UNION, NJ — The Kean University Department of Occupational Therapy, the Housing Authority of Elizabeth and the Kean University Foundation have received a grant from AARP to create a “walkability trail,” featuring murals inspired by city residents.
The Walk, Thrive, Share project is the creation of associate professor Claire Mulry, chairperson of the Kean Department of Occupational Therapy, and Cathy Hart, deputy director of the Housing Authority of the City of Elizabeth. The $18,000 AARP Community Challenge grant was one of 260 awarded across the country to “help communities become great places to live for residents of all ages,” according to AARP.
“This work is an example of how Kean supports and serves as a resource for the communities around us, such as the city of Elizabeth, while also offering opportunities for our Kean students to grow and creatively meet challenges faced by society today,” Mulry said.
The trail comes on the heels of a related project in 2021, Thriving in a Virtual World. In that project, which also received AARP funding, Kean OT faculty and students worked with seniors in Elizabeth, collecting their stories and providing training in the use of technology. Together, the projects are designed to build connections and decrease social isolation for seniors.
The new walking trail will include six murals based on Elizabeth seniors’ life stories, using material gathered in the Kean storytelling project. The safe, vibrant walkable space will include areas for both exercise and rest.
Mulry said the university-community collaboration addresses health and educational inequities in Elizabeth.
“Social isolation and depression were national health concerns for older adults before the COVID-19 pandemic and were exacerbated by the lockdown,” she said. “This project allowed residents to work with others to share their life and COVID-19 survival stories and recognize their resilience while increasing internet access and gaining technology training.”
The project serves seniors living in the Mravlag Manor complex in Elizabeth, according to Hart. Mural design and creation of the walkway are expected to begin in late summer or fall.
Plans also include an augmented-reality component, which will be either installed in the community room or an online experience.
Photo Courtesy of Kean University