Thanks to an AARP Community Challenge grant, the town of Dunellen was able to build benches in Columbia Park with help from community volunteers. (L-R) John Gibney, Rachel Appleton, Glenn Donatiello, Homer Mosley Jr, Georgette Mosley, Terri Albertson, Daniel Cole Sigmon, Mayor Jason Cilento, Stacy Narvesen, Kenneth Baudendistel, Peter Albertson Sr., Heidi Heleniak, and Alex Miller.
A half-mile walking path surrounds Dunellen’s Columbia Park, the town’s recreational hub and the location of its senior center. But until recently there was no seating along the path, making it unusable for some older and disabled residents.
Thanks to a $6,500 AARP Community Challenge grant, the borough’s Parks and Recreation Department, along with the Dunellen Municipal Alliance and other groups, added a dozen benches, installed and labeled new plantings, and painted a footbridge in the park.
The Columbia Park project did more than beautify the space, said Jason Cilento, Dunellen’s mayor—it engaged the community across generations.
“They all came in and did it together,” Cilento said.
The town’s high school football team, the Dunellen Destroyers, helped with planting. Members of the Dunellen Senior Citizens Club joined in, too, staining the new benches.
The town’s Arts and Culture Commission painted the park’s footbridge, and a former mayor donated signs for the bridge and walking path.
Even a small grant can have a big impact, Cilento said. “We’re a very small town, so resources are limited.”
Great places, new spaces
Dunellen was among 159 municipalities and organizations in every state (including three in New Jersey), D.C., Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to be awarded grants last year through the third annual AARP Community Challenge. There were more than 1,660 applications.
The program funds quick improvements, typically completed in under six months, that are meant to make communities more livable for everyone.
“Here in New Jersey, we want our communities to be great places not just to grow up but to grow old, as well,” said Christine Newman, AARP New Jersey community outreach director.
Dunellen Recreation has teamed up with The American Legion Post 119 and VFW 5479 on a new Hometown Heroes Program.
Next Stop Dunellen!
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