Last week, we had the pleasure of joining one of Common Thread’s after-school programs at Para Los Ninos Middle School in Los Angeles to see what they are all about. Before attending their after-school cooking classes for kids, we had no idea or what to expect. Afterward, I can tell you we were thoroughly impressed. The structure of the program was solid and their team members and the staff they worked with at the middle school were very professional.
When we first walked in we met James, the Los Angeles Program Coordinator at Common Threads. He walked us through the program every step of the way and as he greeted the chef, school employees, and former Common Threads students, you could tell he was a very hands-on leader.
The program started by having a group of 15 or so student and 3 volunteers sit around a table while Chef Lovely, one of Common Thread’s chef ambassador, instructed them on the day’s lesson and planned cooking experience. On that day, they were to cook German food, a mix of sour kraut, pretzels, and chicken nuggets. It was cool was how the lessons were laid out based on the cuisine’s country of origin. The students would not only get a hands-on lesson in cooking German food but would get a quick primer on German culture as well.
After the lesson, the students and volunteers moved to the kitchen where Chef Lovely went over safety tips and basic instructions on the tools they would use for a day. The students seemed to be patiently listening while thinking about the food they would be creating and later consuming.
Then the fun begins. As the kids begin chopping their cabbage and onions and prepping their pretzel dough, Chef Lovely goes table to table assisting the students. While observing the students, you can tell some were taking it as seriously as the kids in Masterchef Junior while others were there just to hang out and enjoy the experience.
After the food was prepared, the students went back to the classroom and sat patiently while Chef Lovely went around the table interacting with the kids. Before going back to the kitchen to see how their hard work turned out, the kids went to the gym for some movement activities to get a little exercise before consuming their German-inspired creations. They would run, do jumping jacks and squats before they were allowed to eat. Like cooking, some kid would take these exercises seriously, trying to beat out their competition, while others just wanted to get through with it as quickly as possible to enjoy their meals.
Now that the food was cooked and movement exercises complete, the kids were allowed to get the food they made and bring it back to the community table and eat. While they ate, Chef Lovely would go around the table asking questions related to the cuisine they cooked while the students would interact with each other and shout out answers to her questions.
After the meal was complete, the 2 hours program concluded.
Some of the Positive Highlights of the Program
- The exposure to cultures around the world through cuisine.
- The interaction between a seasoned professional like Chef Lovely and the kids.
- The emphasis on community and teamwork while cooking and eating.
- The focus on cleanliness and safety.
- The movement exercises that help the children think about physical activity and fitness before they consume their meals.
Attending the Common Threads after-school program was a great experience and really confirmed our belief that Common Threads was a world-class organization on the rise. The children seemed to enjoy the program and the 10-week structure of the class really allowed the learning experience of cooking to sink in. I would recommend Common Threads to any organization looking to serve their community or to any volunteers interested in community service.
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