Friday, September 17, 2010

By: Candace Jordan

Memeber of Common Threads Board of Directors

My affiliation with Common Threads began with a glitzy party for Marc Jacobs in January of 2007. It was a packed house and I don’t think, at the time, I even knew what the event supported but I did know it was a GREAT party! So there I was, minding my own business, when a gorgeous woman came up to me and started asking questions. (She happened to be Linda Novick O’Keefe, Executive Director of CT). She was so charming and she asked me if I knew about Common Threads. I said I didn’t and she proceeded to tell me with such passion about this organization that I was immediately intrigued. Now, I am a proud member of the Board of Directors since 2008. What cemented my involvement was the dedication and clear impact that Common Threads has on so many children’s lives. When I first attended one of their after-school cooking classes, I quickly realized that there was a lot more to this than just cooking. To see the kids’ faces light up with happiness and understanding when they realize they will be capable of changing their families’ lives and keeping them all healthier than they have ever been before is an experience I will never forget. As a matter of fact, I brought several more of my friends to another class so they could see for themselves the importance of this program. Many of them are now involved today. Words can’t describe the difference Common Threads makes in the lives of so many children and their families across the country. I hope to see this organization grow into more national importance because of the great need for this very type of nutritional education and mentoring that we all need to grow and flourish. I am proud and honored to be a loyal supporter of Common Threads.

Check out the other links below for more Candid Candace stories about Common Threads:

Thursday, September 16, 2010

By: Hope Bertram


On the surface, the event is a fun evening of healthy eating and friendly competition as cast members from Billy Elliot pair up with the Common Threads kids to compete against each other as they work to create a healthy Sunday dinner. The audience, of course, will get to taste and weigh in on which team should win.

On a deeper level, the event is in support of Common Threads, a non-profit started by celebrity chef Art Smith, aimed at “provide underprivileged youth with the magic that accompanies tasting new, fresh foods and the satisfaction and confidence that comes along with preparing your own meals and learning new skills.” It also keeps the kids off the street. Here’s a great article by Art about Common Threads and what he’s up to now with Michelle Obama’s initiative to bring healthy foods into the school system. It was also a reality check to hear about some of the common threads participants backgrounds. Several of them come from single parent or disadvantaged homes. It’s so easy for children in negative environments to lose a feeling of self confidence and be successful. We are all very lucky that programs like Common Threads exist. They help to build kids up and break unhealthy patterns.

I was at the studio when the kids were cooking and was impressed by the meals the kids came up with – if you plan on coming to the event, you are in for a BIG treat. I was also impressed by the Common Threads kids. They were mature and confidant and more well spoken than I was at their age. They were handpicked for the program and have made several TV appearances. They believe in what they are learning and are spreading the word about healthy eating.

Common Threads website states that, “82% of Common Threads’ students limited their junk/fast food intake to one or fewer times per week.” How many of us can say that for ourselves?


Being involved with an event like this makes me want to find the time to actively volunteer again. There are so many great causes. What charities are you involved with?

Common Threads has a fantastic fundraiser coming up that’s a foodie lover’s delight. Check out their World Cook-Out for more information


If you haven’t seen Billy Elliot, it’s definitely a must see. If you go from September 28 – 30, a portion of the ticket proceeds will go to Common Treads. Register here and use code THREADS to purchase tickets.

Thanks to Broadway in Chicago for giving my friend and I wonderful Orchestra seats to the show. First off, I was very impressed that the house was so packed on a Tuesday. The acting, singing and dancing was phenomenal throughout. The story line started out a little slow, but picked up tremendously after my favorite scene. I don’t want to give away too much, but it did involve boys dancing and large than life dresses. The case received a very well deserved standing ovation. By the end of the performance, I was sitting at the edge of my seat (even though I knew how things ended) and wanted to run up and push Billy’s brother off the stage for being a jerk – he was the antagonist of the play, delaying Billy from realizing his dream for an entire year.

