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AARP AARP States Illinois Livable Communities

Grant Projects Focus on Safety at Home and in the Community

Sig Sundholm and his wife Sharon Sundholm photographed at their home in Elgin, Illinois. Habitat for Humanity of Northern Fox Valley installed an aluminum ramp to make the front entry of the couple's house easier to navigate.
Kevin Serna

This summer, Sig Sundholm spent many mornings sipping coffee and watching hummingbirds from a new ramp and platform in front of his house in Elgin, northwest of Chicago.

In addition to serving as a bird-watching platform, the 33-foot aluminum ramp enables Sundholm’s wife, who uses a walker and sometimes a wheelchair, to leave the house more easily. It will also provide a quick exit for the couple in case of an emergency.

“Heaven forbid if we ever had a fire here,” says Sundholm, 78, a retired insurance salesman. “That was my big concern.”

Habitat for Humanity of Northern Fox Valley installed the ramp, as well as a walk-in shower, through its Aging in Place program, which makes home modifications that allow residents with low incomes to remain in their homes as they get older. It is one of six organizations in Illinois to receive 2023 AARP Community Challenge grants—totaling nearly $57,000.

Part of AARP’s Livable Communities initiative, the grants fund local projects to improve public spaces, increase transportation options, make streets safer for pedestrians and boost digital connectivity, among other goals.

Habitat for Humanity’s grant will help pay for repairs and improvements to 11 or 12 houses. All challenge grant projects must be completed by Nov. 30.

Tackling high temps, traffic

Many of this year’s challenge grant applications focused on safety, says Ellen Acevedo, AARP Illinois director of volunteer engagement and mobilization.

In the city of Wood River, near St. Louis, Missouri, a nonprofit will use its funds to install window air-conditioning units in the homes of residents 50 and older.

The heat in the region can get unmanageable and make homes unlivable quickly, says Mike Babcock, a board member of the nonprofit Mountains to Molehills. The grant money “allowed us to help a lot more people in the community than we might have originally been able to do,” he says.

In Chicago, the nonprofit Greater Chatham Initiative will use its grant funds to paint sidewalks, install traffic cones and enact other measures to slow traffic at the intersection of 79th and South State streets. The intersection has high pedestrian, bus and automobile traffic, says Nedra Sims Fears, the organization’s executive director.

In Chicago’s West Ridge neighborhood, the nonprofit Good City Group will conduct walk audits to identify safety issues along sidewalks and at intersections.

Among the other winners is the Nichols Park Advisory Council in Chicago. The volunteer organization will install a bench at a bus stop on the park’s south end, along East 55th Street, to give older riders a place to sit.

And the final recipient is the Schuyler County Mental Health Association in the city of Rushville, in the central-western part of the state. In June, the mental health center turned a nearby vacant lot into a community garden.

The plot features raised beds and allows for wheelchair access. The produce it yields is made available in the mental health center’s lobby.

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Lisa Bertagnoli is a writer living in Chicago.

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