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AARP AARP States Texas Livable Communities

Small Grants Make Big Impact in Texas

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Amanda Ellison and her fellow gardeners at Harry Holmes Healthy Harvest Garden, in Houston, didn’t need a long meeting to decide what to include in their application for a 2021 AARP Community Challenge grant.

The front gate of the inner-city space had been difficult to latch for many of its nine years in operation. And heavy rains sometimes backed up and flooded several lower-lying plots.

“These are things we’ve wanted to fix for a long time,” says Ellison, who at 65 is one of the youngest of the garden’s 11 regulars. Many of the other volunteers are in their 80s.

The AARP grant will turn a long-awaited upgrade into reality—paying for improved fencing, lighting and native-plant landscaping. The site’s 14 beds will be raised to make them more accessible, and gravel will make the paths between them easier to navigate after heavy rains.

Located in southern Houston’s Sunnyside neighborhood, which began a century ago as a segregated community for Black residents, the Harry Holmes garden has been a source of fresh food and a learning experience for residents young and old. It has hosted youths from schools, churches and scout troops, who learn about plant science and healthy diets while helping out with the garden work, Ellison says.

“It’s a nexus for the community,” says Anne Gatling Haynes, CEO of the nonprofit Houston Land Bank, which owns the garden location. 

Improving streets and more

The nationwide AARP Community Challenge grant program funds quick-action projects that focus on improvements to public spaces, civic engagement, housing, access to transportation, and diversity and inclusion.

“It’s about demonstrating how a community can change and become more livable for people of all ages,” says Lisa Ann Rodriguez, AARP Texas advocacy and outreach director. 

AARP funded more than 240 projects this year. Since its inception in 2017, the program has awarded more than $9 million to 804 projects around the country. They typically must be completed within four months.

This year, six Texas areas received grants. In addition to the community garden, other projects are:

  • Adding shade structures, seating, trees and a mural along streets in Houston’s Gulfton/Sharpstown area
  • Creating an augmented-reality installation, combining art and technology for a multimedia experience, on the exterior of the Aldine Branch Library in the North Houston District 
  • Erecting wayfinder signs in five Houston neighborhoods to boost pedestrian connections to businesses and neighborhood amenities, helping increase public safety and economic activity 
  • Encouraging the building of accessory dwelling units, which are additional living spaces on existing properties (such as an apartment over a garage), by developing design plans preapproved by Houston zoning officials
  • Upgrading crosswalks and traffic signals at the intersection of Elam and N. Jim Miller roads in Southeast Dallas to provide safer pedestrian access to schools, churches, recreational trails and public transportation

To learn more about the AARP Community Challenge program and other winners around the country, go to

Thomas Korosec is a writer living in Dallas. 

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