Posted from Hope Bertram’s blog The Year of Hope

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

It was all about love. Love of each other, love and respect of human rights, love of diversity and the deep love between Chef Art Smith and his long time partner, artist Jesus Salgueiro. The wedding weekend took place in Washington, D.C. August 21-22 and there was something historic and exciting planned for every minute. Among the 400 guests were friends from Sweden, Malaysia, Costa Rica and from almost every state in the U.S. Saturday began with a walk/run/stroll to the Lincoln Memorial. It was a hot day but that didn’t stop anyone from taking part in the Blessing Ceremony on the steps of the issue and invoked the names of Lincoln and Washington and the fact that the Constitution provided equal rights for all and not just for some. Art’s dear mother, Addie Mae Smith, looked on adoringly as did Jesus’ large family. Art also thanked the lady who arranged to have the blessing ceremony performed on this historic spot as well as his trainer, Az Ferguson, who saved his life with his incredible wellness program. (Art has lost 95 pounds to date.)

The wedding ceremony and reception began at 12:30 in Art’s famous Art & Soul restaurant, is located in the Affinia Liason Capitol Hill Hotel. Security was very tight and everyone had to be checked by security guards manning clipboards. The ceremony was also presided over by Ms. Williamson and was incredibly touching. (See their vows below). They both wore identical dark suits and white tennis shoes decorated with the wedding date and hearts. After the ceremony, guests were treated to entertainment from the popular a cappella group, Straight, No Chaser.

Then the mingling and eating began with BBQ brisket, ribs, pulled pork, peach BBQ baked beans, lamb burgers, mac and cheese, homemade guacamole, heirloom tomato salad, buttermilk fried chicken, homemade potato chips, coleslaw and so much more. The food was sensational. But the most noticeable aspect of this entire day was the amazing love and respect that everyone showed to each other—a direct result of the type of people Art and Jesus are and the of way they treat and feel about each other.

Next was the 6 p.m. pool party on the hotel’s roof. Beautiful floral arrangements and bars were everywhere. DJ EricJones was already playing the hottest mixes. And, as you would expect, the food here was spectacular as well. They had even brought pizza ovens to the pool deck and chefs were busy making three types of pizzas from scratch right before your eyes. Art and Jesus had on beautiful white Indian tunics over their little bathing suits. When Art shed his tunic and did an Olympic dive into the pool, the photographers went wild! After a while, Jesus appeared, danced for a while before his new mate and then dived into the pool. A bit later, they announced that world-famous DJ Moby was in the house. A roar went up from the happy guests as everyone crowded around the two newlyweds and the dancing began in earnest! Moby really blew the doors off with his danceable, pounding mixes. It was mucho caliente on the roof my friends! After the pool party, guests wound up in Art & Soul’s bar on the main floor.

Art and Jesus are honeymooning in Cabo San Lucas. Below are the vows they read at the ceremony:

Jesus Art, as here now the world is my witness, I say to you: Your love sustains me and makes me strong. You inspire me. I am an artist, but you are the Art—my Art. And it is with utmost pride that I say that you are my Art. Without you, the canvas of my life would be empty and bare. There would be no colors, no brush strokes, no desire to paint. So, Art, Art of my Heart, I ask you to be my inspiration, from now into forever, to be the colors, the brush strokes, the paintings that I make. And may God allow me to replicate, in no small measures, the gleam in your eye and the tenderness in your heart, and may the entire Universe recognize in me and in my work the life force that you are that so fuels my passion. I love you, Art, with an Infinite Love. (After Jesus said these vows so lovingly to Art, Marianne Williamson said to him, “Gosh Jesus, I wish you were straight!” which broke the crowd up!)

Art - Jesus, as here now the world is my witness, I say to you: Your love for me has been transforming. Because of the gift that you are, because of the vision that you hold, it is as if I have been given new eyes. You have made my life a kaleidoscope of colors. While I may set the table, be it known that you are the banquet and the feast, the incomparable spice in my life, the salt of the earth. So, Jesus, heart of my heart and soul of my soul, I ask you to share with me my life, in every respect, to the very end of time. While indeed I may set the table before you, be there no doubt that it is I who eat from the palm of your loving hand. Yes, you are an artist, but you are also a great teacher, and above all I have learned humility from you. Jesus, I love you. I love you with these new eyes, with this new heart, with a never ending longing in my soul.

