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American Family’s DreamBank: Helping People Realize Their Potential One Dream at a Time

The DreamBrank dream team!Despite blanketing the city in marketing material and advertising, almost every day I’m asked, “What is DreamBank anyway?” Our “elevator speech” answer goes something like this: 

“At American Family Insurance, we believe that your dream is the most valuable thing you’ll ever own, so much so that we opened DreamBank, a community space dedicated to the pursuit of dreams. We invite our community members in to use our interactive tools and technology to discover their dream and then find inspiration to pursue that dream through our calendar of events and expert staff.”

The true answer, though, is much deeper and more purposeful than we could ever explain in a sentence or two. It’s important to note that the universality of dreams is that you’re always the right age, in the right circumstances and functioning in your best interest when you have a dream. This is the platform we’re using to connect with people. We’re not just reaching out to the business community and entrepreneurs – we’re reaching out and connecting with people.

We’re not just hosting field trips. We’re convincing 12 year-old Alexcia that her dream of becoming a doctor is not only possible, but that it’s admirable, noble, and impactful. We’re not just throwing Pinterest Parties. We’re creating a warm, welcoming environment where Wendy, a victim of years of emotional abuse, feels comfortable to express herself and begin re-scripting her internal dialogue.

Our growing community of dreamers consists of thousands of individuals who are working to better their own lives, the lives of others, and the lives of future generations. All by simply pursuing a dream.

So what is DreamBank? It’s many things. It’s a lecture hall, an art room, a contemplative space, a refuge, a dance party, even a place for meaningful conversation that brings clarity through introspection – you name it. The best part is that it’s what you make it – literally and figuratively – not just because you can use these resources at your leisure, but because when you talk, we listen.

Pinterest parties at DreamBankYou said your dream is to run a marathon, so we now have a “Couch to 5K” running club to get you started. You said your dream is to send your children to college, so we enlisted an expert to help you navigate the world of financial aid and standardized test prep. You said your dream is to travel, so we’re hosting events to help you plan and budget for your dream vacation.

DreamBank is the vehicle we’re using to catapult you from “Park” into “Drive.” It’s American Family’s way of bridging the gap between dreams and reality, because, in the words of best-selling author Sarah Ban Breathnach, “The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers, but above all, the world needs dreamers who do.” 

Editor's note: Learn more about the American Family Insurance DreamBank, including the latest interactive displays and events, by visiting our website or joining our Facebook community

Maybe, just maybe, winter isn't all that bad

Frozen berries on a tree in winter.As long as I can recall, I haven’t been winter’s biggest fan. As a kid on a working farm, when I carried water to animals through snow as tall as I was uphill both ways, winter felt like an endless and brutal season. When I was 10, I made a deal with Mother Nature; I was allowed to curse the cold, the snow and the ice, but I could never once complain about the summer heat.

I’ve stuck to my word for 32 years.

I’ve now had three decades to reconsider my relationship with winter, and this winter in particular seems like a great time to write it down. Spring, summer and harvest season (I don’t use the “f” word in my house) are a riot of planning, planting, picking, pickling and putting by food from my garden. Some people say that folks in the north cram nine months of activity into our three-month summer. That may be true, but if we had a nine-month growing season, I’d be working in my garden the whole time. So maybe winter is a mandatory rest period I wouldn’t otherwise take.

I like the change of pace winter brings. I also like some of the other changes that happen at our house. Our menu changes as we incorporate more frozen and canned food. I love nothing more than going into the basement in the middle of winter and bringing up garlic, onions, cans of vegetables or fruit jam. We play more games with friends. We watch more movies. We go to plays and all the fund-raising dinners we attend seem to be in the winter months. We don’t make time for these things in the summer, so I’m glad winter makes time for them for us.

Another thing winter does is it slows me down. I’m a “doer,” meaning sometimes I stick a shovel in the soil and start digging, occasionally a little sooner or in a different place than had I planned in advance. So winter’s forced “down time” from the garden helps me sit back and observe my surroundings. It gives me time to reflect on the summer past and the summer to come. It’s also when I get my graph paper and doodle garden beds, pore through seed and plant catalogs and read the magazines I didn’t read when they arrived last summer.

