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AARP AARP States Tennessee

A Closer Look at Challenge Grant Success in Tennessee

We know that it takes time to build great communities, but we also believe that tangible improvements can spark long-term change. AARP launched the Community Challenge grant program in 2017 to fund projects that build momentum to improve livability nationwide. Challenge grants have funded more than 20 projects in Tennessee, so we took a closer look at three success stories to learn more about how recipients leveraged grant funds to make a positive impact on both the organizations and their communities. We interviewed Jazmine Leblanc from ELLA Library in Chattanooga, Marlon Foster from Knowledge Quest in Memphis, and Danielle Kaminsky from Robertson County Schools in Springfield.

Jazmine Leblanc, Co-Founder and Executive Director
ELLA Library – Chattanooga, Tennessee


ELLA Library is a small neighborhood organization connecting art, community, and literacy. They used the community challenge grant funds to start a gardening area at the library. They were able to get their seniors involved with their accessible, waist-level gardening option. ELLA Library has been able to build partnerships with local food forces and urban farms. They are hoping to implement a community bookstore in the future to continue promoting the accessibility of books.

ELLA Library is always open to volunteers, book donations, and partnerships!
Learn more: ELLA Library

Marlon Foster, Founder and CEO
Knowledge Quest – Memphis, Tennessee

Knowledge Quest garden.jpg

Knowledge Quest fosters a community garden experience to encourage intergenerational engagement and awareness of where food is coming from. Not only are they USDA Certified Organic, but Knowledge Quest & Greenleaf Learning Farm have increased 50% in growing capacity. Knowledge Quest used the community challenge grant funds to upgrade greenhouse and farm infrastructures to expand food production. They have been actively combatting against Memphis being ranked among the top cities with food insecurity and child obesity. Knowledge Quest depends on its seniors to pass on their knowledge and experience to the youth. Nutrition classes, conversations about the correlation between food and mood, KQ:90, urban agricultural masterclasses, and more.

Marlon recommends future applicants to be authentic and truly consider the social capital they possess especially when tapping into the wisdom and connections of seniors.
To learn more visit: Knowledge Quest or Greenleaf’s Facebook

Danielle Kaminsky, Grant Writer
Robertson County Schools – Springfield, Tennessee

Robertson County Schools created a Book Bus project to support Reading Across Robertson. It provides older residents and school students with library books and intergenerational activities. After COVID, there was a realization that the rural area needed more opportunities to get connected and communicate. AARP’s Community Challenge Grant allowed the Book Bus to leverage the immense number of seniors that were already connected and contributing. The grant allowed the bus to be up within months rather than needing another year of fundraising and led to 6 successful programs being ran with the senior volunteers. A few programs being implemented are Journeys through Generations, which connects a student with a senior as they explore storytelling in a similar manner as an old time radio show, Caza Tietro, which is a bilingual theater group that encourages awareness and appreciation of the Latino community and voices the importance of Spanish-speaking students not choosing between American and Spanish culture. Their goal is to bring the magic that happens behind the classroom walls and library into the community, make the joy of reading available throughout the community, and prevent the summer slide about losing reading proficiency.

Danielle encourages future applicants to use your network, keep your eyes, ears, and mind open, and to capitalize on everyone in your community that is willing to help.

To learn more about the Book Bus, inquire about volunteering, or to donate you can:
Call the Teacher Center (Media and Material): 615-384-0238

The AARP Community Challenge grant program is part of AARP’s nationwide Livable Communities initiative, which supports the efforts of neighborhoods, towns, cities and counties across the country to become great places to live for people of all ages. We believe that communities should provide residents of all ages, (especially people 50 and older) with safe, walkable streets; affordable and accessible housing and transportation options; access to needed services; and opportunities to participate in community life.

The application deadline for the 2024 grant cycle is March 6, 2024 at 5:00 p.m. ET / 2:00 p.m. PT. All projects must be completed by December 15, 2024.

To submit an application and learn more about the work being funded by the AARP Community Challenge both here in Tennessee, as well as across the nation, visit

About AARP Tennessee
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