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Introducing: Brandi Hollaway Allen, Business Support Assistant for The Immigration Evaluation Institute
You’ve often heard me talk about the team I have behind me, helping to bring things together and ensure everything runs as smoothly as it possibly can around here!
I honestly couldn’t do it without the support and expertise of such a dedicated team, and I thought to myself recently – it’s probably time I properly introduced some of them!
You may have already been in touch with Brandi Hollaway Allen, our Business Support Assistant, or received an email or two from her! She helps keep all the cogs turning around here and is an administrative extraordinaire when it comes to helping me stay organized.
I put together a few questions to help you get to know her better, as you’ll definitely be seeing more of her around here – enjoy!
- We’ll start with an easy one: can you tell us more about you and your background?
I was born in Kansas but was raised in Arkansas and Alabama (just outside Mobile), and went to college in western Massachusetts (Mount Holyoke). After college, I returned home and worked for a software company that was one of the first to create a system for courthouses to store real property records for storage and public access digitally.
I moved to Virginia Beach for a few years when I decided I needed a change and worked as an Administrative Assistant for a local restaurateur/club owner, then a retail manager for a local branch of Sloppy Joe’s (the famous Key West bar frequented by Hemingway!).
A few years later, I headed back to Arkansas, where I worked for the district prosecuting attorney—first as a legal secretary to the deputy PA for my county, then as the victim assistance coordinator for the four-county district, and finally as the personal assistant to the elected Prosecuting Attorney. (The former deputy ran for office when his boss retired. I was his campaign manager both times he ran for office.) I also served as the Secretary/Treasurer for my county’s Democratic Central Committee until I got married and moved away.
Then I married a former US Marine (Mexican-American heritage), and he was recalled. We moved out to SoCal for about a year – then back to Arkansas again! This time I worked at a small liberal arts college—Lyon College. First as an admin in the Advancement Office, then as the Admin/Alumni Coordinator for a US Dept of Ed program, one of two Upward Bound programs at the college—it is one of the oldest continuously operating Upward Bound programs in the country.
During COVID, I quit my job and moved to NWAR to be closer to family and make a new start. I homeschooled my sons that first year. Once they were back in school full-time, I took on a few different roles before I learned about Cecilia needing a virtual assistant, and that’s where I am now!
I have always loved to travel and have been interested in other places and cultures. One of my favorite stories/films growing up was The Rescuers. I wanted to be an interpreter at the UN for a few years. Then I saw a movie with Goldie Hawn and decided I wanted to work in the Office of the Chief of Protocol in the Ceremonials Division. With all this in mind, I studied French in high school and Arabic in college, then I took my first econ class and changed my major from International Relations to American Studies. I adored my Islamic art history course, though, and my bucket list includes a trip to Granada to tour al-Qalʻat al-Ḥamrā.
We hosted a German exchange student when I was in high school, and we are still in touch. My maternal grandmother’s father’s family immigrated from Germany, and some of our German cousins have a winery there (Weingut Schales). I’m a Beaujolais or Chianti girl myself, but they’re pretty good.
I joined the Catholic church in college and have been a catechist since. I love sharing my faith and how diverse our church is worldwide. I was a chaperone for World Youth Day 2000 in Rome. It is on my bucket list to take my children to visit someday.
Life often doesn’t go as we plan, and mine didn’t. I found out at 35 that I had colon cancer. Thankfully, I was only at Stage 2C and they were able to remove everything. Early detection saves lives! I wouldn’t have my beautiful boys if I had kept putting off getting checked out.
When going to work became a chore, I started self-studying Mandarin because I wanted to visit Chengdu and the panda sanctuary. I also started studying Korean because I love the food, and I got hooked on a Korean reality show, Knowing Bros (아는 형님 ). That lasted a little over two years, and now I’m trying to learn Spanish with my boys. Maybe I’ll master it. It is their heritage, and their dad never learned—I feel it is my duty to give that to them while their Nana is still with us. We are also studying Welsh because that is my paternal great-gran’s heritage, and I love the sound of it. I gave both my boys Welsh names.
I am a product of many generations of those first waves of immigrants to the US, including Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, and England. Some came searching for a better life, some for religious freedom, and some just wanted a new start. I am blessed that they were able to realize their dreams, and I am proud that the work I do now, even if it is a tiny piece, also helps new generations have that chance.
- How long have you worked with the Immigration Evaluation Institute, and how did you discover the role?
I’ve worked with the Immigration Evaluation Institute for a year and a half.
I learned about it through a friend who is more like family and happens to be Cecilia’s sister-in-law. When Cecilia was looking for a new virtual assistant, Isa told me about it, and the next thing you know, I’ve been here a year and a half.
- What are some of the things you enjoy most about your role?
The flexibility it provides me to be available to my children.
It also challenges me to learn new applications for working online, allows me to help customers and coordinate with several service providers, and reminds me of the opportunities in our country.
I am amazed by all the wonderful clinicians out there helping people take a huge step toward a better life for themselves and their families.
- Do you have any life mottos or quotes you like to live by?
Hard times shouldn’t harden our hearts.
To stay young in spirit, keep taking on new thoughts and throwing off old habits.
Jer. 29:11 and Micah 6:8
- How do you create a work-life balance for yourself?
I left a full-time job with benefits and took a job as a freelance virtual assistant to have time for my children and myself.
Is our budget tighter? Yes, but we have more time to do things, and I have more time to take me time.
My stress level is definitely lower, and I don’t hate waking up each day. I can exercise more and schedule it to fit around work and family commitments. I can volunteer at our church and my children’s school. I can take trips with my boys more frequently.
Life is too short to hate every day just to possess more things.
- If there were one piece of advice you would impart to anyone new joining the community, what would it be?
Join the Facebook group and take advantage of the free 6-month ITC membership. The support you will receive is fantastic!
We have incredible clinicians who will help you out just as others helped them when they joined.
I’m Cecilia Racine, and I teach therapists how to help immigrants through my online courses. As a bilingual immigrant myself, I know the unique perspective that these clients are experiencing. I’ve conducted over 500 evaluations and work with dozens of lawyers in various states. Immigrants are my passion, I believe they add to the fabric of our country.
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