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Wellness Blog

Sole to Soul: Building Community in the Greater Belleville Area

social accountability and volunteering for nonprofit sole to soul

Growing up, The Esquiline’s Life Enrichment Coordinator Jennifer Murphy had dinner every Sunday at her grandparents’ house.

It was something the whole extended family showed up for, and before each meal, aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, grandparents, and grandchildren would gather around the table and join hands to say a prayer of thanks.

Every single time, the same thing happened.

“My grandfather would look at my grandmother and hold her hand, and just start weeping. He would say, ‘Jo, look at what we started,’” Jennifer said. “He was just so amazed that the love of two people started this group.”

That idea, that feeling, is what the team at The Esquiline and AgeSmart is trying to capture with their new community outreach program, Sole to Soul.

“For us, that’s what we want to impress upon the community,” Jennifer said. “We hope this is a start to a big impact on the Belleville community.”

What is Sole to Soul?

Sole to Soul offers congregate meals for older adults in the greater Belleville and O’Fallon area who might be subject to social isolation and might not have access to nutritious meals. Running from April to September, the pilot program will include six meals in various locations for fixed-income seniors.

Feeding Body and Soul

At Sole to Soul meals, area seniors receive nutritious, tasty meals at no cost to themselves. But that’s not the only thing they walk away from the day with.

There’s also a wellness component meant to nourish attendees’ minds and souls, beyond simply enjoying a good meal. Each event features a guest speaker who covers a relevant, helpful, or inspirational topic.

“The topic has to be relatable to someone 65 or over, but we didn’t want it to be the same things they’d normally be bombarded with, like fall assessments, things like that,” Jennifer explained. “We wanted it to be special.”

For example, one speaker heads a senior program at a local hospital that offers not just physical wellness services, but counseling services as well. Another spoke about a job-training program that places seniors in employment opportunities in the local Belleville area.

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The Inspiration Behind the Name

As Jennifer explains, the name represents a bit of a progression. At first, the team responsible for organizing Sole to Soul wanted to emphasize the “chicken soup for the soul” aspect.

“We wanted to touch on the fact that at every meal, your soul is touched as well,” she said.

Then, they thought that sole, which can mean a type of fish, would be a good fit because it’s also associated as a sign of faith. The Esquiline is a faith-based, nonprofit Life Plan Community, so this made sense. It also represented the fact that it’s something that’s being brought out into the community.

But, when presenting the name to a student involvement group at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, one professor assumed “sole” referred to solitary or alone.

As it turned out, it was a lucky misperception.

“That’s actually what led us to our tagline, ‘arrive alone and leave in community,’” Jennifer said.

Keeping the Promise of Social Accountability

The inspiration behind Sole to Soul was a simple one: to live out the mission of social accountability and stewardship upon which the nonprofit living community was built.

After partnering with AgeSmart, which provides community resources for older adults, and talking with other communities with strong social accountability programs, administrators at The Esquiline realized that there was a need in their community.

“[AgeSmart] had the data to show that there were seniors on a fixed income in this area that would never have the financial ability to live in a brick and mortar senior living community like The Esquiline,” Jennifer said. “We just had to take a hard look and decide how we could live our mission by still serving those living in our community, but also reaching out and serving seniors who might otherwise never have the chance to live here.”

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Related: How to Find the Right Volunteer Opportunity for Me

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Building Community

So far, the program has been very well-received, both within The Esquiline community and in the larger Belleville community. The first event had a full house and provided ample opportunity for socializing.

”It was super refreshing, the first one, because everyone was from a different background. And that’s what it should be, it should be a chance to interact with people you might not otherwise get the chance to meet,” Jennifer said.

At The Esquiline, residents and staff alike have been enthusiastic about the new program.

“With Sole to Soul, residents feel so good that this organization is living their mission. That’s so important to them. Senior living communities are becoming a dime a dozen. If we’re saying that we’re different, we really want to show and live how we’re different,” Jennifer said. “This is something we can stand behind. This is what sets us apart from other long term care communities. Our residents really respond to that.”

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Related: Senior to Senior: Making Meaningful Connections with ACHS

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An Eye on the Future

The program is being funded in part by a grant from the state of Illinois, with AgeSmart serving as grantee, and an in-kind donation from The Esquiline.

Right now, it’s only a pilot program. But Jennifer and the rest of the Sole to Soul team are hoping to renew the grant and expand it next year in order to meet the needs of more area seniors.

“It has such a broad reach. We knew we would impact seniors. We didn’t know that we would be able to impact so many other people along the way,” she said. “And I think we’re just at the tip of the iceberg. I just cannot wait to see what the future holds.”

Upcoming Dates

Are you a senior living on a fixed-income in the Belleville and O’Fallon area? Or do you know of someone who would enjoy a meal with community and friends? Take a look at these upcoming Sole to Soul dates:


June 28, 2018

Caritas Family Solutions:

Speaker: Mary Beth Clancy – Living Life with Gratitude


July 26, 2018

Cancer Treatment Center

Speaker: Laura Herr, MS, RBN, LDN – Nutritional Health Benefits


August 23, 2018

Caritas Family Solutions

Speaker: Juliette Simone – Oasis Lifelong Adventure


September 27, 2018

O’Fallon Public Library

Speaker: Matt Kueper - Exercise Physiologist


All meals and presentations are held from 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Reservations are required. You must be over 60 years of age to qualify. To secure a seat, kindly RSVP by calling the concierge desk at 618-394-6400 or emailing concierge@theesquiline.org.