I brought home a seven-week-old adorable golden retriever puppy about two and a half years ago, and began a volunteer opportunity that would forever change my life. Eli (shown in the photo here), who I named after the quarterback Eli Manning, was one of 11 puppies from a litter who would go on to be trained to live with, and assist, an individual in a wheelchair.
Helping Paws is an organization in Hopkins, Minn. It began 25 years ago and has trained and placed more than 400 dogs. Its mission is to further the independence of people with disabilities through the use of service dogs.
When I decided to pursue becoming a trainer, I was interviewed by Helping Paws and they told me training a future service dog would be a big commitment. I had no experience, but I was sure this was something I wanted to do. I attended classes with Eli at Helping Paws every week and worked with him every day for the next two and a half years.
During the time Eli was with me, he learned to open doors, turn light switches off and on, pick up things that were dropped and even take clothes out of the dryer! We learned how to do these things each week at class. He loved to work, and was always eager to please.
Once a service dog is placed with an individual, it goes everywhere with its new owner. It was important for Eli to start going everywhere with me as part of his training.
I approached American Family about bringing Eli to work with me, and it was agreed I could give it a try, although this was something that had never been done before. I had to go through a process with Human Resources and my manager, Penny Dietz. She and my work group were very supportive, and before long, Eli had become a beloved member of our subrogation department! He was happy to lie under my desk and pick up things I dropped – on purpose – for practice.
Eli has graduated and was placed in October with a man who was injured in a diving accident and attends the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis. They have formed a great bond and are doing really well. The practice Eli had lying under my desk he now uses at college.
One of the things I have learned in talking with people who get service dogs is how much they enhance their lives. Not only are they getting a new best friend but they also feel like they are once again visible in society. Many people have told me that before they had their service dog, people were afraid to approach them or talk to them. With a dog by their side, they were more approachable and felt like a part of society again.
I want to thank American Family for allowing Eli to come to work with me. It was a win-win situation on many levels and I hope others will consider this very rewarding volunteer experience.
In October 2009, my son Jack, now 11, was admitted to American Family Children’s Hospital and diagnosed with Type 1 insulin dependent diabetes. With Type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin, so insulin shots must be given. There is no cure for Type 1 diabetes, unlike Type 2, which can usually be controlled by diet and exercise.
This was an immediate life change. The endocrinology team worked to stabilize Jack and teach Mom and Dad how to care for him once we returned home. Our new normal would become a routine of checking blood sugars, giving shots and counting carbohydrates. A lot to learn in a two-day hospital stay, but the hospital gave us the tools we needed.
Their attention to detail amazed us. The first night, just a few weeks shy of Halloween, the admitting doctor presented Jack with a sheet of carbohydrate counts for snack-size treats. The nurse on duty spent hours in the room as my husband was on a hiking trip out West and was trying to get a flight home. Late that first night she asked how things were going and I replied, “He’s good, he’s sleeping.” She looked over her glasses and said, “I’m not asking about your son, I’m concerned about Mom.”
During the next several days, as we worked with doctors to regulate Jack’s blood sugars, we learned to test blood sugars and give shots; we met with a dietitian, psychologist, chaplain and nurse educator. Jack, on the other hand, enjoyed playing video games, visiting the play rooms and doing art projects. The hospital is such a kid-friendly environment Jack always says it looks like a school, not a hospital. The teaching tools the hospital provided us were amazing, and the empathy from the doctors and nurses always real.
Jack will be a patient at the hospital until his early 20s. He visits quarterly to make sure things are in check. The doctors and nurses are wonderful. They know Jack and his likes and dislikes. As a parent of a child with a chronic illness, I am reassured to have the children’s hospital right in our backyard to help us manage Jack’s diabetes.
As a family, we have been involved in the hospital since the original capital campaign to build. We are donors and volunteers, and I sit on the Advisory Board. I never dreamed we’d use the hospital, and here we are today, several stays and a dozen or so quarterly checkups later.
As an agent, I have always taken great pride in American Family’s legacy of giving to the children’s hospital. It started years ago with my father, (former CEO) Harvey Pierce, and continues with current leadership. I am proud to share the story of American Family Children’s Hospital with customers, friends and neighbors. It is such a tremendous gift to this community.
I hope you’ll take the opportunity to tour, learn more and consider a gift to the hospital. Like the Pierce Jacobsen family, you never know when you may need American Family Children’s Hospital.
Editor’s Note: Spurred by an initial $10 million flagship gift from American Family Insurance in 2003, American Family Children's Hospital in Madison, Wis., provides specialized care in a healing environment designed especially for pediatric patients and their families.
