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Generation Next: For Grace Vilches, Internship leads to Produce for Kids position

Grace Vilches, a marketing coordinator for Florida-based Produce for Kids, is a living illustration that internships are a great way to introduce college students to the produce industry.

Though Vilches has always felt an affinity for good food — she calls herself a “foodie” — and grew up in an agriculturally rich part of the country, she had no connection to the fresh produce industry until she took a random internship with her current employer in early 2016.  Recently, she celebrated her third anniversary with that company and is now very happy she has joined an “awesome industry.”  In fact, presently she is supervising the new intern at Produce for Kids, relaying her enthusiasm for fresh produce and the excitement she has for the different industry categories that they serve. 1Grace Vilches with Produce for Kids co-workers Amanda Keefer and Amber Bloom.  

She said that the Produce for Kids’ mission is to “create a healthier generation” of eaters by developing campaigns with supplier/retailer partners that promote healthy eating of fresh produce. The campaigns include promotions, recipes, eating tips and other efforts to encourage moms and kids to adopt better eating habits. “There is always a giving-back element to each campaign,” Vilches said, listing Feeding America as one of the recipients of its charitable giving.

Vilches’ story began in Miami Beach, where she was born in 1992 and grew up as the only child of Cuban immigrants. Her mom worked at a hotel, and her parents labored to provide her with a better life. She started in elementary school in Miami Beach but soon her parents were able to participate in the American Dream, moving about 30 miles north to the suburb of Miramar and a bigger house. Of course, Vilches lamented it also meant no more beach. A few years later as she was entering Everglades High School, Vilches’ father became ill and tragically died. “It was just me and my mom in high school,” she said, indicating that they formed a strong bond and lived a good life.

One of her transformational experiences was an “awesome college tour” she took around Florida visiting several different schools. She loved the trip and fell in love with the University of Central Florida in Orlando. It was a modern-looking school and the perfect distance from her mom — not too far but not too close.2Grace Vilches and her husband, Justin Boga.

At UCF she majored in advertising and public relations and received her degree from UCF’s Nicholson School of Communications. She used her time well in college participating in several internships learning a lot about public relations, advertising, communications and the interplay with social media. She interned for a small, online jewelry company and also for “Visit Orlando,” an organization charged with promoting tourism to that convention-laden city. She learned a lot about social media and is proud that during her time with the agency Orlando led the nation as the No. 1 U.S. tourist destination.

In December of 2015, as she was nearing graduation, Vilches admitted to being a little bit frightened of going out into the real world and starting a career. She thought having one more internship was a good way to ease into a job. She found an internship at Orlando-based Produce for Kids in January of 2016, again working in social media. The end of her internship aligned perfectly with her graduation and a full-time job opening at the organization.  

“On May 16, 2016, I was very lucky to land my first big-girl job with Produce for Kids. I just had my third anniversary,” she said.

Vilches is a marketing coordinator working with social media, including managing the organization’s Instagram account as well as its newsletter and email marketing campaigns. “I work with the sales director and I work primarily in sponsor communications,” she said, but added that it’s a small staff so everyone does a little bit of everything.  “We all wear multiple hats.”

Vilches’ non-work life also involves wearing multiple hats as she has many different interests that help her create a nice work/life balance.  First and foremost is her husband, Justin Boga. The two are high school sweethearts, who both went to UCF and were legally married in November, though they are not having their wedding until October of this year, which has given them ample time to plan it. Boga was an engineering major and he also works for a small company. Vilches said both of them like smaller companies with less bureaucratic red tape and the ability to just get things done.

She also points to her dog, Ollie, as a great part of her life. “He is a mini Australian Shepherd that just randomly came into my life and it has been great.”3Grace Vilches with her dog, Ollie.

Vilches said that in high school and college when friends would obsess about their dogs, she didn’t get it. “I liked dogs but I didn’t have an insane affection for them. Now I get it.”

Exercise is another activity that burns up some of her spare time. She is into a fitness program called Pure Barre, which has studios across the country. “I’m not obsessed, but I like to exercise about four to five times a week.”

She also calls herself a “TV junkie” and loves to binge watch. As she spoke, Game of Thrones had just ended. “Right now I am also watching Mindhunters on Netflix and Leftovers on HBO. I loved The Handmaid’s Tale. I also like real life dramas.”

Tying in with her relatively new career is her obsession with food. Vilches called herself a “foodie” and says she loves to cook. She is proud of her Cuban heritage and loves to cook food and dishes that originate in her parent’s home country.

“My tacos are really good. I have a gift for making ground turkey taste amazing,” she said.

She added that Cuban food is all about the spices and noted that black beans and white rice are two staples in Cuban cuisine that she is very familiar with. She combines her cooking and TV-watching habits by addictively watching Laura in the Kitchen, an internet cooking show. She said the show has opened up the entire pantry to her culinary skills and she has made many great dishes using fresh produce, including recent dishes with broccoli and acorn squash. “The roasted broccoli was amazing,” she said.

Coming full circle, Vilches feels passion for the Produce for Kids mission.  

“I love to talk to families and help them make healthier choices,” she said. “If we can get moms to try something new and teach them how to make a little bit healthier meal for her kids… it may seem like a small thing but that can be an important change in her life.”