Guest Blogger: Common Threads

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.
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10 Responses to Guest Blogger: Common Threads

  1. Joy May 24, 2010 at 1:00 pm #

    What a great scheme! All power to you!

  2. ashley schoolar May 24, 2010 at 2:56 pm #

    This speaks to me so deeply. We do some volunteering at a soup kitchen here in Phoenix. I'd like to integrate this into my schedule. I'm a third year education student hoping to teach 2nd or 3rd grade. What a gift to share with someone else.

  3. RETRO-fabulous May 24, 2010 at 3:27 pm #

    What an incredible program!

  4. Lori May 24, 2010 at 3:37 pm #

    Amazing program — and what a great way to educate kids about the food they're eating, while building bonds with them as human beings. Kudos!

  5. Midnite Skys May 24, 2010 at 5:35 pm #

    I think that deserves a Titanium Spork award!!
    Keep it up Mary Ann Weprin with many areas that are low income this is great way to help the poor.

  6. Renee May 24, 2010 at 5:52 pm #

    What a wonderful organization. Although at this point in my life I don't have time to volunteer, I just googled your website and donated some money 🙂

  7. JRF May 24, 2010 at 6:42 pm #

    I've been looking for a program like this in Chicago to volunteer with. Thank you, Mrs. Q and Ms. Weprin for the information!

  8. Michelle May 24, 2010 at 11:00 pm #

    I LOVE this! I wish it was started in California… I have time to help with a program but not to start one at this point. It's on the list for someday though!

  9. handicapper May 25, 2010 at 12:19 am #

    Great story. I'm glad that you have committed to teaching children to cook. It is a very important, and necessary, skill for all.

    Although I was physically handicapped at an early age, my mother taught me how to handle a knife and cook for myself. Now 63, I have been proud to be a better cook than both of my wives!

    All the best to you and Common Threads.

  10. theemptykitchen May 25, 2010 at 1:17 am #

    what a great program! i love how it combines providing a safe and positive environment with teaching kids valuable skills and self-esteem. thank you so much for sharing this information!

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