Watching TV game shows every weekday morning hardly constituted a winning lifestyle. In fact, it often bored Irene Eastham beyond description.

With mobility challenges due to arthritis, the 67-year-old Columbus resident felt stuck at home — until she found the nonprofit Just Friends Adult Day Services two and a half years ago inside Mill Race Center at 900 Lindsey St. in Columbus.

Now, she participates in games such as bingo or modified horseshoes. Not to mention informal activities that the program’s 45 participants affectionately and enthusiastically call “pass the baby.” On this particular day, adorable and beaming four-month-old Penelope Hooker, the granddaughter of Just Friends volunteer Elva Cavazos, lit up the room with her smile and warmth, and made Eastham so glad she has found a place with such joy.

“I can’t quite explain it,” Cavazos said of her little bundle’s way with connecting with Just Friends’ participants. “It just gives everyone a very good feeling.”

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Eastham, who comes every weekday to the program that includes licensed nursing care, gets it.

“If you’re down and out when you come here, people here definitely will lift your spirits,” she said, adding that she is more introverted than extroverted.

Just Friends leaders want to be able to keep doing that — and possibly attract others to its program for frail older residents, including those living with forms of dementia. That’s one reason why they have scheduled a fundraising tailgate party at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 16 at Just Friends to watch the televised game between the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans.

Even for those who cannot attend, the food-and-fun event includes a chance to buy $25 raffle chances to win two seats in Columbus native Forrest Lucas’ private luxury box at Lucas Oil Stadium for the Nov. 24 Thanksgiving Day game between the Colts and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The drawing for the winner will be at the tailgate gathering.

Organizers said they hope to net $25,000 for the inaugural, indoor get-together with burgers and hot dogs and sides, followed by watching the actual game. They know that, for many area families, the 28-year-old Just Friends program provides important elements of independence and stimulation for those who sometimes might otherwise be left alone at home while a spouse or other family member still works.

“This gives me something to do and gets me out of my wife’s hair,” said a chuckling Bill Lion, 88. “And I like visiting with all my friends here.”

You hear that a lot among participants, whom staff never refer to as clients because it sounds slightly impersonal and distant. For them, just friends should be just that: people in a warm, supportive relationship.

The program nearly is running at its peak. With continued growth, leaders might have to consider renting additional space, said Marilyn Clerc, its executive director.

“But that would involve some (planning and budgeting) risk,” Clerc said.

But those who formally launched the program in 1988 took a risk to begin offering the mix of activities to enhance people’s cognitive and physical abilities.

“With Just Friends, you see a transformation of people’s lives,” said Chris Forbes, the program’s marketing coordinator. “And it can transform the lives of caregivers, too.”

Several years, ago, a retired farmer struggling with various age-related issues began to spend his days at home simply sitting in his recliner feeling depression hang over him. Then his wife heard about Just Friends. She drove him there the first day they decided to try the program, which has sliding-scale fees. But he stubbornly sat in the hallway and wept.

He told his wife he wouldn’t return. But with his wife’s blessing, Just Friends sent its participant pickup van to get him a few days later. The man grew excited when he saw the van because he was fascinated with vehicles.

Days later, during a music-listening session at Just Friends, the older farmer who never had the nerve to dance with his wife got up and grooved with his newfound friends. Clerc tells the story to show people one thing above all: For some participants, Just Friends sometimes can mean just one thing — new friends, and a new life.

About the program

What: The nonprofit Just Friends Adult Day Services program, including activities ranging from modified horseshoes and basketball to pet therapy and music.

Where: Inside Mill Race Center, 900 Lindsey St. in Columbus.

Why: To help frail seniors remain active and involved, despite mental and physical challenges, and to give caregivers time to work and tend to other matters.

Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays.

Cost: Based on a sliding scale for those paying out of pocket. Eligible coverage includes VA extended care, long-term care insurance and Medicaid waiver.

Transportation: Available to and from the facility via a low-floorboard minivan capable of aiding clients with limited mobility.

Information: 812-372-6415 or

Time to party

What: Tailgate party fundraiser surrounding the Houston Texans vs. Indianapolis Colts NFL game.

When: Oct. 16. Indoor party begins at 5:30 p.m. with burgers, hotdogs and other food plus bean bag and other games.

Where: Mill Race Center, 900 Lindsey St. in Columbus.

Why: To support the nonprofit Just Friends Adult Day Services that helps frail seniors remain active and involved with others.

If you cannot go: You still can purchase $25 raffle tickets for a chance to win two tickets to Columbus native Forrest Lucas’ private box at Lucas Oil Stadium for the Colts Nov. 24 Thanksgiving Day game wth the Pittsburgh Steelers. The tickets include all food and drink, including alcoholic beverages.

Information: 812-372-6415 or

Author photo
Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at or 812-379-5672.