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3 South Carolina Organizations Win AARP Community Challenge Grants

A man examines library bookshelves
Richland Library Edgewood Manager Randy Heath is co-leader of the Let’s Talk Race program, which encourages and facilitates discussions on racial justice. The library hosts a conversation each month, offers book clubs and provides conversation guides.
Photo by Gavin McIntyre

It’s not the usual neighborhood beautification project. Thanks to a 2021 AARP Community Challenge grant, Columbia’s Richland Library is investing in difficult conversations. Its Let’s Talk Race program won one of three grants in South Carolina this year. 

“Some people have been talking about racial justice their whole lives. For others, it’s a new concept and they aren’t comfortable,” says Randy Heath, co-project lead for the program. 

The initiative, which began in 2016, has helped South Carolinians—from teenagers to older residents—share their experiences and views frankly, bringing the community together, he says.

The library hosts a conversation each month, in person and virtually, plus offers book clubs and templates for multigenerational “dinner table conversations” about systemic racism. 

It will use its grant to expand the program, creating a curriculum and providing facilitator training, a digital tool kit and video segments. The package could be used by businesses, libraries and community groups to hold their own conversations about race, Heath says.

Winning Ideas

Since its start in 2017, the AARP Community Challenge program has awarded more than $9 million to some 800 projects around the country. The goal is to provide quick-action grants for communities to work on livability issues, says Sheree Muse, AARP South Carolina’s community outreach director.

Muse said the projects’ variety illustrates the freedom that recipients have “to focus on things they need most or that will be inspiring for their communities.” 

All of this year’s projects are supposed to be completed by Nov. 10. Grantees are also encouraged to collaborate with, and seek funding from, other groups. 

The city of Charleston earned a grant to improve Philip Simmons Park by overhauling the irrigation system, installing an internet hot spot, and adding seating areas and landscaping.

The park, a point of civic pride for Eastside residents, will also get additional plantings beneath its live oak trees, refurbished pathway systems throughout, and new seating areas and trash receptacles.

In Summerton, SC UpLift Community Outreach will use its grant for the Cross My Heart Free Mobile Clinic. The rural area doesn’t have enough access to health centers or transportation, says Cedric Liqueur, volunteer development director and grant writer for the project.

The clinic will improve access to essential health care services for those who are uninsured, underinsured, older or who have disabilities, as well as for seasonal farmworkers, Liqueur says. 

It will provide primary and preventive care, referrals and services like COVID-19 screenings and vaccinations. Liqueur notes that many residents remain unvaccinated because the nearest health care facility is 10 miles away.

The mobile clinic will be constructed from a donated 20-foot shipping container that students at Midlands Technical College are repurposing. Nursing students from three area colleges will staff the clinic, supervised by a professional nurse practitioner. 

“AARP support has really made a difference,” says Liqueur.

To learn more and see a complete list of winners, visit aarp.org/livable.

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