NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – The Borough Council discussed a potential grant application to improve livability for the borough’s aging population at its Monday, Oct. 28 meeting. Councilman Peter DeSarno introduced the topic which had been discussed earlier at the New Providence Economic Development Committee. Committee Member Bill Hoefling and Former Executive Director of Lantern Hill Patricia Swan took a part in the discussion as well. Swan had also prepared a draft Letter of Intent, which received a thumbs up from the council.

DeSarno explained that at the last Economic Development Committee meeting on Oct. 10 AARP representative Stephanie Hunsinger had provided “a great presentation” on livability concepts as they apply to the needs of an aging population. Swan had given a presentation of the Grotta grant availability at that same meeting.

At the council meeting DeSarno asked Swan questions regarding the grant so that the full council would be aware of the process. Swan explained that the first year of funding, up to $75,000, would be used largely for exploratory purposes, but some small projects could also be accomplished. Larger projects would take place during the second year of funding, she said.

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The Livability Initiative is focusing on preparing the town for the accommodation of its aging population as well as enabling intergenerational activities and programs. Age-friendly initiatives include senior housing accommodations and lifelong learning initiatives, such as library and mentoring programs. Providing seniors with reduced cost transportation to shopping, recreation and medical appointments is a part of the initiative. Towns could also use the funds to maintain their parks and trails so that the senior citizens could enjoy them. For example, benches and restrooms could be installed in parks. Towns and organizations could also provide seniors with volunteer opportunities and encourage the development of a neighbor-helping-neighbor culture.

Grotta Fund grants are available to 501c3 agencies, religious institutions, and municipalities benefiting older adults who reside in Essex, Union, Morris, Sussex, and Somerset counties. Swan explained the timeline for the grant application process. The first step is to submit the Letter of Intent to the Grotta Fund by Nov. 8. The Grotta Fund may then invite New Providence to apply for the grant. The borough should hear back from the fund by Dec. 11. If invited to apply, the borough, with the support of the Economic Development Committee, should complete the application and submit it to Grotta by Jan. 16, 2020. Grotta will announce the approved grants on Mar. 11, 2020. If approved, the funding begins on Apr. 1, 2020.

The grant approval would be followed up by Livability Audits and focus groups of the interested residents. A full-scale survey completed by residents would be conducted. Swan suggested using Montclair State University Social Work School for the survey project. Rutgers University Professor Emily Greenfield would then help analyze the survey results. Much of the first year’s funding is likely going to go towards to exploratory and research expenses, but “it would be great” if some small improvements could be accomplished during the first year, she said.

As soon as the Letter of Intent has been submitted the borough should explore the formation of a coalition of all stakeholders as it relates to the Livability Initiative, for example such as medical and religious establishments, various community organizations, senior citizens and so on, Swan advised.

Mayor Al Morgan noted that if New Providence receives the first grant, there is no obligation to continue the initiative into the second funding cycle. Swan confirmed that there is no commitment on either side. Morgan also noted that New Providence might be “ahead of the game” in terms of the livability concept compared to some other municipalities.