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AARP AARP States Virginia Livable Communities

Grants Fund Community Improvements in Virginia

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Sue Davis recruits volunteer drivers to take older residents to doctor appointments and run essential errands in rural Central Virginia, but she has seen reluctance to use the service from people who aren’t familiar with it.

Davis believed that providing hats, jackets and badges with logos to volunteers would help residents to identify them and build trust.

“I’ve wanted something that when somebody sees it, they’ll say, ‘That’s the driving group,’ ” says Davis, 66, of Culpeper, herself a driver and volunteer coordinator for the nonprofit Aging Together. That wish is becoming a reality with an AARP Community Challege grant to fund flyers and items to identify ride-service drivers in the counties served by the Rappahannock-Rapidan Regional Commission: Culpeper, Fauquier, Madison, Orange and Rappahannock.

“Trust is an important part of the equation” in meeting older residents’ transportation needs, says Kristin Lam Peraza, mobility manager for the commission.

Its Community Challenge grant is one of six awarded in Virginia this year, totaling more than $97,000, for quick-action projects to help communities improve public spaces, transportation and more. 

A grant to nonprofit Venture Richmond will allow it to build a parklet in the Brookland Park neighborhood by extending the sidewalk into two parking spaces along a street that had no seating or shade for businesses’ patrons.

“It’s a pretty miserable street to spend any time on in the summer months,” says Max Hepp-Buchanan of Venture Richmond.

Plans call for built-in seating and umbrellas for shade.

Another grant will enliven a dead-end street in Lynchburg with art, says Susan Brown, program director of the Downtown Lynchburg Association.

Murals will cover the pavement and a building front, and local artwork will hang on brick buildings that line the street and be part of an outdoor gallery.

“I think it’s going to bring a lot of color and life to that end of the street,” Brown says, adding that it opens onto a pathway overlooking the James River.

In Arlington County, the local Commission on Aging will use its grant to improve pedestrian visibility at 10 intersections that have no traffic lights, says Commissioner William Way, noting that Arlington had four pedestrian deaths in 2019.

Pedestrians may pick up a small flag from a canister at a crosswalk so they are more visible to drivers, then leave it in a canister on the other side of the street. Priority will be given to intersections near senior housing and schools.

In Powhatan, a grant will fund park benches and several unmotorized three-wheeled beach cruisers, which older residents can use for free.

The benches will provide rest stops beside long stretches of sidewalk, and the cruisers will be fun and helpful to residents with mobility or balance issues, says Jayne Lloyd, Powhatan County Department of Social Services’ program coordinator for seniors.

Another grant will enable Habitat for Humanity-Powhatan to begin planning for an intergenerational housing project by holding meetings with planners, architects and residents.

“It’s the philosophy of getting the stakeholders of the community involved at the very beginning,” says Susan Weinicki, Habitat’s executive director.

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Sue Lindsey is a writer living in Roanoke.

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