Linda Novick O’Keefe is the Founding Chief Executive Officer of Common Threads. Her experience, desire to develop innovative solutions to social problems combined with her passion for food led her to start Common Threads with chef Art Smith and artist Jesus Salgueiro in May 2003. Their vision was for a non-profit organization committed to educating youth about cultural diversity, the culinary arts and the importance of nutrition. Common Threads reverses the trend of generations of non-cookers who have been raised on over-processed food. Linda believes that food access is not only a key indicator of larger social justice issues, but also a concern with the potential to strengthen individuals and fortify entire communities. The program helps to combat the childhood obesity epidemic that is ravaging underserved communities while honoring families’ diverse cultures. Under Linda's leadership, Common Threads has grown from the basement of a humble church in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood to more than 500 schools and community partner sites nationwide in 2015, and has broadened its curricular focus to include after-school, summer programs, parent outreach and teacher training programs.
Prior to launching Common Threads, Linda worked in pharmaceutical advertising; however, a desire to make a difference in the community led her to an internship with Illinois Senator Dick Durbin and later to a position with the community-development savvy ShoreBank. Linda has an M.S. in Public Service Administration from DePaul University; was a 2009 Scholarship recipient and attendant of Harvard Business School’s Strategic Perspectives in Nonprofit Management; has been a Kellogg School of Management Board Governance Fellowship Mentor; served on the Building a Healthier Chicago Task Force; is a Babson College Social Innovation Fellow; and currently is a Kitchen Cabinet Member for the Smithsonian Institute. She is the 2010 recipient of the Anti-Defamation League’s Rising Star Award and was featured by Today's Chicago Woman as one of 100 Women Making a Difference in 2011. She, her husband Nick, their two children, Zachary and Julia, and Leo, a pit-sharpei rescue, live in Austin.