Embracing what is special about you…

LaTunja and her daughterMore than a year ago, I made the decision to stop perming my hair. I never expected that this decision would have impacted my life. I mean, it’s not uncommon that a girl wants to change her look, right? Every two years or so, I would go to the salon and say, "I need a change," which meant that I wanted a NEW hair style that would make me look younger, jazzier, or (I'm embarrassed to say) like one of the celebrities.

So what was different with this decision? To my surprise, this decision would force me to embrace a part of me that I had altered for over 30 years… my natural curls. I was faced with this life-changing decision when my five-year-old daughter, who was learning to swim, wanted me to get in the pool with her. I couldn't. I would mess up my hair (shallow, right?). Well, I felt silly after a while and took the plunge, starting a journey that would challenge me to confront other areas in my life where I was not being "real" or authentic.


After taking that initial step, I decided to dig deeper and discovered that my life was centered around preserving an "image" on the surface and denying the essence of what made me special. The image of an iceberg is a perfect metaphor for this because all you can see is 10 percent of it (what’s above the water surface or "above the line"). That’s where I was focusing ALL of my attention. The reality is that 90 percent of the iceberg is hidden ("below the line"). Unconsciously, I was also hiding 90 percent of ME because I thought that sharing that part of me would cause people to think less of me at work and in my personal life.

I will admit that the journey has been challenging but also rewarding. Life has a funny way of throwing you a curve ball to help you grow. Many of my lessons have challenged me to change my definition of success in pursuing my dreams (my purpose). Today, I am shifting the focus from myself to others, and my life is richer. Now, I think about how I can make a positive impact each and every day. I strive to be present in every interaction that I have with another person because I will make either a positive or negative impact; there is no "neutral" impact.

So, I challenge you to be present in the moment and make a positive impact daily. The next time you interact with someone – whether it’s in a hall or a meeting – ask yourself if you are making a positive impact. Are you really listening to the person, or are you distracted by other “noise,” such as the next item on your to-do list?  When you are present in the moment, your listening skills improve, your relationships blossom, and your life is enriched.

Today, I embrace and share who I am — all of me.

Avoid Being Victimized Twice: Prevent Contractor Fraud

How to prevent contractor fraud.It is heart-wrenching when our customers are victims of bad storms and natural disasters. It could happen to any one of us.

What is even worse, though, is when opportunists take advantage of customers after storms and natural disasters. These would-be “contractors” promise to repair damage to homes and property, and then they take off with the money without doing the work. In some cases, they may even do the work, but it involves lesser quality materials and workmanship than what they were paid for. This makes our customers victims twice.

Welcome to the world of contractor fraud. This seems to be most common during the storm season that gets under way in the springtime, but it can strike at any time.

Here is a real life example. In May of 2013, storms hit Milwaukee, and in response, American Family Insurance was busily following through on its commitments to its customers.

Out of the blue, one of our agents was contacted by a policyholder who said an individual knocked on her door, claiming that he would repair damage to her home if she would just sign a contract. And here’s the kicker – this individual said he was connected with American Family Insurance.

She almost became a victim … twice. American Family did not send this “contractor” to do repairs.

It is a good thing the policyholder called. After some quick contacts by the American Family Insurance agent, it turned out other policyholders were reporting similar instances in the area, too.

Many were tricked into signing contracts that could be binding, and authorizing repairs that in some cases weren’t even done. During the investigation, we discovered that some policyholders were even being duped into having their settlement checks go to the fraudulent “contractor” company and not to the policyholders themselves!

Thanks to the fast response by the American Family Insurance Property Claims Department and Special Investigations Unit, we helped many other policyholders avoid being taken advantage of.

There are a lot of really good, honest contractors out there. However, if your property is damaged after a storm, we encourage you to do your homework before signing anything.

Here are some simple considerations: 

  • Try to hire local contractors who will be around if any concerns arise with the repairs both during and afterwards.
  • Verify the contractor is licensed and insured.
  • Check references.
  • Consider getting more than one bid or opinion.
  • Consult the Bureau of Consumer Protection and the Better Business Bureau to see if there are complaints against the contractor you’re thinking of hiring.
  • If something doesn’t seem right – give your insurance agent a call!

Don’t be a victim twice – first by having your property damaged by severe weather, and then a second time by having an opportunist cheat you.

Editor’s note: For more tips on avoiding contractor fraud, check out this @dvisor story, as well as this Learning Center article from our website. 

Is Your Smartphone Prepared for Tornado Season?

TornadoWhen I was in high school, a tornado ripped through my rural community, killing a local farmer and part of his herd, twisting massive hardwoods from the earth in which they’d been deeply rooted, and prying roofs off newly constructed dwellings. The scene, upon emerging from the safety of my basement, was both surreal and spooky.

Personal belongings scattered miles from where they belonged.

Home owners in search of a place to stay.

Curious souls rummaging through the rubble.

With the electricity out, we got our updates from a battery-powered radio and from friends.

In the months that followed, life eventually returned to normal for all those families affected by the twister, but it wasn’t without considerable challenges, including identifying what was lost and estimating values.

I can’t help but think the recovery process would have been simpler, and communication much more streamlined, had this twister arrived in the Digital Age.