However, more beds and treatment spaces are needed to care for the growing number of acutely ill babies and children. The "Sick Kids Can't Wait" campaign was launched to raise the funds needed to provide 26 more pediatric critical care beds, new operating room equipment and pediatric treatment spaces for children requiring advanced heart and radiological procedures.
Join American Family Insurance in our support of American Family Children’s Hospital’s “Sick Kids Can’t Wait” campaign.
For me, it just feels natural to help with the American Family Insurance United Way campaign. I think it’s important to give back to the community I live and work in, and it always has been.
I come from Delano, a small community west of the Twin Cities. I help with our Fourth of July celebration, pick up trash on the side of the road, and help organize a toy drive with the local church to make sure kids have toys for Christmas. Delano is small enough I can see firsthand the good that comes from my volunteering.
All the time I give is worth it when I’m able to see children smiling from ear to ear because Santa brought them the toy they’ve been waiting for, or when I see the relief in the eyes of a parent whose son or daughter just received a college scholarship I was able to help fund. That’s why I give back whenever and wherever I can in my community.
The United Way of Delano, Minn., donated more than $40,000 last year to more than 27 local charities in and around the area. It helps the food pantry provide meals to hundreds of families who don’t have enough to eat in these tough economic times, and provides funds for local organizations.
Supporting the United Way means helping those who need a hand. The United Way campaigns are a big event at American Family for most locations. I’m proud to work for a company that devotes time, money and resources to help create a better life for everyone. To me this is living our mission to be the most trusted and valued service-driven insurance company.
If you have the opportunity to give back to your own community either through the United Way or some other way, I’d urge you to go for it.
Doing good just feels good, and who couldn’t use that?
I’ve given blood a few times in my life. Involuntarily, that is.
Like the time I got a bloody lip from a wild pitch during a Little League game, prompting me to consider pursuing other sports. Such as badminton.
Or, later in life, when I accidentally sliced myself on a water bottle while vacationing in Slovakia, leaving me with a timeless "souvenir": a crescent-shaped scar on my left thumb.
Ah, good times.
So, I’ve always been a tad squeamish around blood – especially blood drives. Until recently. All it took was a few facts and figures to change my mind.
For instance, one pint of blood can save up to three lives. Every two seconds someone in the United States needs blood, spurring the need for 44,000 donations every day.
Given these facts, along with the critical demand for blood heightened by Hurricane Sandy this fall, I signed up for one of the many American Red Cross blood drives routinely held at American Family.
It turned out to be a pleasant experience. It didn’t hurt, and only took a little over an hour – a small price to pay for helping others whose lives may be at risk. I’m already planning to donate again in the future.
The next time a blood drive takes place in your community or at your workplace, consider rolling up your sleeve and giving. Or, arrange a time to donate when it might be more convenient for you – just contact the American Red Cross or America’s Blood Centers.
It’s not every day that you can say "I probably saved someone's life today."
Giving blood gives you that opportunity.
I give a lot of time to various organizations and have a passion for volunteering.
Admittedly, when I became involved with local charitable organizations I did so for selfish reasons, like networking, resume building, and many other reasons that had more to do with me than others.
After a while, though, something changed.
Through volunteer work with Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Northwest Missouri Children’s Advocacy Center, I saw firsthand the powerful effect these organizations have on children and families. I could share hundreds of stories about families in dire need that have received life-changing assistance from these organizations. These stories would melt your heart, as they have mine.
Volunteerism is a passion that I am determined to pass on to my children by educating them about the importance of giving back and lending a hand to others.
I used to think: “What can one person do to make a difference?” I have learned even the smallest contribution of time or resources can make a meaningful difference.
Consider the impact you would have if you took time to volunteer at a local elementary school as a reading tutor, make a donation to the local food pantry, help raise money to support breast cancer research, coach a Little League team … the list goes on. The opportunities are plentiful, and the rewards of volunteering are even more.
We all can make a difference working together with organizations toward a common goal.
That is why it's so important American Family supports the United Way. Contributions from American Family employees help the United Way provide support for its partner agencies. In St. Joseph, Mo., the United Way supports agencies that can help a family displaced due to fire or natural disaster, a child who is sick with a family who can’t afford the required care, a family in need of affordable childcare or a battered wife who needs legal assistance. And that’s just naming a few.
There are so many volunteer opportunities out there. Start looking today! Big or small, just get involved.
Editor’s note: Learn more about American Family’s efforts to strengthen our communities in our Newsroom, including a look at programs in each of our 19 operating states.