Dana helps Martha paint a snowman.

Martha struggles to keep the colors on the canvas every time she attends the Active Older Adults painting class at the Green Hills Family YMCA. Globs of green, blue and other hues inevitably find their way to her face, hair and clothes. But it’s nothing to worry about for the 93-year-old Monet-in-the-making.

“I had never held a paintbrush,” Martha explained her lack of experience before the Y's class. “My first painting, well, it didn’t look any worse than anybody else’s. So, I was shocked that I could paint.”

Class instructor, Dana Langford, playfully chimed in, “We were all shocked you could paint! She was so enthusiastic.”

“I was enthusiastic,” Martha agreed.

Dana leaned over to help Martha with her painting, continuing to brag on her. “Attitude is everything, and she comes in here with the best attitude.”

Supporting seniors in spirit, mind and body

For Martha and 20 others who attend the class every few months, painting is more than a fun pastime; it’s one of many activities the we offer to ensure better well-being for over 35,000 seniors belonging to our Ys.

All the Y programs that keep them moving—from day trips to card games to Active Older Adult group exercise classes—work together to protect seniors from the very real problem of social isolation, which puts Middle Tennessee's aging population at greater risk of chronic disease, depression, stress and unhealthy behaviors. In the Y, they also find a safe place to simply come and enjoy coffee and conversation with friends.

Anita Rich, the regional coordinator for Active Older Adults, sees the positive impact these activities have on the seniors’ lives. “Some are coming back from knee replacement, hip replacement, and they still want to come to the Y. Socializing is great for their minds,” she said.

“We have great camaraderie”

This time in class, the painters created a snowman. After tracing an outline, Dana instructed them to make two big Y's for the snowman's stick arms. They filled in the background with black and then painted his features.

Martha sized up her progress. “He looks better the farther away from him you get,” she decided.

“Like a block or two,” added Spencer, the longtime eye surgeon next to her. They laughed.

Spencer lives in a retirement community a few miles down the street. He misses his late wife of 42 years, 7 months, and 12 days.

Madhuri works on her first painting at the Y.

“This is an opportunity to get out, meet some people, and enjoy doing something that will give an outlet from the boredom of living by oneself at age 97,” he said, with a sly grin. “No, I’m 87. It sounded good, though, didn’t it?”

Madhuri, a first-timer, peered through her spectacles with serious focus as she perfected her snowman’s carrot nose. “I’ll just keep it in my house and let my grandchildren see,” she said. “I have three grandchildren, so that will encourage them that you can do it at any age.”

Betty, to her left, said she planned to give the painting—her favorite so far—to her granddaughter. Like many others in the class, Betty also participates in group exercise at the Y.

“If I don’t do my workout, I don’t have a good day,” she said. Betty attributes much of her consistency to the support of fellow members. “We have great camaraderie, and we back each other up."

More than classes

From exercising to painting, Dana agreed that the close community makes the Active Older Adults activities more than classes. “It’s not just coming in and cranking out a lesson. It’s coming in and knowing the stories,” she said.

One of those stories involves a beloved class member who recently passed away. When he had gone to rehab, Dana said he brought one of his paintings to decorate his room.

“There’s a magic to this group because of the personalities and dynamics,” Dana said. “I feel very privileged to be with everybody.”

Anita began working with the Active Older Adults when her mother became ill and said it’s like having extra parents, grandparents and older siblings.

“Whatever I can do for them—whether it’s exercise classes, art classes, a lunch and learn, coming in to watch a movie—it all helps them mentally," she said.

After several hours, the class put the final touches on their paintings and signed their names in the corners. Martha, with much more paint on the canvas than on herself this time, seemed pleased with her snowman.

“He has a nice smile on his face,” she said. “I think I’m going to hang him in my little den.”

Learn more about Active Older Adults

At the Y, older adults can take advantage of membership options and exercise programs designed for them while benefiting from social events ranging from potlucks to group outings and community service opportunities.