A flowered cloth covers the table where Janet Cooper sits with her aunt, a family member and a friend. The ladies chat with Thrive Alliance wellness and nutrition site leader Ryan Dodge as they finish their sandwiches, fruit cups and a drink.

The group has been eating lunch after their free Silver Sneakers exercise classes on Mondays and Wednesdays at the Brown County YMCA for the past couple of weeks.

“We smelled it. That’s what got me. We could smell it cooking. I went, ‘Oh my gosh, that smells good. What’s he having?’ So of course, we had to follow (the smell),” Janet Cooper said.

“We just came to check it out, and then we liked the food, so we keep coming back,” Fern Hendershot said.

Dodge isn’t just there to socialize. He’s there to serve nutritious meals and make sure the site runs smoothly.

He is in the former Head Start room at the Y from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday to answer questions about the services Thrive Alliance offers.

Free lunch is one of those services. It’s served at 11:30 a.m. on weekdays to anyone 60 or older.

“We want to get people out of isolation and engaging with each other,” said Abby Garcia, Thrive Alliance’s wellness and nutrition manager.

“It’s easy to become isolated in Brown County, because Nashville isn’t always easily accessible,” Dodge said.

Filling a need

In 2013, 32 Brown County seniors completed surveys from Thrive Alliance. Sixteen percent reported having at least a minor problem with having enough to eat.“We do get feedback from a lot of our seniors across the five counties that if we didn’t serve this lunch, they would not be eating,” Garcia said.

Fifteen percent of Brown County seniors surveyed in 2013 reported visiting a nutrition/meal site.

Thrive Alliance served meals at Willow Manor Apartments, across the street from the Y, for three years, but they were not reaching many people who did not live there.

“People just assumed it was for the people who lived at Willow Manor,” Garcia said.

“That’s the main reason why we moved here, because this is a much more community-centered public place.”

Before Willow Manor opened, Thrive Alliance used to serve free lunches at Sycamore Valley Senior Center in Nashville. Sycamore Valley has since closed.

The Senior Nutrition Program site opened April 11 at the YMCA. During the week of June 6, Dodge said he was on track to serve 35 to 40 meals.

“We’ve seen a lot of growth at lunch time. The conversation with the seniors is always really joyful and exciting because you get to hear Brown County gossip from the 1950s,” Dodge said.

The Brown County Access bus also provides free transportation to lunch for anyone 60 or older if they call ahead to schedule a trip.

Garcia said a man from Freetown rides that bus 30 minutes each way to get his free lunch.

Branching out

The Y already was in a good position to become a meal site.“We are surrounded by two apartment buildings that are 55 and over and the nursing home. It’s kind of a no-brainer,” YMCA executive director Kim Robinson said.

Access Brown County’s ride dispatch center also operates out of the Y.

“I think the senior population in this county is getting older. … I hope we can enhance their lives and give them something to look forward to,” Robinson said.

Earlier this year, plans had been in works to open a daycare that would share space with the meal site. That would have allowed senior citizens to do activities with preschool-aged children.

Problems with 501(c)3 licensing prevented the daycare from opening, Robinson said. However, she is still open to the idea.

“My big dream was to have intergenerational, to have childcare, then have the seniors come and read to the kids,” she said.

Beginning July 1, Thrive Alliance will begin offering wellness classes at the Y, such as A Matter of Balance, designed to reduce fears of falling, and Walk with Ease, which teaches the benefits of exercise and helps reduce pain from arthritis.

The group would like to offer the classes during the 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. slot — complementing what the Y already offers to seniors without duplicating services.

The Y already offers some exercise classes for free. Health plans around the country offer the Silver Sneakers program free to people eligible for Medicare or for some who receive retirement benefits from their workplace.

Silver Sneakers includes conditioning classes, exercise equipment, pool access and other offerings designed to improve strength, flexibility, balance and endurance.

The Y also offers Senior Strings, guitar or dulcimer lessons taught by local musician Kara Barnard.

Thrive Alliance wants more input from seniors about class offerings. Dodge will accept those comments during lunch time or at his office in the Y.

At a Thrive Alliance open house May 31, a survey was distributed to seniors to gauge their interests, which included learning foreign languages, dance classes and arts and crafts.

“I don’t want this to be a program where they have to do X, Y and Z. I want them to be able to have a choice,” Dodge said.

“I think, unfortunately, the older you get, the less of the choice you have and that’s not the way it should be sometimes.”

Thrive Alliance services

Thrive Alliance is the Area 11 Agency on Aging for five counties including Brown.

It is charged with addressing basic needs, like food, physical/mental health, community engagement and improving independence.

“Just because we’re the area agency on aging doesn’t mean we’re solely focused on seniors,” said Abby Garcia, Thrive Alliance’s wellness and nutrition manager.

Thrive Alliance also offers services to all ages such as early learning program First Steps, long-term care legal services, adult guardianship, medication assistance and disability resources. A full list can be found at thrive-alliance.org.

Questions: Wellness and nutrition site leader Ryan Dodge at 812-720-1061 or Thrive Alliance’s main office at 812-372-6918.

How to get involved

Thrive Alliance has moved its senior nutrition program to the Brown County YMCA. It offers free lunches to seniors 60 or older Monday through Friday at 11:30 a.m. Special meals are available for diabetics.

If interested in eating, call site leader Ryan Dodge at 812-720-1061 so he knows how many meals to make. Newcomers will need to fill out a registration form, too.

Beginning July 1, Thrive Alliance will begin to plan wellness classes that will be offered alongside what the YMCA already teaches seniors. Possibilities include Walk With Ease, which teaches the benefits of exercise and helps reduce pain from arthritis, and A Matter of Balance, designed to reduce fears of falling.

Catch a ride in

To schedule a trip with the Brown County Access bus, call 812-988-0185. The service is free to riders 60 and older.