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It’s All About The Kids: A Conversation With Common Threads

July 14, 2011

I love my job, and some days even more than others!  This week was one of those times, when I had the opportunity to meet up with Linda Novick O’Keefe, the Executive Director of an amazing non-profit called Common Threads.  Linda was in Boston for a few meetings so we met to talk about the synergies between our non-profits and learn about the work we are both doing to change the way people eat.  As we chatted we decided it would be fun to do a little Q&A to introduce Common Threads to any of our followers who may not know about their work making nutrition and food fun for children.

Rachel: Can you give a little overview of Common Threads for those who may not know about your organization?

Linda:  Common Threads is a non- profit organization founded in 2003 with the mission to educate children on the importance of nutrition and physical well-being, and to foster an appreciation of cultural diversity through cooking. 

Common Threads studentThe classes we offer teach children about basic kitchen skills, cooking techniques, nutrition and the importance of fresh ingredients.  Our 10-week sessions take place throughout the school year and in addition we have summer camp programs which include gardening, cooking and cultural classes designed to give campers a curriculum centered around health, well-being and cultural awareness.

Since we have such a diverse student population it is important that we incorporate all cultures into our classes and teach children that we are more similar than different.  We can bridge these cultural boundaries and strengthen bonds through the simple process of preparing and sharing meals with others.

Today I am proud to say that our organization has impacted nearly 4,000 students and families across 18 sites in Chicago, two sites in Los Angeles, four sites in Miami and four sites in Washington, D.C.  

Rachel:  The work you have done in the cities you are in is amazing. Beyond the cities that you currently serve are there plans to expand to additional cities?

Linda:  That is such a great question, and yes, we do have plans to expand. Our next goal is to bring Common Threads to New York City.  We have been working hard at executing our fundraising strategy and have hopes to be there by 2013.  Other cities slated for expansion include Boston, New Orleans and San Francisco. 

Rachel:  Your organization has conducted some very insightful surveys. From your perspective, what are the biggest take-aways from the surveys that you would want others to be aware of?

Common Threads Kids learn about eggsLinda:  Well 98% of parents said that their child shared information about the foods eaten in class such as their willingness to try new foods, what is healthy to buy at the grocery store and portion control making food from scratch.  And I love the fact that 84% of the parents told us that their child expressed more interest in the family eating together since beginning Common Threads!  These children are using the tools they learn with us and are taking an active, and proactive role in their health.  There are really so many amazing results from our survey but if I can sum it up in a few words I would say it is all about inspiring the children, if you can do that you can make change happen.

Rachel:  How can the average person become involved with Common Threads?

Common Threads Kids with volunteerLinda: Our amazing Chefs and Volunteers are the “bread and butter” of the organization.  Volunteering is priceless in our eyes—whether someone commits to helping run a 10-week class or takes part in one of our fundraising events, we appreciate each and every one of our volunteers!  Many of our students keep in touch with their volunteers as they become important mentors in the kids’ lives.

Anyone can log onto our Web site and click on “About Us” where they may reach out to our volunteer coordinator for more information.

Rachel:  Common Threads has developed a cookbook based on your years of experience. What are one or two of your favorite recipes (or the kids’ favorites!) from the book?

Linda:  That is so tough to decide!  I would say my two favorite recipes are the Homemade Egg Noodles—it is so fun to make the dough with my kids!  Also the Vietnamese Veggie Spring Rolls are so delicious and easy to make, whether you are having friends over or if you are sitting around the table together as a family.

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