(Art and Jesus requested no gifts but rather a donation to their charity, Common Threads.)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Bitter Sweet Ending

by: Katharine Brauschweiger

First and foremost I would like to thank the staff at Common Threads for welcoming me with open arms and warm hearts to be a part of their staff. I enjoyed every minute of being an intern at Common Threads. At age 18 I was not really sure what to expect from an internship but whatever my expectations may have been, Common Threads surpassed them tremendously. I enjoyed every minute of being an intern with Common Threads. Working in the office allowed me to learn about the non-profit sector and observe business relationships prosper. Each staff member taught me a different aspect of Public Relations, making me confident in my chosen major. It also assured me, when I graduate I want to continue to work in the non-profit district. I always looked forward to coming into the office because everyone always had cheery faces and positive attitudes which made all the difference. The relationships I formed with the staff members are stronger than I could have ever imagined and I learned a lot from them personally and professionally.

Summer camp was also a blast to partake in. I was absolutely blown away at how much the children knew about the preparation of food and the cuisine they were cooking.Embarrassing as it is, I must admit, I had not tasted Tofu until I went to the Common Threads summer camp and a group of children ranging from 8-12 chopped it up and served it to me in a Chinese soup. I was thoroughly impressed how well the children took direction and followed the recipe; something I still struggle with til this day. The camp counselors were very patient with the kids and stressed that they took their time and prepared the food properly rather than rushed through it and got the job finished. Common Threads has a unique mission that is vital to a healthier future.

I will truly miss everyone on the Common Threads staff and will cherish all the lessons I have learned from them and I know it will carry me along way when Ienter the professional world.

Friday, August 6, 2010

I.O.A.B (Interning on a budget)

by: Elyse Siwinski

Life on a college budget isn’t always champagne wishes and caviar dreams. For those who might not fully understand what I mean by a “college budget”, let me paint the picture. Wednesday night is $1 burger night, the highlight of my week because for $3 I can get a burger, French fries, and sometimes I even splurge and add avocado. However, the best part about Wednesday night is that those $1 burgers bring my financially struggling college family together. Food allows us to connect, to laugh with one another and to share memories. Maybe this is why I LOVE interning for Common Threads.

When I applied for my internship with Common Threads I wasn’t 100% sure what the organization did, but I knew it had something to do with food and teaching kids how to cook. Anything food related, especially if was going to enhance my resume, made me think, “When do I start?” It was at my interview that I learned Common Thread’s mission, and knew right then and there I wanted to be a part of this organization. I thought teaching children about nutrition and culture through food was a great idea, but showing them how to do it on a budget (hey, I knew a thing or two about that) was outstanding.

Throughout my time at Common Threads I learned a lot, and although my internship has almost come to an end, I recently realized I have more than a few things in common with the students:

1) We both light up when we talk about Common Threads.
2) Common Threads is somewhere we look forward to going.
3) Food has brought us happiness, friendship, and great memories.
4) Our families are proud of what we have learned at Common Threads.
5) We are lucky to have been given the opportunity to be a part of the Common Threads family.

But perhaps the greatest thing the students and I will ever have in common… it’s not so easy saying good bye to Common Threads.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


by: Kay Kron

First day of camp I led the kids into the kitchen holding my breath. Industrial stoves, a double-door oven, rows of giant, gleaming knives. 20 ten year olds. That moment felt like a strange nightmare where I magically became responsible for not only protecting children from maiming themselves but turning out a delicious meal.
I looked down at the table to a bowl labeled "cardamom." "What are you cardamom?" I whispered. No reply. Class started. As I fumbled with the recipee, trying to speed read and orchestrate simultaneously, Barbra laid her hand on my arm. Looking up at me smiling, she said, "You know Kay, everything's going to be fine." Across the table Jasmine perused the veggies with her small hand. "I can do the onion," she announced, "Chef Lovely showed us how to cut these." Before I knew it the food was ready and the table set. After that my fears dissipated. The kids understand they are being trusted to take serious responsibility. They come together as a team and succeed brilliantly.

