Improving Public Places

by Jul 13, 2023Around Town, History, North Brunswick

The Navassa-based North Carolina Gullah Geechee Heritage Trail receives a grant from AARP North Carolina as part of its nationwide program to make communities more livable.

Thanks to AARP North Carolina, the Navassa-based North Carolina Gullah Geechee Heritage Trail and six other organizations throughout North Carolina have received 2023 Community Challenge grants. The funding is part of the largest group of grantees to date with $3.6 million awarded among 310 organizations nationwide.

Grantees will implement quick-action projects that help communities become more livable by improving public places; transportation; housing; digital connections; diversity, equity and inclusion; and more, with an emphasis on the needs of adults ages 50 and older.

“AARP North Carolina is committed to working with local leaders to improve residents’ quality of life through tangible changes,” says North Carolina Director Michael Olender. “We are proud to collaborate with this year’s grantees as they make immediate improvements in their communities to jumpstart long-term change, especially for older North Carolinians.”

North Carolina Gullah Geechee Heritage Trail’s mission is to develop multiuse paths and waterway opportunities that acknowledge and celebrate important Gullah Geechee cultural heritage and historic sites located in and around the Navassa area while developing sustainable cultural heritage-tourism opportunities and recreation for all age groups.

Gullah Geechee Trail

The long-term vision is to anchor this Historic Trail in Navassa and link it to other ongoing efforts in the area (e.g., East Coast Greenway) and provide future greenway and blueway connections to various towns and communities throughout the Cape Fear River area.

Brayton Willis, executive director of the North Carolina Gullah Geechee Heritage Trail, says, “We are excited to be collaborating with AARP, the NC Coastal Land Trust and the Cedar Hill West Bank Heritage Foundation on this trail demonstration project in and around the Reaves Chapel restoration project site in Navassa.”

Their effort represents the first stage to develop a multi-use trail that acknowledges the contributions of the Gullah Geechee people, while at the same time educating people about the history of Brunswick County and North Carolina’s 2023 Year of the Trail effort.

Other North Carolina projects funded include Sustain Charlotte (to engage older adult volunteers in a staff-facilitated project to create an online accessibility map of Mecklenburg County’s greenway network); The Town of Matthews (to encourage this community and its older residents to walk along the trail in their neighborhood); Carolina Cross Connections Home Repair Program (to build independence and pride for older adults by ensuring safe access in and out of homes; El Centro in Brevard (to improve its garden to increase produce created for Hispanic/Latino families and older adults); Age-Friendly Forsyth (to reinforce the availability of information about services and supports for the aging population by developing and training volunteer Aging Services Ambassadors); the Town of Chapel Hill (to transform major road corridors and neighborhood streets into spaces that are safe and accessible by installing traffic-calming infrastructure that meets the needs of older adults and reduces traffic deaths and major injuries).

AARP Community Challenge grant projects are funded in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. True to the program’s quick-action nature, projects must be completed by November 30, 2023.

Gullah Geechee

This year, the AARP Community Challenge accepted applications across three different grant opportunities, including existing flagship grants in addition to new capacity-building microgrants for improving walkability and community gardens. New demonstration grants will focus on improving transportation systems, with funding support provided by Toyota Motor North America, and housing choice design competitions. AARP is also bolstering its investment in rural communities, mobility innovation, transportation options and health and food access.

“These grants continue to lead to long-term, positive changes in communities across the country,” says Nancy LeaMond, AARP executive vice president and chief advocacy & engagement officer. “This year, we are proud to support the largest number of projects in the program’s seven-year history, which will improve residents’ quality of life through tangible changes so everyone can thrive as they age.”

The grant program is part of AARP’s nationwide Livable Communities initiative, which supports the efforts of cities, towns, neighborhoods and rural areas to become great places to live for people of all ages, especially those age 50 and older.

Since 2017, AARP North Carolina has awarded 31 grants and $385,000 through the program to nonprofit organizations and government entities across the state.

View the full list of grantees and their project descriptions: and learn more about AARP’s livable communities work at