communities become more livable by improving public places; transportation; housing; diversity, equity and inclusion; digital access; and civic engagement, with an emphasis on the needs of adults age 50 and over.

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. Since the Community Challenge Grant program started in 2017, 20 Hawai`i projects have received $234,366 to improve and create parks, beautify urban areas, bring mobile, live theatre to the Big Island, encourage bicycle sharing by older residents, make streets safer and generally make communities more livable.

Applications for the 2023 Community Challenge Grants will be available next year. Non-profit or government organizations with ideas on how to improve their communities are encouraged to apply.

View the full list of grantees and their project descriptions at and learn more about AARP’s livable communities work at The websites will be updated next year when grant applications are available for the 2023 AARP Livable Communities Community Challenge Grant.

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