Going out to eat with a group of friends is one of life’s true pleasures. Nothing beats good food coupled with good conversation in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere. Realizing that the residents at Collinsville Rehabilitation and Health Care Center might enjoy the opportunity to dine together at some of Collinsville’s local restaurants, Activity Director Elizabeth Denis set to work to make it happen.

“I am very lucky to have an administrator (Jifi Jacob) who is very supportive of me and my ideas for the residents,” said Denis. “When I approached him with my idea for weekly restaurant outings, he was all for it.”

Denis’s idea was to take four residents each Thursday afternoon to a different local restaurant for lunch. There would be a rotation, so each resident would get a chance to go. Finally, she wanted to convince the local restaurants to donate the cost of the food, so the service would be free-of-charge to residents.

After receiving the go-ahead from her administrator, Denis began making her pitch to local restaurants.

“When the local restaurant owners saw my passion for the residents and how happy I knew this would make them, it was not a hard sell,” said Denis. “So far, no one has told me no.”

It is now a year-and-a-half later and six local restaurants are participating in the program: Golden Corral, Ruby Tuesday, Lota Wata Creek, Ponderosa, Dairy Queen, and Pasta Fare. Each restaurant donates the costs of the meals to the residents, but that’s not all. Denis says the residents are treated like VIPs by the management of each restaurant.

“If there is a line when we arrive, the residents are allowed to move right to the front,” she said. “They love it.”

Many residents have developed favorite restaurants over time. Denis works with the residents to ensure those who do have favorites get to go during the week that restaurant is scheduled. Often, this is as simple as two residents trading weeks so each one can attend his or her favorite restaurant.

The weekly restaurant outings have had a positive impact on the restaurants as well. When she is out to lunch with the residents, Denis is sure to tell other patrons of the restaurants about what the owners are doing for local nursing home residents. She says people are always impressed.

“People notice when we pull up in the facility’s van and come inside,” Denis said. “I always tell them why we’re there and how the owner is helping to make a difference in the residents’ lives.”

With the weekly restaurant outings being such a success, Denis is considering adding dinners in the evenings and weekends. She has been inspired by the willingness of the local restaurants to participate in the program.

“I’m just so grateful to these great local businesses for giving the residents this opportunity,” said Denis. “It’s just amazing what you can do when everyone pitches in to help out.”