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Frieda's Specialty Produce - What's on Karen's Plate? - Isaiah and Karen

Giving Back by Sponsoring an Intern

Do you or your firm have interns? Have you thought about how you could potentially change that person’s life by the way you structure the internship?

This is our fifth year hosting an intern from EARTH University in Costa Rica. We were first introduced to EARTH when it began in 1990 in the rainforests of eastern Costa Rica. We were fascinated with its focus on true sustainability.

Each year, EARTH brings approximately 100 students from the tropics around the world—starting with Central and South America, and now including students from Africa, Asia and North America—and teaches them to be agriculturalists. The university gives them the skills and education to go back into their communities when they graduate four years later and create enterprises that improve the economics of their home countries.

It is a noble mission and University President José Zaglul told me when we had lunch a few months ago that the university’s fundamental goal is to create ethical leaders.

Frieda's Specialty Produce - What's on Karen's Plate? - José Zaglul with my mom Frieda Caplan
José Zaglul with my mom Frieda Caplan, Frieda’s founder.

Each September through December, third-year EARTH students are required to have an internship in a carefully selected company somewhere outside their home country. The students go out and do real work, applying what they have learned in school and learning what it’s like to be in what I call “the real world.”

Frieda's Specialty Produce - What's on Karen's Plate? - EARTH University interns
President Jose Zaglul, with two other EARTH interns, and Isaiah (R)

This year, our intern was Isaiah Lekesike. Isaiah is originally from Kenya, the fifth of eight children in his family. Since the age of 10, he has supported himself by qualifying for scholarships at the top junior high and high schools in Kenya. And through his hard work, his excellent grades and his inner drive to succeed, he ended up receiving a full scholarship to EARTH, over 13,000 miles from his home.

As I mentioned, Isaiah is our fifth intern. We have had two interns from Costa Rica, two from Haiti, and this year two students from Kenya applied for one position. It was a hard choice, but after multiple Skype interviews, we chose Isaiah. He was very excited to come to Southern California.

The first night Isaiah arrived, we went to dinner together. It was difficult to understand him as he spoke with an, of course, Kenyan accent. But with his big smile and pleasant attitude, I knew he was perfect for our culture at Frieda’s.

Frieda's Specialty Produce - What's on Karen's Plate? - Isaiah and Karen
Isaiah and me…in my gym clothes.

After a few weeks of working under the supervision of our Category Business Analyst Leslie, Isaiah and I met for a feedback session. I asked him if he had a bucket list of things he wanted to do while in California. He looked at me, puzzled. “Why did I want to know?” I told him if he shared his goals, then I could help him achieve them.

It turns out he wanted to see the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco Bay and the Hollywood sign, and go to Disneyland and Las Vegas (of course), among other things. Fortunately for us, we had many volunteers within the company who made sure he got to do almost everything on his list.

Isaiah’s 15-week internship flew by so quickly. His final day in the office was spent finishing up his work, and then presenting a 30-minute recap of his experience at Frieda’s. Everyone in the office was invited and we ended up with over 20 people crammed into our conference room! After the presentation, we celebrated his success with a quick lunch, then he was off to Las Vegas for the weekend.

So when I drove Isaiah to the airport for his flight back to Costa Rica on Monday night, I asked him what surprised him during his Internship and what he learned. This is what he told me:

  • He learned to use a daily “Things to Do List” as a way to get so much more done. He always had in mind what he had to do, but since everyone at Frieda’s makes lists, he learned what a valuable tool it is.
  • All departments at Frieda’s have a morning huddle to share what they are working on and any obstacles they have. The meeting lasts no more than 10 minutes. Isaiah was in our Sales Department huddle each morning and said he thinks it’s the best thing he has ever seen!
  • He never realized the power of Facebook. Because I tagged him in a photo I posted on Facebook on his first night, he started to post a few pictures there, in addition to keeping his family in Kenya updated. He became better connected with someone he gave a tour to at EARTH. It turns out, this gentleman happens to be a high ranking individual at UC San Diego. Isaiah was invited to visit him for Thanksgiving weekend, and Isaiah has now been invited to apply for the MBA program at UC San Diego! He told me that would never have happened without Facebook.
  • Isaiah is an introvert and initially is rather shy when he first meets someone. I encouraged him to get to know all of his coworkers personally and go to lunch, share stories and socialize. It surprised him how friendly everyone was and how inclusive they were with him. It changed his perception of opening himself up to people.
  • And of course, he did not expect to find a new family in California. He fell in love with my mother, Frieda, whose home he stayed in during his internship, and made so many new friends. He left handwritten notes and sent dozens of text messages once he landed in Costa Rica, so he can stay in touch.

I know each year that the EARTH student whom we select to be an intern will have his or her life changed forever. What always surprises me is how they change MY life and the lives of other members of the Frieda’s family.

Frieda's Specialty Produce - What's on Karen's Plate ? - Isaiah's last day at Frieda's
Isaiah with many of our Sales, Buying and Marketing teams.

Happy Holidays!


P.S. If you haven’t received my blog for the last six weeks, I took a little break. Sometimes we need to do that.

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