Region 5 RTCC grant targets more livable community through better access for all

Washington County Food Pack Delivery Partnership (Fall 2021) report cover

When the annual AARP Community Challenge was announced, staff at the MnDOT-funded Region 5 RTCC wasted no time in generating potential project ideas to further leverage its existing partnerships and funding for community benefit. The highly competitive AARP program provides small grants to fund quick-action projects that can help communities become more livable for people of all ages.

Region 5 RTCC staff considered an incentive program for volunteer drivers who recruited other volunteer drivers, as well as transit passes and memberships to the Brainerd Food Co-Op. But, in the end, AARP selected their proposal to provide transit passes, transit training and memberships to a local health and wellness center for low-income seniors, veterans, and members of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.

In 2021, AARP received more than 3,500 applications from nonprofit and government entities and distributed nearly $3.4 million to fund 244 projects nationwide. AARP set seven possible project outcome areas, including transportation and mobility options that increase connectivity, walkability, bikeability, wayfinding, access to transportation options, and roadway improvements.

With their winning grant award, the RTCC produced five short transit training videos, provided gym memberships in partnership with local gyms for six months and offered transportation on an as-needed basis. It promoted and increased awareness about the project by printing and distributing flyers, emailing various groups, producing a video, promoting it on the radio, and boosting Facebook posts.

The project garnered more than 100 participants, aging in range from 12-years-old to 85-years-old. It offered some community members their first-ever gym membership, for others the opportunity to rejoin a gym, and for many, the opportunity to make new friends and pursue a healthier lifestyle.

The project also helped bring new riders to transit services and supported the development of educational tools, such as videos on how to ride the bus, which will continue to help community members gain access to existing transportation options.