Q&A: Tonya Jelf, Organizer of the Alive After 35 Knoxville Meetup Group

Tonya Jelf is the organizer and "hyper motivator" of the Alive After 35 Knoxville Meetup group, which celebrated its one-year anniversary in July.

What's the main function of the group?

We go on outings. That's most of what we do, just things to get us out of the house. And for some that are parents—not that they don't love their kids—it's a chance to get out of the house without the kids. Most of our activities are just for adults. We've ended up being an artsy fartsy group, but we still do some sports like disc golf and Putt Putt. And close to Christmas, we always have a month of service projects in November and December.

How many belong?

We have 100 members, but we have about 20-25 who are active out of that 100. If you have not been active in three months I nicely boot you out.

Is it for singles?

It's for the never married, widowed, single with kids, single without kids, married with or without children, women and men. I kept getting questions, so I finally wrote, "If you are 35-ish and up please consider being a part of our group." I used to have an upward cap on age, but no longer. I have a few single moms with kids that are very active, and quite a few couples where the husband is in his own social group, and the wife wanted to be in a group herself, but he might come along with us when we have bring a friend events.

What inspired you to begin the group?

I had grown up in Tennessee, but moved away to Louisville, Ky. and lived there 15 years. After my divorce I moved back to Knoxville. I had led a group like this at my church. It was successful, and I enjoyed it so much that when it started dwindling I wondered if it would work this well at Meetup.

There is some religion involved?

Yes it's a fellowship, but for all types of religions—I'm very open-minded. I would say quite a few of us are Protestant, like me, but I do know there are some Buddhists in the group and for a while we had a Jewish couple though they're not very active any more. It's more about the social aspect of fellowship than religion.

Have there been particularly popular events?

Mostly we try to do free stuff, so if you're unemployed or something they would still be something you can afford. Mostly we just go and hang out. Looking at our calendar right now, there are a lot of music events, places where you can set up your chairs and hang out and be social. There's a winery event in Loudon that's getting very popular with the group. We're going again Sept. 22 with another Meetup group. And 12 people have already signed up for our Tuesday, Sept. 11 hike to the top of Look Rock Tower. We'll have a moment of silence for not just the 9/11 victims but also members of our military.

Have you made any good friends this way?

Yes, the great thing about Meetup, other organizers of other groups are just as active as my Alive After 35 members; I'm also in some of their groups. We meet not just to hang out as friends, but to plan trips and bounce ideas off each other.

How much time do you put into this?

When I do sit down to plan, I try to stock up enough events to get me through two months at a time. Each week I spend an hour researching events, including day trips.

Do you also have a day job?

I'm one of the members who was recently laid off, so I'm looking for work. I am a former office manager and executive assistant, and I've dabbled in inventory control.

Why choose the age 35?

For one reason, it's my age group. I also realized Knoxville has a lot to offer adults who are "in the middle of life." But we don't do a good job of advertising, so people in my age group a lot of times only see what's on the news, which are mostly kid-friendly events, and may not realize how much else is out there. I love children, but sometimes it's nice to socialize with those your own age. Some who have joined also socialize with play groups that involve kids, and some of them have told me it's really nice to separate the two now and then.

To join or learn more: meetup.com/Alive-after-35