I wanted this opportunity so that I was there to teach, to and here I am learning so much.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Summer Vacation?

by: Courtney Turner
When I was a child, my mother was very close to my two siblings and me. I mean, very close, to a fault, perhaps! No, I mean my mom has a beautiful soul and I love her dearly, but she felt very attached to us kids. She never wanted me to attend camp, because summer was her time to spend with us, I know, very sweet and endearing, but to me, I wished and prayed and begged, for summer camp.

Now I’m director of summer camp, after never attending one single day as a child. I am, in fact, living out my childhood dreams. I get to coordinate dream fieldtrips, things that children will never forget, no matter how old, jaded or ‘cool’ they grow up to be. I am so excited to go to camp, and my inner child comes out every time I step into Kennedy King College. “How I wish my mom put me in a cooking camp” I think to myself! What a wonderful opportunity it would have been for me to express my creativity and see that I could be good at something deemed, “so grown up.”

I see so many children in the Englewood neighborhood who have never attended summer camp either, but I was one of the lucky ones. My mom is a caring, nurturing woman, and I was well taken care of as a child. These children got a different role of the dice. I was grabbing something at Walgreens, just the other day, and I saw 2 children, both around age 8. I noticed them first, because I thought they looked young to be shopping by themselves. The second thing I noticed was that they were hungry, “ah, I wish I could buy this” one kid mentioned while pointing at a bag of chips, “I’m so hungry,” the other responded.

Pacing outside the Walgreens on the South Side of Chicago, I did not know what to do. I didn’t want to treat them like charity and embarrass them; I did not want to leave these children hungry. When they finally came out with a single bag of ice, I asked them, “Hey, did you guys eat lunch today?” as it was 2:00pm in the afternoon. One child responded, “No, it’s summer vacation.” I was confused, “I know it’s summer, but have you eaten?” the child yet again repeated, “No, it’s summer, we don’t get lunch in the summer, only in school.” My heart was crushed in one split second, like stepping on a glass and feeling the shock and the shatter through your whole body. Here I am, teaching kids how to cook healthy food everyday for 6 weeks, and these kids down the street have been going hungry every one of these days. I felt just sick to my stomach. I wanted to yell, to scream at someone and scoop these kids up in my arms and somehow, make this situation okay, but I can’t. I can’t save the world, the south side of Chicago, or perhaps even this family, but I was going to give them some food. I took them right over to Dunkin’ Donuts and bought for them bagels and cream cheese for their family.

I went back to camp with tears in my eyes that day. I looked out at the camp that I helped create with a much different perspective. What a haven we have created. What a wonderful experience for these lucky 200 children we have had the great opportunity to help this summer. Though Common Threads may not save the world, we will have enriched all these children’s lives and minds, and we have given them a safe and loving space for an amazing summer vacation, they & I will never forget.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Common Threads

Guest blogger: Kate Vatter

One of the fun parts about working for a non-profit is that the non-profit community is very close-knit. Everyone knows everyone, and, for the most part, supports each other. About a month ago, I had the opportunity to tag along with a friend of mine to visit a non-profit that she supports – so I brought my camera along to capture the experience, natch. ;)

Common Threads was created by Wendy’s friend Art Smith, former personal chef to Oprah, who has also cooked for several of Florida’s governors (Wendy worked in Jeb Bush’s office when he was governor) and has been working with Michelle Obama on her obesity-prevention campaign. Common Threads is, quite honestly, the kind of place I would love to work. The organization offers 12-week, after-school cooking classes for underprivileged children – to teach and emphasize the importance of nutrition and well-being, but also to foster an appreciation of cultural diversity.

This is Chef Mimi, who runs the Miami-based program. The classes are held at FIU’s Biscayne Bay Campus (Florida International University, for those of you who aren’t down with the Florida school system acronyms), in the hospitality department’s student kitchens.

I tagged along with Wendy when she was going to volunteer, and everything about the program is amazing. Seriously. Each week focuses on a different county (see below). The kids are brought to the campus from their respective elementary schools, where they are fed a little snack, do stretches, and Mimi teaches a lesson about whichever county is the focus of that particular day. The day I was there, they were studying France.

