My Common Threads Story
I came to Common Threads like most people, as a volunteer. In the winter of 2007 I started volunteering for Common Threads. A good friend of mine encouraged me to sign up as a volunteer. I had just moved to Chicago and it was winter, I love kids, I wanted to meet new people and I love food so I figured it would be a decent way to spend an afternoon. I signed up for the Monday afternoon class having no idea what to expect. I hate to be dramatic but I would say my first visit changed my life.
I had been teaching for years and had never seen kids in this type of atmosphere. I was used to kids learning behind a desk. I had been the person drilling them about what they knew and what they did not know. This was an eye opening experience for me. These kids were interested, engaged, excited and eager to learn. The food was delicious, the other volunteers were lovely (one in particular, is a good friend to this day), the curriculum was amazing…I was hooked.
Common Threads teaches low-income children to cook wholesome and affordable meals. Common Threads believes that through hands-on cooking classes they can help prevent childhood obesity and reverse the trend of generations of non-cookers, while celebrating our cultural differences and the things people all over the world have in common. Each week, in 19 locations in Chicago, children are learning how to cook. They are learning how to use a knife, what saute means and how to make a mean salad dressing. They are “traveling” all over the world through cooking. One week stopping by Italy to make some handmade pasta or going to Turkey to learn that you can make hummus at home. They learn cooking skills, they learn about culture, they learn about each other, they learn from positive adults (volunteers)…they open their minds.
As a Common Threads volunteer I noticed something over and over again that I think sometimes gets lost. Mini Chefs find confidence in the Common Threads’ kitchens. They discover they can chop a tomato, that they know what to do with a piece of chicken and that sushi is not so bad. Shy children find a voice and anxious kids find peace. And to me, that may be the greatest gift of all. Common Threads is providing children with a safe place to learn about living healthy lives, to learn to work as a team, and to see that Chicken Curry and the people that eat it are really lovely and that South African food is fun to make and share. And when they leave the program they know more about food and how to make good choices and more about other cultures. Their mind has been opened up.
Fast forward three years later; I manage volunteers all day long for Common Threads. I find people to work with our kids every afternoon. These people believe in our mission and are committed to our kids. They give their time, energy, skills, knowledge, patience and love.
When I talk to potential volunteers, I tell them my Common Threads story. They always ask me what I loved about volunteering. My answer is simple: to me, volunteering with Common Threads is the best way to be with children. You are there to cook a meal together. You work side by side with kids who need your knowledge, support, help and friendship. They need you to tell them how to hold a knife, to ask about their math test and for you to be a positive role model each week. By cooking and sharing a meal with them each week you are giving them gifts that will last a lifetime. I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon.
Mary Ann Weprin is the Manager of Volunteer Programs at Common Threads. If you are interested in having your own life-changing experience, please contact MaryAnn@CommonThreads.org.