Published on January 19th, 2010 | by Juice Magazine
2009 YP of the Year: Winner Andrew Allen
In October, we asked Juice readers to nominate candidates for our first annual Young Professional of the Year Award, which we started as a way to recognize central Iowans under the age of 35 who made substantial contributions to the quality of life in central Iowa through social, charitable, civic or entertainment efforts. An independent panel of judges reviewed all nominations and made recommendations for our finalists. As one judge commented, “What a great list of young professionals we have in central Iowa. It reassured me that we indeed have many up-and-coming community leaders who know how to get the job done.” At a reception on Jan. 12 at Grand Piano Bistro, we honored the winner and other finalists.
Andrew Allen is the man he is today because of the help he received as a troubled youth.
In return, he’s mentoring and dedicating his time to troubled young Iowans.
At a ceremony Jan. 12 at Grand Piano Bistro in Des Moines’ East Village, Allen, 32, received the inaugural Juice Young Professional of the Year Award, which recognizes central Iowans younger than age 35 who have given to their communities through volunteering and other efforts.
“I feel like an unlikely recipient,” Allen, a community investment consultant with Principal Financial Group, told those in attendance at the reception. “As a young person, I was more likely to end up in prison than win an (young professional) award.”
Allen was arrested for a felony at the age of 10. He abused drugs and alcohol, and at 17, was sent to in-patient treatment at Youth and Shelter Services in Ames after being arrested for being intoxicated while driving. “I was getting into a lot of trouble,” he said. “I thought it made me happy, but it didn’t.”
The experience in treatment started the process of turning his life around, and now much of his time is dedicated to helping youth in central Iowa in circumstances like those he once faced.
Allen became a charter youth member for Youth and Shelter Services when he was 19.
“I had mentor after mentor,” he said. “For some reason, George Belitsos (the CEO of Youth and Shelter Services) took a personal interest in me. He believed in me more than I believed in myself.”
Today, Allen’s dedication to helping others is reflected in his accomplishments: He played a role in securing millions of dollars in support of youth services in central Iowa for organizations such as Youth and Shelter Services, Iowa Homeless Youth Centers and Reggie’s Sleepout. Gov. Chet Culver appointed him to sit on the state’s Juvenile Justice Advisory Council, and last year he was appointed to the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice.
“I was very bad,” Allen said. “To be asked to serve on the board of Juvenile Justice warms my heart.”
He served a two-year term as board president of Iowa Homeless Youth Centers (IHYC), and helped originate the idea for Reggie’s Sleepout, which has raised nearly half a million dollars since 2006. And every week he mentors a teenager through the lunch buddy program at Orchard Place, an initiative he helped create.
“I help because I feel like the people who helped me deserve it. I’d taken so much for so long. I needed to give back,” he said. “It boils down to adversity. Not everyone gets into trouble in life, but everyone goes through a tough time. It’s how you address that adversity that makes you the person you are.”
That philosophy extends to his work at Principal Financial, where he manages the company’s annual giving budget, helps organize benefit and volunteer programs, and is an advocate for the United Way campaign. In 2009, he acted as the liaison for the company’s financial support of the 80/35 Music Festival and oversaw the guest and family activities for the Principal Charity Classic.
He’s been involved with the company’s United Way campaign since his hire in 2001, and in his first year as chairperson in 2005, shared his story with employees for the first time. Turns out, a personal story was what people needed to hear: Employee participation jumped from 53 percent to 67 percent, a record, and employee donations topped $5 million, another record.
“Andrew brings a unique perspective to his work,” said Barry Griswell, president of the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines and former chief executive of Principal Financial. “People who have experienced being in trouble and then pulling themselves out tend to add a great deal more excitement and passion to what they’re working on.”
Allen credits his experiences with mentors with helping him push through the tough moments in his earlier life. During his speech after accepting the award, Allen said he hopes people who encounter adversity follow a path similar to the one he took.
“I hope they surround themselves with mentors, and identify something they are passionate about,” he said.
Andrew’s advice: Be a mentor
Andrew mentors through the Iowa Homeless Youth Centers, Youth and Shelter Services and works with a teenage student weekly through the Orchard Place lunch buddy program (which he helped create).
Want to get involved? Go to yss.ames.ia.us, orchardplace.org or unitedwaydm.org.
Why? “We all have one hour a week we can devote to mentoring,” Allen said. “Each week, I get to spend 60 whole minutes not thinking about the stresses in my life, and make an impact on someone else’s. Having a mentor and being a mentor are equally important.”