Each of the kids gets a photo-copied packet of the recipes. In addition to focusing on certain cultural issues, each lesson also focuses on specific cooking techniques. The day I was there, the kids learned “emulsifying” and “searing.”

They made pork tenderloin with red pepper coulis, broccoli and cauliflower with cheesy sauce, and a goat cheese salad.

The necessary ingredients are already measured out and prepped for them, but…

…the kids do all of it themselves! Chef Mimi did a demonstration searing the pork tenderloin – “Now I’m going to teach you all how to sear.” – and this girl was the lucky duck who got to actually do the cooking. (They only made one piece of pork.)

The kids were all completely engrossed. It was amazing. The kids are divided up into two to three kids per adult volunteer, and each group makes each recipe. At the end, all of the individual dishes the kids made are thrown into one big dish and then served! The three on the left in the photograph below were in Wendy’s group, so I spent most of my time with them.

On the left is Chef Alison and C., and on the right is E., L., and F. Are the chef hats the cutest things you’ve ever seen, or what?

In previous lessons, the kids had learned safe chopping, cutting and dicing skills, and they did all of the food preparation themselves. The kids do all of the cooking themselves, actually, with the adults just supervising and giving instruction when needed.

L. had just come to the United States and barely spoke English, but when she was assigned the task of slicing red peppers, she knew exactly what she was doing.

Just look at her face! She was measuring vinegar for the salad dressing, and the look of pride on her face when she measured it accurately is just the sweetest thing. It breaks my heart – but in a good way!

This girl, the one with the skillet, was adorable. She had a little stool she carried around the kitchen with her because she was too short to reach any of the countertops.

This is E., on the right, with Chef Alison and two of the girls in her group. They were making a cheese sauce for fondue, and she confided to me, “They were a little over-zealous with the cheese.” I thought to myself, Clearly she doesn’t know who she’s talking to. I am the Cheese Princess, okay. I told her there were worse things in life than being over-zealous with cheese!

They put together the red pepper coulis (which was red peppers and yellow onions sautéed in butter and chicken broth, then Mimi and one of the adult volunteers poured all of them into a blender and puréed it); the salad (which required chopping veggies and emulsifying the oil and vinegar and mustard to make the salad dressing); and the cheese fondue sauce (which was…interesting). All of the groups food was combined, which also helped smooth out any issues individual groups had with particular dishes. Then the kids helped dish up all of the food onto individual plates.

Seriously, how cute is she?! I’m such a sucker when it comes to little kids.

The final meal:

The kids cleaned up their stations and then everybody sat down to eat. Before they ate, though, the whole group recited the Common Threads Creed, which I thought was really, really touching. (Imagine it in a bunch of children’s voices!)

Then everyone ate.

This was me with my group. Also, I had gone after work, so I was wearing a white pencil skirt and a white blouse. I would like to note for posterity that I was roaming around a huge kitchen full of kids carrying and splashing red pepper purée everywhere, and I did not get any on me.

Honestly, though, the best part was seeing how self-assured the kids were in the kitchen. I grew up helping my parents in the kitchen – both of my parents were amazing cooks (and bakers), and we have home videos of me “helping” cook when I was only three years old. I never cease to be amazed when I visit adult friends who can’t do anything in the kitchen. Or the youth that come to our programs and refuse to eat anything but junk food or fast food. When I work with our youth, who are in their late teens and twenties (many of whom have children of their own) and are feeding their infants and toddlers Cheetos and candy. When I scolded one of the girls for feeding her 9-month-old chips, she defensively told me that the Cheetos dissolved in the baby’s mouth and it was fine. It boggles the mind. Because to me, on what planet would you ever feed a developing child crap like that? But the saddest part is that kids who aren’t raised with health-conscious parents just don’t know any better. (Maybe they should bring back Home Ec! Ha. :) )

The thing I love about Common Threads is that it emphasizes cooking as a family, and cooking healthy meals as a family. For the final session, the parents come and eat the meal cooked by the kids, and at the end, each child gets to take home a kitchen starter-kit (with basic ingredients and spices) and some kid-friendly cookbooks. Wendy gave me the Common Threads press packet (I’m in charge of putting the information together for the press information for our organization, too, so I always like to check out other non-profits’ just to get new ideas for things to include) and some of the stats they list are really neat – 88% of the children who participate ask their parents for healthier food or food learned about in class at the grocery store, the kids report eating more fruit, more vegetables, and healthier lunches.

