Longtime supporter Julius Rhodes recounts his family’s deep connection to Common Threads
Years ago, he saw an ad in his local church about a new children’s program and thought it was worth checking out for his two children. The program, Common Threads, was actually in its infancy and Julius’ children wound up being in the very first class. Founders chef Art Smith, Jesus Salgueiro and Linda Novick O’Keefe set out to not only teach young people about healthy eating and cooking, but also create awareness around the issues of diversity and inclusion – something for which Julius also has a passion for. It seemed a natural fit, so he and his kids showed up, and they were so impressed that they kept coming back and Julius joined the board.
In his seven years on the Common Threads board of directors, Julius applied his contagious enthusiasm to help develop the new Common Threads brand and identify growth opportunities. Board meetings were often held at the Chicago home of Art Smith and Jesus Salgueiro. “We were on the front lines of something that had truly never been done before,” he says.
Julius is proud that Common Threads offers not just lessons in food preparation and nutrition, but also safe environments in which to learn, be supported and grow.
“They would say, without a doubt, it was one of the most enjoyable times of their lives. We did so many things, meeting with chefs like Gale Gand and Tyler Florence and Art Smith. They got a chance to see some of these individuals, who they really looked up to and aspired to be like, in the flesh and realize that aside from what you see on TV, they’re just like you and I.” As adults, his kids still cook, he says.
Over the years, Common Threads has exceeded all of Julius’ expectations, yet its mission to educate under-resourced children and families on the importance of nutrition and physical well-being, empowering them to be agents of change for healthier families, schools, and communities is as relevant today as it was when he and his kids attended that first class.
“The thing I would want people to know and understand about Common Threads is that they involve children in areas that teach them life lessons. Not just in terms of food preparation or food security, but also how to engage with others through the realization that food teaches you about culture. It teaches you about life – seeing young kids learn about different cultures, learn about food preparation, understand the issues around food instability and the waste that we generate from our food supply. Teaching children, engaging children at a very young age in the essential nature and the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, and protecting our food resources to create stability in their lives and the lives of others is just a mission that’s so easy to get connected to and one that I’m so very proud to have been a part of.”