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Sonata Senior Living’s CEO Named McKnight’s Women of Distinction 2023 Honoree

ORLANDO, FL—February 24, 2023—Co-Founder, President, and CEO Shelley Esden of Orlando-based Sonata Senior Living has been inducted into the Hall of Honor in the McKnight’s Women of Distinction awards, a joint program of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News, McKnight’s Senior Living, and McKnight’s Home Care. The awards program recognizes women who have made a significant impact on their organization or in the long-term care industry.

Esden joins Chief Operating Officer, Jamie Merrill, as the second Sonata Senior Living executive to be named a McKnight’s Women of Distinction honoree.

“I am extremely honored to be selected as a McKnight’s Woman of Distinction. Pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in senior living and inspiring others to do the same is the driving force behind every decision I’ve made in both my professional and personal life. I’m excited to join the ranks of this prestigious program alongside other women who have dedicated their lives to improving the future of long-term care in this country,” said Shelley Esden, President and CEO of Sonata Senior Living.

As a Hall of Honor inductee, Esden was recognized for her significant contributions to the senior living industry. According to the program’s website, inductees are also nominated and selected for their ability to inspire others and for having a powerful effect on the lives of the individuals they serve.

Esden’s ability to positively affect and inspire others has played out over the course of her 25-year career in senior living operations, development, and management. Appointed as Chairperson of the Florida Senior Living Association in 2022, she is widely regarded as an industry trailblazer who actively champions advocacy efforts and legislation that benefit senior living operators and the seniors they serve.

The Women of Distinction award comes at the culmination of a career devoted to reimagining and improving the senior living industry and a career trajectory that began in graduate school while working as Advocacy Coordinator for Florida’s Department of Elder Affairs. She went on to serve as Florida’s 1995 White House Conference on Aging Coordinator and was promoted to Assistant Director of the Florida Commission on Long-term Care, where she was responsible for creating the managed care diversion project still serving Florida’s seniors today.

It is through her personal life that Esden recognized firsthand the difference a caregiver can make in the lives of others. During her childhood, Esden’s mother worked as a CNA in a skilled nursing facility, exposing her to the senior care industry early on. In the 1990s, when her mother needed care, Esden’s experience left her with a profound desire to affect change.

Esden’s personal experiences sparked a passion for improving resident services in senior living and were the catalyst behind her transition from senior living advocate to operations, first as an administrator with Marriott Senior Living followed by various multi-site management roles for leading national providers Summerville Senior Living and Legacy Senior Living. By 2007, Esden co-founded Elle Senior Living, an executive consulting firm. Shortly thereafter, she joined forces with Sonata’s Managing Partner, Stuart Beebe, to form Sonata Senior Living in 2008.

Esden’s drive for excellence is underscored by the many achievements that have advanced the senior living industry, including the 2004 President’s Award, Executive Director of the Year at Summerville Senior Living; the 2011 and 2012 ALFA (Argentum) Best of the Best awards for Programs to Spotlight; the 2012 ASID Mary Louise Schum Design Award for Sonata at Melbourne; and the 2013 and 2014 Florida ALFA (Argentum) Outstanding Achievement Awards, among others.

For all her accolades, she remains most appreciative of her accomplishments at Sonata Senior Living, where her dedication and passion create value for partners and consumers alike. These include the development of seven senior living communities and the acquisition of seven turnaround communities with an emphasis on establishing new standards of operational efficiencies, service delivery, and integration of innovations.

One of the most notable development projects to come online under Esden was Florida’s pioneering stand-alone memory care community, Serenades Memory Care. Designed and built using the most advanced science on Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, Serenades’ purpose-built design received recognition from ALFA (Argentum) as a 2011 and 2012 “Best of the Best” program. Most recently, she led the team responsible for launching an innovative new memory care concept called Serenades For Her.

Esden’s determination to raise the bar in senior living is evident in each new development and acquisition undertaken by Sonata Senior Living. Today, she is keenly focused on establishing Sonata Senior Living as a leading provider and implementing the company’s growth plans.

About Sonata Senior Living

Sonata Senior Living is a regional owner, developer, and operator of independent living, assisted living, and memory care communities. Founded in 2008, Sonata currently operates over 1,090 units throughout Florida. The tenured Sonata team has earned a longstanding reputation as a trusted and proven provider of new development and turnaround acquisitions. Recipients of multiple Argentum Best of Best Awards, innovation, and service awards, Sonata’s pursuit of service excellence, unwavering commitment to its core values, and investment in workforce and culture have made Sonata a provider of choice. For more information about Sonata’s management and development services, visit

About McKnight’s Women of Distinction Awards Program

McKnight’s Women of Distinction awards program is a joint effort of McKnight’s Senior LivingMcKnight’s Long-Term Care News and McKnight’s Home Care. Eligible for recognition are women working as direct care providers, managers, executives, corporate executives and owners in independent living, assisted living, memory care and life plan communities, as well as those working in those capacities in skilled nursing facilities and in home care, home health, hospice and palliative care. The program is judged by a national, independent panel of judges. Overall, 26 states are represented by the honorees across each of the three major awards categories. The 2023 honorees will be celebrated Monday, May 22, at the JW Marriott in Chicago. The presentation of awards will be preceded by the fourth annual McKnight’s Women of Distinction Forum, offering educational sessions featuring industry thought leaders discussing important topics. Learn more about the Women of Distinction Awards Program.

Biography of Shelley Esden, President and CEO, Sonata Senior Living

 As Co-Founder, President and CEO of Sonata Senior Living, Shelley Esden brings more than 20 years of frontline experience to the complex issues facing owner-operators in senior living. Her passion for all aspects of senior housing has been instrumental to Sonata’s growth, where she is responsible for crafting the company culture, inspiring an expanding workforce, and innovating services to meet the demands of a changing world. Her passion to serve began with her early work improving access to housing with the State of Florida’s Commission on Long Term Care. Prior to forming Sonata in 2008, her management roles at Summerville Senior Living, Legacy Senior Living, and Marriott Senior Living led to vast improvements in resident services and experience. Today, Shelley is devoted to shaping the people and processes that drive the future of senior living, from training to technology and design. Her expertise in advancing programs, products and services that promote healthy aging led to the prestigious Argentum ‘Best of the Best’ award for Serenades Memory Care by Sonata. Shelley is a 2023 McKnight’s Women of Distinction Hall of Honor inductee and Chair of the Florida Senior Living Association. She also sits on the Executive Advisory Board for Argentum and holds a BS in Political Science from the University of Florida and an MHA from Florida State University.

Shelley Esden CEO

Shelley Esden, Co-Founder, President and CEO, Sonata Senior Living

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