Mattie Phillips, pastor at Jesus Word Center Life Changing Ministries, has dreamed for years of creating a garden on a vacant lot next to the church in the North Lawndale neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side.
The area’s residents lack access to sources of fresh, nutritious food, with an estimated 57 percent eating less than one serving of vegetables daily, according to the nonprofit North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council. But while the church owned land for the garden, it didn’t have money to buy soil, plants and lumber to construct raised beds—until now.
Thanks to a 2021 AARP Community Challenge grant, volunteers will be able to plant collard greens, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers and other vegetables.
Phillips plans to offer cooking classes to show residents how to prepare authentic Southern dishes using the greens. She also wants to add benches, making the space a respite for older adults. “We are always looking for ways to enhance our community so residents can live a better life,” Phillips says.
The Chicago church is one of five winners in Illinois, and 244 nationwide, of 2021 AARP Community Challenge grants. The program supports improvements to public spaces, diversity and inclusion efforts, transportation, coronavirus recovery, housing and civic engagement.
AARP Illinois received a record 90 applications, with the amounts requested ranging from $3,000 to $10,000, says Ellen Acevedo, associate state director of volunteer engagement and mobilization.
“A lot of times the applicants aren’t asking for a lot of money, and what they want to do with it is really incredible,” she says.
Murals, park seating, more
Since its inception in 2017, the program has awarded more than $9 million to 804 quick-action projects around the country.
In Illinois this year’s other grant winners are:
To learn more about the AARP Community Challenge program and how to apply, go to https://www.aarp.org/livable-communities/community-challenge/. And find information on the AARP Livable Communities initiative at https://www.aarp.org/livable-communities/
Lisa Bertagnoli is a writer living in Chicago.
For More on AARP Livable Communities
This story is provided by AARP Illinois. Visit the AARP Illinois page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.
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