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AARP Community Challenge Grants Fund New Jersey Paths, Benches, Crosswalks

Febuary 8th 2020, Dunellen, NJ, Jason F. Cilento, Mayor of Dunellen, with a grant from AARP to bulid benches in Columbia Park, which were really needed for the community. Photography Christopher Lane/AARP
Thanks to an AARP Community Challenge grant, the town of Dunellen was able to build benches in Columbia Park with help from community volunteers. (L-R) John Gibney, Rachel Appleton, Glenn Donatiello, Homer Mosley Jr, Georgette Mosley, Terri Albertson, Daniel Cole Sigmon, Mayor Jason Cilento, Stacy Narvesen, Kenneth Baudendistel, Peter Albertson Sr., Heidi Heleniak, and Alex Miller.
Photo by Christopher Lane
Febuary 8th 2020, Dunellen, NJ, Jason F. Cilento, Mayor of Dunellen, with a grant from AARP to bulid benches in Columbia Park, which were really needed for the community. Photography Christopher Lane/AARP

A half-mile walking path surrounds Dunellen’s Columbia Park, the town’s recreational hub and the location of its senior center. But until recently there was no seating along the path, making it unusable for some older and disabled residents.

Thanks to a $6,500 AARP Community Challenge grant, the borough’s Parks and Recreation Department, along with the Dunellen Municipal Alliance and other groups, added a dozen benches, installed and labeled new plantings, and painted a footbridge in the park.

The Columbia Park project did more than beautify the space, said Jason Cilento, Dunellen’s mayor—it engaged the community across generations.

“They all came in and did it together,” Cilento said.

The town’s high school football team, the Dunellen Destroyers, helped with planting. Members of the Dunellen Senior Citizens Club joined in, too, staining the new benches.

The town’s Arts and Culture Commission painted the park’s footbridge, and a former mayor donated signs for the bridge and walking path.

Even a small grant can have a big impact, Cilento said. “We’re a very small town, so resources are limited.”

Great places, new spaces

Dunellen was among 159 municipalities and organizations in every state (including three in New Jersey), D.C., Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to be awarded grants last year through the third annual AARP Community Challenge. There were more than 1,660 applications.

The program funds quick improvements, typically completed in under six months, that are meant to make communities more livable for everyone.

“Here in New Jersey, we want our communities to be great places not just to grow up but to grow old, as well,” said Christine Newman, AARP New Jersey community outreach director.

The township of Teaneck was awarded a $10,000 grant to install rapid-flashing beacons at the intersection of Cedar Lane and Chadwick Road, to make it safer for pedestrians, said Township Manager Dean Kazinci.

Thanks to a community walk audit in 2018, “we saw firsthand how difficult it was for pedestrians to go from one side of Cedar Lane to the other,” he said.

There have been pedestrian accidents and at least one bicycle crash near the intersection, Kazinci noted, though none was fatal. A pedestrian fatality did trigger the installation of Teaneck’s first beacons, however.

Two years ago the town installed the devices on River Road, after a woman was hit by a car there in 2016.

Kazinci said receiving the Community Challenge grant has inspired him to advocate for more funds to put toward the installation of rapid-flashing beacons at intersections throughout the township.

“You’re saving a life,” Kazinci said. “You’re saving a pedestrian from getting injured.”

A third New Jersey municipality, the borough of Westwood, received a $12,000 Community Challenge grant to build a parklet to provide seating in its business district.

Applications for the 2020 Community Challenge grants are being accepted. Visit here to learn more and to apply.

Christina Hernandez Sherwood is a writer living in Collingswood.

For More on Livable Communities:

AARP Community Challenge for More Livable Communities

Lone Star Cities Enjoy Livability

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