By: Lauren Perrodin
Entrepreneurship means something different for everyone, but it all starts with a vision. The journey to becoming a business owner all depends on what brings you joy. What gaps do you see in the world that you might help fill? Kristie Allison took many paths before arriving where she is now. Her story is one of trial and triumph. We had the pleasure of sitting with her to talk about how she started her business, and the steps she took that led up to her success.
A Creative Mind Locked in the 9-5
When you have a creative mind, being forced into a demanding, analytical job without much time or space after work to explore creatively can be very difficult to deal with. Kristie excelled in school, first earning her Associate of Arts at Santa Monica College (SMC), her Bachelor of Arts and Media & Cultural Studies at UCR, and then her Master’s in Social Work (MSW) at USC — but there was still something missing.
As a young, single mom, she needed to provide for her family. Luckily, she stayed in touch with her counselor at SMC, someone who guided her through her academic career and saw Kristie’s potential. Kristie reached out to him before finishing her Bachelor’s degree.
“One of my counselors, Wilfred Doucet, told me about applying for higher education,” says Kristie. “I was still exploring my strengths, trying to figure out what made me unique in my path, and my counselor told me that UCR was more diverse and I might have a greater experience there. I valued his advice, so I listened and took it.”
This advice, along with the support of Rickerby Hinds, a Professor of Theatre, Film, and Digital Production at UCR and pioneer of Hip-Hop Theatre, prompted her to apply for UCR University Extension’s Professional Certificate in Social Entrepreneurship, Engagement, and Development, or the SEED Lab. It was a decision that completely changed her life.
A Million-Dollar Mindset
Kristie is a successful social worker and mental health professional at Ark Homes Foster Family Agency, but saw a gap in teen and family care. Her “million-dollar mindset” is what got her feet moving toward a goal to change the world for teens and families. “I was already acting like a multi-millionaire entrepreneur, and knew this is who I wanted to be. So, I took that giant leap of faith.”
Enrolling in the SEED Lab
The SEED Lab is a specialized study program that helps mission-driven entrepreneurs pilot, launch, and find support in their endeavor of uplifting under-served communities. Kristie’s choice to pursue the SEED Lab was one that opened her eyes to what really drove her creatively — living with a purpose. She knew she wanted to own a business, help people, and spread the empowerment she found in herself to others.
Exploring a career as an entrepreneur is a big decision. It can be a huge risk—professionally and financially. If this is something already on your mind, taking a program like the SEED Lab could open your eyes to the possibilities in a new way, and answer many of your concerns and questions.
“The SEED Lab really helped me answer and explore the questions that I had been asking myself,” says Kristie. “[Questions like] who am I, who am I becoming? And how can I be an asset to myself and others? SEED really put me right there in a position to uncover my strengths as a positive social change leader. It helped me refine my vision and goals, and better appreciate all that I had persevered through. Learning with and from like minds in the cohort encouraged me to become a confident entrepreneur.” “Learn by doing” was the driving force behind Kristie’s “why,” and SEED helped her figure out how she can become a greater asset to others.
Becoming an Asset to Yourself and Others
Kristie was getting overwhelmed with outside needs, and felt like she wasn’t in touch with her children or her passions--mental health, family wellness, and art expression. “I wanted to fuse my creativity with my responsibilities as a mother and a full-time worker and student. I was losing myself and not in touch with the structure of how my household/family functions.
By the time my children and I reconnected from a long day of school/work and athletic events, we had little to no time to check in with each other on an emotional level. I [knew I had] to make my needs and my family’s needs a priority, so I decided to reclaim “homework” with the concept of home as mind, body, spirit, finances, and maintaining healthy relationships. It was important because I believe that homework starts at home.”
“Neither public school environments nor unhealthy family dynamics focus on teaching how to nurture our strengths or prepare us to 'do the work' to identify and improve our weaknesses. In most cases, a working-class individual is meant to perform a job, work with others on a project or two, and move on, without ever making a real impact or connection. And what happens when you become an overcompensating parent, and your children never learn how to earn their keep, value constructive discipline, or understand what it means to persevere? Dysfunctionality. That’s what.” This is where Kristie’s dreams of entrepreneurship became clear.
Kristie's Vision Begins to Bloom
The next step after completing the SEED Lab was initiating her big idea. Kristie saw a gap in how children and families communicate and relate to each other, so it became clear that her mission should be to help individuals and their families better connect on an emotional level, feel confident in expressing their needs, to belong in their own skin, and to break out of dysfunctional belief systems, generationally. In the course of trial and error, Kristie’s vision came to life. “MHAEK” (pronounced MEEK) or Mental Health Art Expression Kurriculum was born.
The program, according to Kristie’s website, “focuses on practical day-to-day mental well-being as it relates to time and energy constraints in at-risk households. MHAEK helps dismantle the ‘school-to-mental prison’ pipeline by collaborating with schools, athletic departments, and creative entities through customized support programs and individualized curriculums for youth and families.” Curriculums are personalized to each individual or group, and help participants communicate their needs and feelings through what they love to do.
Kristie found the perfect solution that fuses her creativity with her life responsibilities. “That's what was missing: the strength-based approach that focuses on the needs of people and their wants, and not solely the mission statement of the organization that they're involved with.”
How Does the Program Begin?
