As a continuous improvement engineer for Sargento Foods Inc., CJ Grace’s job is to use her skills to deliver process improvements, ultimately making her fellow employees’ jobs easier.
“I create a vision of the way things could be, then work with others to implement that,” she said.
But when asked what, if anything, she’d improve about Sheboygan, Grace paused.
“There really isn’t anything I’d change,” she said after a moment’s reflection. “I love it here — I’ve never seen another area like this one.”
After growing up in western Massachusetts, Grace attended the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, earning a Bachelor of Science in packaging science. Her career took her to Kraft Foods Group in Tarrytown, New York; two years later, she transferred to their meat division in Madison.
When that plant closed, Grace was offered a choice: a job at Kraft’s plant in Chicago or the opportunity to seek employment elsewhere. Grace chose the second option, starting at Sargento Foods Inc. in May 2016.
“I really liked what I saw here,” she said of her first impressions of the area. “It really should be called ‘Sheboygan: Who Knew?’ because of the excellent restaurants, the beautiful lakefront, and all the outdoor activities.”
Grace has become especially familiar with these amenities — and more — through her involvement in the Coastal Young Professionals Network, the Sheboygan County Chamber of Commerce’s group with more than 700 members, serving as a powerful connection for the county’s young professionals. She was introduced to Coastal by a Sargento coworker and got her feet wet attending its social and professional events, one of which spoke directly to her engineering aptitude.
“Earlier this year, we got a behind-the-scenes look at Wigwam Mills,” Grace said of the sold-out event. “It was very interesting.”
She’s attended so many of them — think OktoberFeast, a pontoon boat ride on Elkhart Lake, a financial education seminar — that benefits unfolded with each one, and she was making connections with other Coastal members.
“I see lots of familiar faces at Coastal events and in the community that I feel like I really belong here,” Grace said.
Grace can be found volunteering weekly for the Lunch Buddies program through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Sheboygan County; serving as a grant writer for Love INC, the faith-based group that encourages churches to become more engaged with people who have needs in the community; and participating in a newly created neighborhood association, a group that works to improve the lives of those around them.
When there is free time, Grace and her husband, Joe, an avid fly fisherman, enjoy walking their two dogs along the lakefront, tackling the challenges of stand-up paddle boarding, and camping.
And now that winter has arrived, Grace finds enjoyment in fiber arts like quilting and embroidery. There’s work to be done all around her, and Grace has achieved a balance of family life, career, social improvement and relaxation, choosing wisely from the many opportunities available.
“Who would think we’d have all these resources in a smaller city?” Grace asked. “Coastal has such a broad range of experiences for young professionals that it’s easy to feel like you belong.”