At work or behind the lens, Kenya Allen ’02 sees the bigger picture in aiding others
By Shannon Sigafoos
Outside the window of his Baltimore-based office at the Social Security Administration (SSA), Kenya Allen ’02 can see the people who rely on the aid they receive from the SSA, and knows that each one has a different story. Some rely on public transportation to get where they’re going. Others may have a harder time navigating the daily problems that city life entails. Or, they may be vulnerable simply because of age and life’s challenges. The common thread is that, in one way or another, most benefit from the work that comes out of Allen’s office—and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Eleven years ago, when Lafayette caught up with Allen during his role as a lead program analyst, he was heavily involved working with disability claims processing. Today, the work and projects he is most focused on still benefit the same audience, but Allen wears many hats and utilizes his communications and executive-level skill set to support SSA’s massive effort to modernize its aging IT infrastructure. Specifically, Allen manages stakeholder communications for a team tasked with building one system that will take the place of what is currently 52 different systems currently used by state agencies to process disability claims.
“These are agencies that we contract to do the disability determination work. They report to their respective states, and they have different regulations and laws governing some of their operations. So, trying to incorporate that type of flexibility into one system has been very challenging. There are a lot of different work cultures and business processes out there, and we have devoted a considerable amount of time and effort getting everybody to the table to accomplish that. ”
Allen’s typical day-to-day responsibilities range from producing digital and printed materials that educate people about the program to writing speeches and preparing presentations for senior agency executives. He also gets to use his art skills working on web design and graphic design, handles content management for knowledge base and historical documents, and in the past has worked with a team that manages the formulation and execution of the SSA’s $2 billion disability determination budget. To call him a multitasker would be an understatement. But the way he sees it, he’s utilizing skills that bring him back to his college days, as well as ones he’s acquired throughout his career.
“It’s about finding ways to make yourself invaluable beyond your actual job description. A lot of the skills that I use now actually go back to my time at Lafayette and my interests outside of work,” Allen reflects. “Also, through my various roles at SSA, I’ve learned that sometimes to grow upward, you’ve got to first grow out and experience different parts of an organization—and that’s been characteristic of my career path thus far. At the end of the day, you know you’re doing something that’s going to help the American public and positively change lives for millions of individuals.”
Now a husband and father of two, Allen greatly appreciates the flexibility his professional life affords him. Balance with his family and being able to be home for life’s important moments has helped inspire him to make time for freelance photography—a hobby that has enabled him to stay in touch with his Lafayette roots (he was one of the photographers at the Lafayette/Lehigh Yankee Stadium Game), cover professional sports (both MLB and NFL games), and form connections with local high school athletes who benefit from having a positive mentor in their life.
“About seven years ago, I went to the local high school, and I wanted to get involved with the game and be able to give back to the young people in the community in some fashion and just be a presence in their life. A number of kids in this area have unfortunately grown up in single parent homes, and so people in athletics are the closest thing they have to a second parental figure. I try to use photography as a way to be there for them,” shares Allen. “When I played high school football, we had a gentleman who would take pictures for us, and at the end of the year, he would give us a book with all of these nice pictures. I still have that book. And I want to give to other kids the same thing that was given to us, as well as just interacting with them and giving them advice where needed.”
Allen, who starred on Lafayette’s Division I football team for two and a half years, enjoys the opportunity to interact with student-athletes and to share what it takes to get to the next level both on the field and scholastically.
“I always tell the kids, ‘When you’re on that field, that’s one of the few times in life when people are really cheering for you,’” he says. “Especially as an adult, when you go out in the world, you’ll never have that same level of support. I just want them to understand that you can’t take those moments for granted. And you’ve got to just really soak it all in and enjoy it.”