“[I like] to have individuals and families decide whether or not they are willing to think deeply, act accordingly, and heal properly during the process. That's the first thing because, without willingness, you cannot begin to unlearn a poor mindset to visualize your better self or situation. I think in school, at least where I come from, we're not really taught how to think and behave from our strengths. And by the time we are of age to make something of ourselves, we are frustrated with disbelief, self-doubt, fear, unprocessed trauma, and unresolved issues. Settling for an unfulfilled life is a painful mental prison.”
The program teaches participants to look inward, exploring what’s important to them and taking it one step at a time. This curriculum cracks open a new way of thinking, and how to be with yourself and the world around you. The best part is this is all done in a creative, event-based setting.
The Motivation Behind Entrepreneurship
“When we come up against dysfunctional behaviors, whether it be through communication styles or unproductive habits, I'm always implementing MHAEK elements into my home [and] into my family’s lifestyle. I forgive myself a lot. I ask for their understanding by communicating that I might not get it right all the time because it's my first-time juggling being a mother of teens and an entrepreneur. Reminding us to check our emotional temperatures, our attitudes towards adversity, and the use of our energy is how we plan to harness harmony, not just with each other, but with ourselves. This way, we are progressively becoming the best versions of ourselves--inside and outside of our home.”
Kristie reflects on the world often and notices that many people are not fulfilled in their lives. This exacerbates internal strife and disharmony amongst others because they lack the courage to be their authentic selves. MHAEK aims to reclaim the imposter syndrome of connecting with yourself through one's strengths and flip it — pointing out where you may be lacking in your belief systems that increase unhealthy anxiety, and helping you understand how to build strength under control.
“[People] think because they can't sing, dance, or create a masterpiece, they don't have a gift. I truly believe that everybody does have their own unique gift--even if it's not seen as a common talent. I see [myself] being a global entity that aims to help these individuals and families redefine art expression by becoming the best version of themselves. Discovering who you are through what you love to do is what I like to call, "Art Expressive Therapy.”
The Highs and Lows of Owning a Business
Owning a business is both rewarding and challenging. Kristie continues to push hard for what she believes in, knowing that her purpose is even greater than her current circumstances. “I've been brought here for a reason and I'm ready to meet those people who are supposed to be in my life on purpose. And in order to be in the right space at the right time, I must constantly ask myself the right questions.”
The outcomes of working in her field are vast. Her life has changed because of her lived experience as a single parent, her career as a social worker/ mental health professional, and her starting MHAEK. “I have become a happier Mom since I made the decision to launch MHAEK. Grounding myself in my faith helps me overcome my fears. [I’m] a more confident woman, friend, and collaborator, as well. Just getting to know more about myself [has changed my life.] When it comes to challenges, she practices gratitude–remembering her personal and professional goals and how far she's come. Kristie can often fall into the trap we all face when feeling driven toward our goals: working long hours in the office and/or field.
“The most challenging things right now is organizing my time and money. Being a single parent of two is difficult. Managing one fixed stream of income, two entrepreneurial businesses, and our family priorities, is exhausting. It requires a lot of flexibility and sacrifice. Day-to-day, we engage in “family time” and recite positive affirmations that we believe give us the personal power to be victors instead of victims. I am careful about imposing my financial struggles and fears on my children’s wants and needs because I do not want them to internalize a poverty mindset.”
Kristie emphasizes, “My mental health is important to me because I must continue to encourage my kids to focus on what they’re good at, and how they see themselves earning a profit from what they love to do. And when time seems scarce, we honor the time we have together by supporting their athletics, going out into nature for some fun, cooking together, making cleaning fun with music, and praying together.”
What Advice She Would Give to a Student Who Wants to Be a Social Work Entrepreneur
“You [should] know what your strengths are, and be of service from that place. We can get intimidated by our passion feeling small. Think deeply about who you are and which life events inspired you to become an advocate for others,” explains Kristie.
Kristie also advises to “lean into your triggers in a safe environment with trustworthy people, instead of carrying the pain or shame alone. Hiding in your fears or unhealthy habits doesn’t serve anyone, especially not yourself. As a social worker, I’ve learned to leave control of one’s outcome in their hands. My bias and beliefs do not always line up with the people I serve, so I do not make it my responsibility to control their outcomes. Instead, I help them become aware that they are their greatest advocates when making short-term and long-term effect decisions.”
“Dismantle some of that stigma so that people can normalize and understand what we're supposed to do if we're triggered. We all have, or will have, moments on our journeys that teach us how to acknowledge virtues such as love, patience, and self-control--just to name a few. Our triggers must serve us for our highest good, instead of locking us down with painful chains ruled by our emotions. How can we embrace that pain and turn it into a passion to help others? We have to keep looking for that answer."
A final thought from Kristie, “Create a better future while learning to forgive and effectively heal from your past. Learn how you can show up for yourself so that you can be an asset to others.”
Your Future Is Yours to Build
If you are a single parent, or feel like a single parent, and want to creatively identify your strengths and/or connect with your family on a more emotionally intelligent level, contact Kristie today. She can offer you solutions and show you ways to create a stronger and happier family, and build a better future. Visit her website to learn about upcoming events MHAEK will be organizing to promote family wellness.
And if you dream of being an entrepreneur, and have an idea of what gap you could fill in today’s world, learn more about UCR University Extension’s SEED Lab.