Right now, Common Threads only has a couple of affiliate sites – two in Miami, 14 in Chicago, a couple in Los Angeles and one in Washington, D.C. But I have been thinking a lot about Common Threads since I started went to see the program – I wonder what the process is for starting one in a smaller town. The whole program only costs $15,000 per session! (Although they do two per year, I believe, one in the fall and one in the spring.) Which is an amazingly low-budget for a non-profit. Anyway…something I’m keeping on my radar screen for the future…

Friday, July 23, 2010

Neighborhood Mash Up!

by: Jillayne Samatas

I have found that for me, one of the neatest things about Common Threads’ Summer Camp is that kids come from neighborhoods all over the city. I know this may not seem like a big deal to some, but to me I recognize the power this simple fact has. Even though Chicago is so diverse, many children go to racially and culturally homogeneous schools with not much diversity. Our Summer Camp provides the kids an opportunity to work with other people that may look or act different from them. That’s why to both the program and me representation from many different neighborhoods has a direct effect on the immediate idea of diversity.

My obsession with Chicago neighborhoods and neighborhoods in general is one I have had for as long as I can remember. I remember being fascinated with how communities change. My work at Common Threads has only solidified my interest. Everyday on the news you hear about terrible things that happen in Englewood or Austin or other areas in the city. It starts to wear on you and you start to believe that the whole area is a place to stay far far away. However, as I drive in these neighborhoods there is a different feeling I get. People live there and are raising families, trying to put food on the table and trying to keep their families safe. The stigma attached to the names of some of these neighborhoods is one that hopefully the neighborhoods can grow beyond in the future, in the very near future.

I completely understand the rationale of this fear; no one wants to go to a place you hear bad things about almost everyday. As I drive down these streets, many with boarded up houses, the feeling of isolation is prevalent, yet I have to believe there is hope in these areas; a sense of hope that things may change in a way that doesn’t move people out and but brings more, different and other people in.
A couple months ago I attended a meeting at one of our partner schools in Englewood. The meeting consisted of organizations that partnered with the school and parents of students that attended the school. There were approximately 10 parents there and to hear their perspectives was a life changing moment for me. We guess a lot of the time what it feels like or what it may be like to live in some of these neighborhoods we hear about on the news, but we really don’t know the half of it. The more we understand the plight and the path of the people trying to do right in those communities, the more knowledge and diversity can make real a difference.

It isn’t something that will happen overnight, it isn’t something that will happen with Common Threads alone. It will take the kids, the parents of those kids, the teachers of those kids, and the community of all the ones fighting to enrich their lives. Then and only then, will the reports we hear about Englewood or Austin or Beverly or Humboldt Park be about the great things happening in those neighborhoods. Maybe, just maybe it starts with Common Threads and a Neighborhood Mash-Up!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Dream

At a birthday party, I saw my daughter and son quietly grab a Hershey’s Kiss and run under the table to enjoy the candy. I asked my husband, “Who are they hiding from?” He looked at me knowingly.

Maybe I am crazy. Maybe my kids will become food hoarders. Maybe they will be embarrassed of me and the food I serve to them and their friends. But, I am holding out for my dream.

Here it is. Ready?

My colleague Allison told me about one of her and her husbands’ friends. They have three kids, are huge foodies and cook together as a family unit. One of the teenage boys was telling his dad one Saturday that he was off with a friend to the movies and to grab a quick bite to eat and the dad said, “Are you sure, because we are making this for dinner,” and proceeded to show him a recipe from a food magazine.

The teenaged boy quickly called his friend and they both joined the family for dinner.

