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AARP AARP States Virginia Community

What's For Dinner?

Multiple people sitting at a dinner table socializing and laughing over sweet tea.

Who doesn’t love a good meal?  Social gatherings revolve around food. Family gatherings revolve around food.  Holidays... food. Celebrations... food. Reunions… food. Church socials... food. 

So! Why not just plan a dinner for dinner’s sake? But the Dinner Group organized by AARP Virginia volunteers in Lynchburg is much, much more than dinner for dinner’s sake. 

Research done on brain health invariably concludes that social interaction contributes to mental health. In an article in the November 2008 AARP Bulletin entitled “Friends Make You Smart,” author Michelle Diament postulated that “boosting social interaction is a key to your mental health.”

The Dinner Group in Lynchburg had ceased functioning as the COVID-19 pandemic became widespread.  When the infection rates began to subside, the possibility of reviving the group surfaced occasionally, but the uncertainty of coronavirus's reemergence delayed implementation of a revival plan.

On Jan. 23, nearly three years after the last Dinner Group, 30 people met for dinner at a local restaurant in Lynchburg.

AARP Virginia promoted this event, open to all, by reaching out to community organizations including local businesses, churches and civic groups. Volunteers posted flyers throughout the region and invited friends to join. Planners are hoping to expand the group by establishing it as a monthly event.

The latest gathering was one of reunion for some and a meet-and-greet for the newbies. The energy in the room was palpable and the food was as good as people remembered.

Brian Jacks, AARP Virginia Community Outreach Director based in southwestern Virginia, spoke briefly about three areas of focus at the heart of AARP's mission - education, advocacy and service - citing examples of each that the Lynchburg volunteer team has been, or is, participating in.   

Guests at the dinner included several from the University of Lynchburg: Sarah Rhodes, director of donor relations, Denise Scruggs, director of the Beard Center, and Mari Normyle, president of Life@Lynchburg, a new endeavor of the university that is designed to provide opportunities for continuing lifelong learning. They and others from the university used the opportunity to promote the new program.

Normyle outlined plans for the semester-old initiative to provide learning opportunities for the 50-plus crowd. She explained that in the upcoming semester its 10 weekly classes will include presentations and community discussions on topics designed to engage participants with diverse interests.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, in his book, Keep Sharp, said, “Research has long shown that new knowledge, whatever it is, pays off.” 

Two of the Six Pillars of Brain Health developed by AARP are to engage our brains and to stay socially active. These activities - the Dinner Group and the Life@Lynchburg program at the university - fit the bill.

If social interaction and learning new things are keys to mental health, then the doors those keys fit are the Lynchburg Dinner Group and the university’s Life@Lynchburg program, said Joyce E. Williams, AARP Virginia state president. She added that, “These opportunities for the social interaction and continued learning [could] certainly contribute to a healthier you and who could ask for more?”   

People in the Lynchburg area may find more information about Life@Lynchburg by contacting Sarah M. Rhodes at 434-544-8084 or at or sign up for the program at

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