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Six Nebraska communities receive AARP grants to boost 'livability'

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Deborah Van Fleet

(Nebraska News Connection) Projects in six Nebraska communities, large and small, are among this year's AARP Community Challenge Grant winners.

A total of $3.6 million was awarded to 310 organizations nationwide for projects to make their communities more "livable," especially for people age 50 and older.

Todd Stubbendieck, AARP Nebraska state director, said the ongoing mission to improve the health and well-being of older Nebraskans includes improving the places they live and spend time in. He said the grants are based on feedback from community leaders, who said projects that can be completed quickly can create positive momentum.

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"The Community Challenge Grant really embraces that notion of quick-action projects that demonstrate a change," he said, "and oftentimes lead to a greater change within that community."

Stubbendieck said the traditional "flagship" grants usually fund physical improvements to a public space. Two of this year's awardees received $2,500 "microgrants," offered for the first time in 2023. Civic Nebraska received one to conduct audits to identify the best location for "traffic-calming" devices on a busy Lincoln street. Another went to the Fremont Area Habitat for Humanity to expand and improve a community garden.

Three of this year's grants will benefit small Nebraska communities. Chappell received $10,000 for improvements at the Chappell Lake Recreation Area. Shaunna Mashek, the town's community development director, said they updated the restrooms and parking lot, bought new picnic tables and installed solar lights for night fishing. 

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"There's lots that fish out there, kayak, take their grandkids, camp for a couple days," she said. "We're so grateful for this grant opportunity to not only improve the lake but be able to continue to, as a community, enjoy it."

Without the AARP grant money, Mashek said, there's no way they could have afforded these improvements. 

Laura Bedlan, development services director for the City of Fairbury, echoed the sentiment. That city is using its $6,000 grant to add an indoor walking track to its popular community center. 

"That center provides so much for all age groups, but especially for the seniors," she said. "We hope it will assist with indoor exercise opportunities for the 50-plus, and everybody else."

Other grantees include Seven Valleys Senior Center in Callaway and the City of Omaha Planning Department.