I want that. What do you want?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Is the Party Over?

by: Eleanor Leichenko

The countdown to March 1st has come and gone. The party…well, the party was fabulous. So is this food loving, kid-motivated non-profit now on padlock until the next World Festival rolls around? Most definitely not!
As an organization we continue to hold true to our mission in educating kids in urban communities about healthy, nutritious eating, and opening their eyes to the world around them. Every year we strive to better our fundraising efforts to be able to support our mission in working to enhance our after-school programming, along with introducing new ways to help the kids in the communities we serve to start taking action in their daily food choices, and working to educate their families on the importance of health and physical well-being.
Every day in our programming we work to plant a seed within our ‘mini-chefs’, and empower them with life changing skills. To be able to take a piece of produce, or any ingredient, and turn it into a life-sustaining meal is quite a skill. I always think about the families of our kids…of what neighborhoods they come from…of what their home life is like. I think about how well they do in their academics, or if they’re good at sports, but really once they’re in the kitchen, none of that matters. All of the kids come to the after-school programming on pretty much the same level playing field. They’ve either had little to no experience in the kitchen, and are really, really skeptical. It’s such a transformation 6-8 weeks into the programming to see how far the kids have come, and to know that we can trace back the ability to empower our kids to the fundraising efforts we hold throughout the year.
Perhaps not every supporter of Common Threads knows that there is more beyond the buzz of the annual gala. Or to that extent, what our fundraising efforts allow us to provide to the kids we serve in our programs.
I would love if every donor and/or party-goer could experience firsthand how much their donations mean in enabling us to fulfill our mission. Our fundraising efforts are a celebration of all that we know how to do best. Is that event planning? Not really. What it is, is a passion to be able to provide more substance in our programming and to our kids.
Our World Festival efforts this year have been the greatest to date…will we strive for more next year? Definitely.
The party is definitely not over…the party has actually only just begun.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Circle Crackers

by: Linda Novick O'Keefe

Whether or not we pay tuition, why does recommending and wanting healthy food for our kids feel like war? I just don’t get it. Why are we taking sides regarding our children’s health; our kids are not food disposals.

A few weeks ago, my girlfriend called and told me that a few mommies in her daughter’s playgroup were speaking about this crazy mom who sent emails to her pre-school and all the parents condemning the school’s snack. For the record, not one of these ladies in the playgroup went to the school or were the direct recipients of any “crazy emails.” It was this moment that I realized I finally had left my birthright: the legacy of the crazy mom who doesn’t let her kids eat circle crackers.

Here is my side of the story…

OK, so we decided to pay a pretty penny to send both our kids to pre-school but felt it was an investment in helping kick start healthy physical, emotional and spiritual habits. Naturally, it drove and continues to drive me bananas that (when shopping for a school play-date) when I inquired to my little lovelies what their friends’ favorite foods are, they declare in their adorably cute and innocent voices “circle crackers!”

I do find myself twirling my hair into knots thinking about the significant tuition and the snack served everyday to the kids including crackers that contain bleached white flour, hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn-syrup, processed cheese and raisins.

I decided to let the organic cheese vs. non organic cheese argument go. While I am pretty crazy about only serving organic dairy to my own children and the Common Threads students, it is an argument that can be exhausting even for many of the dieticians, physicians, and nutritionists that we work with.

So I started sending the school emails with studies from the Mayo Clinic on the dangers of consuming high fructose corny syrup and hydrogenated oils. The Director seemed to think any crackers other than the ones she purchased would be more expensive. So I listed just a few fresh snacks priced at Whole Foods that cost between $5-8 that would feed 16-20 children.

Then the concern was related to meeting State of IL safety standards (all snacks have to be wrapped and or packaged). I then proceeded to get quotes from Stanley’s that indicated a significant cost savings by buying fruit in bulk, which would come packaged and sealed, to meet safety requirements. This is the email I think I copied the entire class list on.

The Director then seemed to be concerned with allergens. I couldn’t think of anyone I knew that was allergic to oranges and apples and I wanted to say that (I probably did and it is possible that I replied to all on the list serve).

I did get many emails of support from like-minded mommies. I did, however, get some other emails that made me want to curl up in fetal position in my own mommy’s lap. I wanted to respond, I wanted to say so much. I found myself typing “aren’t you scared that our kids might not outlive us? I am.” I backspaced…

My husband thinks that “food” is my religion. I just think that we all have a right to eat healthy. Unfortunately, not everyone is drinking the same kool-aid.