Deborah Pena Winter 2017 Blog
by Deborah Pena, March 23, 2017
This quarter, I started volunteering for Common Threads at Armour Elementary School in Bridgeport. Common Threads is a non-profit organization that delivers health and wellness through hands-on cooking and nutrition education to children and families in underserved schools and communities. The program’s mission is to impart its participants with practical, life-long healthy eating habits. My experience with Common Threads has been extremely rewarding. Being a mentor to children has enabled me to connect the skills that I have learned through my education at Kendall College with my desire to instruct our youth on how to combat childhood obesity and turn cooking at home into an enjoyable tradition.
Every week, I had the opportunity to engage with 12-15 students in the Advanced Cooking Skills & World Cuisine class. Working alongside Chef-Instructor Sheri Brazley, the kids discovered food from around the world, from Sweden to Morocco to Brazil. We discussed each country’s food culture, etiquette and language, while reinforcing ingredient IQ and the “Chef’s Plate,” to create healthy, well-balanced meals. I was immediately impressed with their knife skills and eagerness to delve into each new recipe. Each week challenged my patience and organization as I had to learn how to productively channel their energy to complete tasks within the tight time constraints. The fruit of our labor was witnessing each individual student’s progression throughout the course of the program. On the last day, we invited the children’s parents to attend a knife assessment/skills competition and enjoy the final recipes that their children had produced. The students were bursting with pride and excitement.
My favorite moment came when a parent came up to me and stated that he began experiencing heart palpitations when their daughter picked up the sharp knife. He went on to say that he had no idea that she was so proficient in chopping and cutting. At home, him and his wife do all the cooking. He never even considered asking his daughter to help. His wife added that she has a garden at home and now is thrilled to know that she has someone to help her make her salsa. It was a true “a-ha” moment for the parents, who began to truly understand the impact that the Common Threads program has had on their children. It’s left a lasting impression on me as well.