Both mayor of Hamtramck and owner of a vintage clothing store on its main thoroughfare, Karen Majewski is keenly aware of the diverse population of her city.
More than 41 percent of its roughly 22,000 residents were foreign-born and nearly 70 percent speak a language other than English at home, according to estimates from the US Census Bureau. The language barrier can make it difficult for the city’s largely low-income population to use public transportation and find their way to amenities like the Veterans Memorial Park.
“Hamtramck is an urban city; there are a lot of older people who still do their business on foot, ”says Majewski. “And it can be very difficult for people who don’t speak English to navigate.”
A AARP 2021 Community Challenge Grant will help change that by paying for 11 benches in social housing complexes, parks and shopping areas.
Each bench will display details of the bus service and other low-cost transport options in English, Arabic, and Bengali. Brochures with similar information will be printed and distributed by local volunteers.
The project is one of four in Michigan to receive Community Challenge grants this year. The program finances small
action projects that have an immediate impact on the quality of life.
“We want to accelerate progress,” says Mike Watson, director of AARP’s Livable Communities initiative. “This year, we have seen a real emphasis among the candidates on the fight against the pandemic and on diversity and inclusion.”
Since 2017, AARP has awarded more than $ 9 million in grants to some 800 projects nationwide.
“Over the past few years we’ve seen a lot of outdoor and fitness focused proposals,” says Marianne Samper, 72, of Traverse City, a AARP Michigan volunteer who reviews applications. “You are constantly trying to find balance. How many people will this impact and how far will the dollars go? ”
Two applications selected this year concerned Hamtramck projects. The Center for Health Disparities Innovations and Studies at the University of Eastern Michigan will use its grant to turn part of an alley into safe assembly points and shortcuts, project leader Xining Yang said.
Piloting ideas that can inspire more widespread change is one of the objectives of the Community Challenge program. Another 2021 award will be given to a group that hopes to help many areas in Michigan test the feasibility of adding protected bike lanes.
The Lansing-based League of Michigan Bicyclists will use its grant to purchase modular barricades and other equipment, which will be loaned out a few weeks at a time. More than a dozen communities, from Detroit to Traverse City, have already expressed interest in such bike paths, says Matt Penniman, the league’s communications director.
In Madison Heights, a grant to the Association of Chinese Americans will transform part of a parking lot, with benches and a greenhouse. A kiosk will be added to socialize and organize tai chi, meditation and light exercise activities.
“It’s really important that people who are isolated have a safe place to relax with each other,” says Peggy Du, the group’s temp.
Learn more about aarp.org/vivable.
Melissa Preddy is a writer living in Plymouth.
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