With smartphones rarely out of reach these days, an abundance of helpful information fits right in your hand. Here are a few planning and preparation apps you might want to load to your mobile device … especially as we enter tornado season.

Red Cross Tornado Warning and Alert App 

When a tornado’s coming, seconds matter. This Red Cross app sends real-time tornado alerts right to your phone, so you can get to safety quickly. It also provides lots of helpful tips on what to do before, during and after a storm strikes. And there’s even an interactive quiz to test your knowledge of all things twister.

Know Your Plan – Natural Disaster App

This app, from the Insurance Information Institute, provides preparation checklists for all major natural disaster types – floods, earthquakes, wind storms, etc. You can even develop your own list for an emergency unique to your area.

DreamVault Home Inventory App

Disasters, by their very nature, come with little notice. It is possible, though, to prepare for the worst. This includes keeping a record of all you own, and storing it somewhere safe. American Family’s DreamVault app enables you to go from room to room, photographing your property and adding notes about its characteristics and value.  You can even upload the receipt. And for safekeeping, all your data is stored in the cloud, where it’s safe from fires, flooding and any other disaster.

While there’s never a good time for a storm or disaster, the Digital Age has certainly made it easier for us to prepare and recover.

So what are you waiting for? Get those apps in hand!

Sick kids won't have to wait

Sick kids can't waitAs an American Family Insurance employee, I am proud of my company’s $1 million pledge to help finish the “Sick Kids Can’t Wait” capital campaign for American Family Children’s Hospital (AFCH). As a mom of a kid treated at AFCH, I am simply grateful – because I can see what’s next.

American Family Children’s Hospital will add 26 critical care beds, an imaging center and additional heart services. Twenty-six new beds mean 26 more families to feed and support during their stays.

With current annual fundraising programs and the capital campaign nearly complete, dollars are now freed up to fund patient and family-centered programs.  The possibilities are many: Fellowships, nurse educators and enhancements to AFCH’s ongoing Child Life Services program – or, as I call it, “the concierge of AFCH.”

This program is what knits together patient- and family-centered care.

As a parent of a patient, I am amazed by the Child Life Service programs and happy this will be an area of focus once the capital campaign is complete. This area supports 24-hour playrooms and a teen lounge, a school, Tyler’s Place (play area for siblings) and Positive Image Center (where kids learn to cope with appearance-altering illnesses).

In addition, Child Life Service programs provide family meals, gas cards and lodging during lengthy visits. It also acts as a patient liasion and helps prep young patients or their siblings for their stays in the hospital.    

As the mom of a kid with a chronic illness, I have been this family – more than once. I’ve been the family who gets admitted at midnight after being in the emergency room all evening and there is an offer of a hot meal, laundry service or entertainment for an anxious kiddo.

These services, along with exceptional medical care, make American Family Children’s Hospital the world-class facility it is today. And, with the capital campaign complete, even more can be done to assist patients and their families.

Many have asked if I am surprised by American Family’s $1 million pledge. Not a bit. Since American Family’s original flagship gift ten years ago of $10 million, our employees, agents and retirees have continued to donate money and give their time as volunteers, and board and committee members.  

At a minimum, my son, Jack, visits the hospital quarterly for check-ups. From American Family’s namesake out front to the names of friends, family and co-workers adorning clinic rooms as a result of their donations, I am reminded to be grateful… for world-class care for my Jack; for a company that gives back so generously and supports my dream of what’s next for all sick kids cared for by American Family Children’s Hospital.

Editor’s note: Join our support of American Family Children’s Hospital. Donate to the hospital’s campaign, or get involved with these upcoming fund-raising events:

Wisconsin Dance Marathon
American Family Children’s Hospital Radiothon
Mike and Jessica McCarthy Golf Invitational

Sick kids can’t wait! 

Inspiring, protecting and rebuilding dreams

American Family Insurance 2013 annual reportAmerican Family Insurance inspires, protects and rebuilds our customers’ dreams, as illustrated in the stories featured our 2013 annual report.

Perhaps you have had similar experiences.

Our customer focus starts with you and your relationship with our American Family agents, trusted advisers who care about knowing and meeting your needs. It continues with our employees, who are thoughtful, innovative and dedicated to serving you.

Our financial strength improved in 2013, with policyholder equity increasing to $6.6 billion. Policyholder equity is what we have available to protect you when the unexpected occurs. We anticipate paying more than $3.4 billion for claims incurred in 2013.

But we do more than pay claims. We provide in-car technology to help teens and adults become safer drivers. Our DreamBank in Madison, Wis., continues to inspire visitors by helping them identify and pursue their individual dreams. And, we support communities nationally through sustainability and charitable efforts.

Our dream is to protect more people across the country. A major part of this effort is our strong investment in products, systems and services for customers of our American Family agents.

We are also expanding our reach to consumers who prefer to conduct business using the Internet or call centers. In 2013, we acquired Homesite Group, a direct property insurance company, and helped create AssureStart, a startup direct small-business insurance distributor. They join The General®, a direct auto insurance company we acquired in 2012.

Together, the companies in our American Family group provide options to meet consumers’ varied preference.

Thank you for inspiring us with your dreams ... and for allowing American Family to serve you.

Editor’s note: Read and share the stories from your fellow American Family Insurance customers in our 2013 annual report. Tell us what inspires you about their dreams. 

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