A soup contest — with free samples — was a popular feature of last month’s Walla Walla Health Expo, coordinated by SonBridge Community Center. SonBridge will hold an open house this Sunday to reveal its new Education Center.

SonBridge Community Center in College Place hosts a number of events, classes and programs. It was in need of more space for these offerings, so around 2014 the center began a massive construction project to create a large center for more seminars and community education.

The addition of the 4,000-square-foot Education Center For Better Living includes an auditorium and space that can be divided into classrooms and meeting areas. An open house is planned for Sunday to celebrate the new space and let guests know about SonBridge’s programs and classes.

SonBridge offers many different types of community workshops and educational opportunities for good health and better lives.

For example, one recent community event coordinated by SonBridge was last month’s third annual Walla Walla Health Expo. Preceding the daylong event were lectures on Friday evening and Saturday morning by Dr. Scott Stoll on health topics and impacts of a plant-based diet.

The Sunday expo featured a variety of information and sponsor booths; demonstrations by Chef Michelle Irwin; a plant-based soup contest; the opportunity to get some basic health tests; and a lecture and book signing by Stoll.

The event was already in the works when Adventist Health closed its facilities here this summer.

“It was a General Hospital project and we took it over from them,” said SonBridge Executive Director Norman Thiel.

“We just picked up the pieces,” said communications specialist Mary Aparicio.

In harmony with SonBridge’s mission and outreach focus, the expo is one of the many ways the center connects Valley residents with health resources and individual health partners.

“It’s a community service,” Aparicio said.

Thiel was very impressed with the positive focus of the event: healthful, good food, combined with exercise to promote a healthy, happy life. A change in diet could change a person’s life; avoiding or overcoming illnesses such as diabetes is possible.

“Not only prevent, but reverse,” Aparicio said.

Thiel enjoyed the cooking demonstrations.

“It’s rewarding to me to see good food happening,” he said.

Food should be fun and varied, he said, noting eating lots of brightly colored natural foods can help you stay healthier and happier.

“It’s supposed to be attractive,” he said.

Officials, staff and volunteers at SonBridge plan to coordinate the Health Expo in the years to come.

“We will try to continue it,” Thiel said.

SonBridge also seeks to maintain the community partnerships and the creativity used in putting the expo together, to foster increased education about healthful options. These are not just available at the one-day expo events; with the education and information provided, people are able to make long-lasting changes.

“It’s continuous,” Thiel said. “The farmers market was there. Andy’s Market was also one of the sponsors.”

At the various information booths, attendees could get information and even some basic health tests, such as having blood drawn for a glucose test, and blood pressure and lung-capacity testing. Walla Walla Community College provided a team of nurses to help volunteers.

“The back-massage booth, as expected, was very popular,” he said.

The soup contest generated a lot of interest, and attendees were enthusiastic about sampling the entries. Many of the plant-based soups are simple to make, then freeze. With a little planning, these nutrient-dense quick meals can be made and taken to work later.

In addition to coordinating events such as the expo, SonBridge offers many classes concerning health and well-being. The fall schedule includes a diabetes class that answers some of the basic questions, such as “How can I be more healthful?” and, “How can I balance that into my busy life?”

Thiel and Aparicio addressed the idea that eating healthfully has to be expensive. Produce is perishable, so you have to use it right away. Aparicio said statistics show 30 percent of food in stores goes is wasted, and family waste amounts to 45 percent. Soup is a great way to make a nutritious meal out of a variety of vegetables, including bits and pieces you might not know what to do with otherwise.

“Put the crock pot on,” Thiel said.

A visit to the Open House of the Education Center at SonBridge — with a stop at next year’s Health Expo — might be just what the doctor ordered.

Karlene Ponti can be reached at or 509-526-8324.

Karlene Ponti began as Special Publications Writer in 1999, work includes Lifestyles, The Weekly and Business Monthly. After Wa-Hi, Ponti attended Whitman and is a UW graduate. Later she was ordained a Christian minister at CDM Spiritual Teaching Center.