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Common Threads taught Lauryn how to cook. Now she’s teaching her family, too.

The Jones family has always been tight. Now, thanks to their daughter, they’re cooking together in a whole new way.

Common Threads taught Lauryn how to cook. Now she’s teaching her family, too.
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Quaker Common Threads

13-year-old Lauryn Jones loves every part of cooking, from prep to pan to plate — including the shopping. Her infectious energy is changing her family's relationship with food.

Lauryn's passion comes from one place: three years of participating in Common Threads' program in Chicago, a unique initiative educating low-income kids in large urban centers like Chicago and New York about cooking, nutrition, and healthy living.

When parents are busy, budgets are tight, and access to quality healthy food is limited — at best — it can be hard for families to find time to cook meals together. This limited access to healthy food has made low-income families more likely to suffer from long- and short-term health issues, including low self-esteem, sleep apnea, pre-diabetes, and more.


It’s a systemic problem that multiple generations of families have had to deal with and one that money-conscious school districts and local governments have been unable to address in a meaningful way for decades.

Common Threads is a response to these ongoing problems.

Common Thread students enjoying a hands-on culinary experience. Image via Quaker/Common Threads, used with permission.

Every year, a new cohort of kids from third to eighth grades joins Common Threads for intensive programs including Small Bites, Cooking Skills & World Cuisine, and Family Cooking Classes. It’s all designed to help kids think about food and nutrition and healthy living as an important part of life — while they’re young enough for it to really make a difference.

For three of the last four years, Lauryn joined Common Threads. They taught her essential kitchen skills and cooking skills as well as life and leadership skills. She came out of their program eager to share her learnings with her family.

Her mom, Tanya Jones, is effusive about the program.

"They treated Lauryn well as a person, they taught her techniques, they gave her the science behind it," she says. "It’s a holistic approach, not just a one-time thing. They were so hands-on, and it exceeded my expectations."

Lauryn agrees. She’s grateful to Common Threads for introducing her to new foods, including granola and kefir (a probiotic-fermented milk product that tastes like yogurt but is drinkable).

"Even my sister started drinking it!" she says proudly.

Common Threads empowers its kid participants to help their parents with the food choices they make for the family. For Lauryn and Tanya, that has meant looking at grocery shopping in a new way.

The Jones family (mostly) hard at work in the kitchen. Image via Tanya Jones/Quaker, used with permission.

"We’ve visited the Common Threads garden for carrots and kale; we buy kale chips," says Tanya. "We buy whole wheat bread from the bakery now and cage-free brown eggs."

The food they make as a family is different, too. Lauryn loves making whole wheat pancakes, salads, and smoothies. She has a special recipe for pasta with pesto and mascarpone cheese. When they cook, it’s a collective effort with lots of jokes and fun and filled with roles for everyone.

"My sister can’t cook," kids Lauryn. "So she’s the sampler."

The Jones family was transformed by what Lauryn learned in Common Threads. According to chef, mother, and registered dietitian Frances Largeman-Roth, that’s not uncommon.

Frances Largeman-Roth and her daughter, Phoebe. Image via Lauren Volo, used with permission.

"Common Threads is a program that is near and dear to me and has changed so many kids' lives," she said. "They work with a great network of schools, and it’s wonderful to be working with people that just 'get it'."

Largeman-Roth is particularly enthusiastic about the importance of breakfast for kids — something she's proud of Quaker for championing in its partnership with Common Threads.

"Ultimately, [breakfast] sets the stage for the whole day. It doesn’t have to be the kind of breakfast you serve on the weekend, but it has to be healthy and something that’s going to fuel a kid until lunch because once they get to school age, they may or may not get a snack time before lunch," she said.

The research agrees — a 2008 study of 379 sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders found that regularly eating breakfast had a positive influence on attention/concentration, memory, and school achievement.

Quaker is helping Common Threads make breakfast an even bigger part of the program.

For the 2016-2017 school year, Quaker is partnering with Common Threads to fund its Family Cooking Classes and collaborate on expanding lessons to include breakfast so there's nutrition education available for Common Threads students for all meals of the day.

One of the biggest reasons Tanya and Lauryn feel they succeeded in making positive changes to the way they buy and cook food is because the change was gradual.

"Change is not always hard, but you resist it. We are a busy family, moving really fast. Lauryn helped me feel comfortable with making changes by asking for one or two things different on every shopping list, or with family meals, and it made me much more open for sharing and changing," said Tanya.

Is cooking together something your family does? Whether you're all pros in the kitchen or ready to take your first culinary step together, here's a great recipe for your family to try!

Blueberry Banana Overnight Oats With Coconut

Developed by Frances Largeman-Roth.

Makes 4 servings

  • 2 cups Quaker Old Fashioned Oats
  • 1 banana, sliced
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • ¼ cup shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 1⁄4 cup chia seeds
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 cups milk or non-dairy alternative
  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons honey, divided

1. Preheat oven or toaster oven to 325° F. Spread coconut on a lined baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes until golden. Let cool.

2. Place the oats, chia seeds, and salt in a bowl. Mix well and transfer ½ cup to each of 4 Mason jars or other lidded containers.

3. In a liquid measuring cup, whisk the milk together with 1 tablespoon of the honey. Pour ½ cup of the milk over the oats in each jar.

4. Distribute the banana slices into each of the 4 jars. Top with ¼ cup of blueberries and a tablespoon of the toasted coconut. Drizzle each jar with ½ teaspoon of the remaining honey.

5. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Stir and enjoy!

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

This article originally appeared on 11.21.16


Photographer Katie Joy Crawford had been battling anxiety for 10 years when she decided to face it straight on by turning the camera lens on herself.

In 2015, Upworthy shared Crawford's self-portraits and our readers responded with tons of empathy. One person said, "What a wonderful way to express what words cannot." Another reader added, "I think she hit the nail right on the head. It's like a constant battle with yourself. I often feel my emotions battling each other."

So we wanted to go back and talk to the photographer directly about this soul-baring project.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."