Frozen apples on a tree in winter.Finally, this winter’s “polar vortex” was particularly long and harsh, but this isn’t new. Every winter has a spell of below-zero weather. I have a name for that bitter cold. I call it “bug-killing weather,” and I like to think it’s the reason we don’t have cockroaches the size of my foot or malaria mosquitoes here in Wisconsin.

So on reflection, I’ll continue to curse the cold of winter (and relish the heat of summer) but maybe, just maybe, winter isn’t all that bad – and even has it’s purpose in my life.

Josh Feyen - the Urbane Farmer shares his “raised-on-a-farm” wisdom and writes about urban farming and organic gardening topics on his personal blog, too.

Wearing violet for Matt

Matt Dodge and his familyMatt Dodge is like the cousin you’re always glad to see at family parties. He’s positive, friendly, excited to see you and generally just full of life.

Matt, an American Family Insurance agent in Mason City, Iowa, woke up at the end of the 2013 with a lump on his neck. The diagnosis came fast and the news wasn’t good: Matt has Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It’s hard to even imagine the reaction a dad with two kids under the age of 10 has to that news. But Matt’s facing this challenge with the same humor and grace we’ve seen in him every day. His family has even started a Facebook group, Matt Dodge kicks cancer, to share updates about Matt on this journey, where people can wish him well, too.

For those of us who know Matt, news of his illness was a blow.

“Matt is a great agent and family man,” says his manager, Terry Bartels, who hired Matt as an agent right out of college. “He helps and supports everyone he runs across.  You don’t hear him say a negative word, and even during this fight, he is still thinking of things he can do to help others right now.”  

Matt’s part of a group of agents we at American Family call Agency Council. They meet a few times a year to share feedback from and give reaction to new ideas. It’s a tight group where new friendships have developed as agents and employees have had a chance to get to know each other.

Enter Cami Sagvold. Cami is an American Family agent in Moorhead, Minn., right next to Fargo. She’s gotten to know Matt through Agency Council, and when she heard in January that he had cancer, she wanted to do something to show support. This week, American Family's Agency Council members are meeting in Madison, and Cami rallied them to wear violet to show Matt they are thinking of him.

American Family Insurance Agency CouncilThere’s violet everywhere. T-shirts. Sweaters. Cupcakes with violet frosting. Violet-sprayed hair (and scalps, for some of the follicly challenged). Former Agency Council members are wearing T-shirts back in their offices.  And people are taking pictures and sharing them with Matt through social media.

Family is a big part of our focus. It’s times like these when you really appreciate one of the things that means – putting that extra effort in to show a friend you care. Well done, Agency Council.

And good luck Matt – your American Family is pulling for you.

Reaching a dream, one stage at a time

Daxton BloomquistThis story isn’t about me. Instead, it’s about my son, Daxton Bloomquist. It’s about following your dreams no matter where they take you and how hard you have to work to achieve them.

After graduating high school in 2006, Daxton attended Wichita State University where he majored in Theatre. Summers were filled with performing at the Music Theatre of Wichita, Okla. and the Starlight theatre in Kansas City, Mo. In 2010, Daxton graduated, earning his Bachelor of Fine Arts.

As an actor, Daxton had a dream of performing on Broadway. It’s a dream many have, but few actually make it. I can remember Daxton saying he would be on Broadway someday. There were naysayers who’d tell him, “You have to be really good and you might not make it.” But Daxton didn’t listen to the negative. Instead, he stayed focused on his dream.

After graduating from college, like many aspiring actors, Daxton moved to New York City where he did the “starving artist” thing. When he wasn’t auditioning, he worked at a coffee shop, did temp work, catered and became a caregiver for a family with a six-year-old son. Through it all, he never lost sight of his dream of performing on Broadway.

In 2011, Daxton got an offer with the Disney Cruise Line to be an entertainer on its new ship, the Disney Fantasy where he was cast as Hercules in the fantasy show. He spent the next year traveling the high seas, often putting in 70-hour weeks. Returning to New York, he was cast in the ensemble of “Hello Dolly” at the Ford Theatre by a choreographer he met on the Disney cruise.

In 2012 – just two years after graduating from college – his Broadway dream came true. Daxton was cast as a swing in the Tony Award-winning musical, “The Book of Mormon,” a musical, religious satire. (As a swing, his job is to cover for other members of the cast if someone can’t perform.) Making it to Broadway didn’t just happen. It took a lot of work and perseverance but most importantly for Daxton, it meant never losing sight of his dream.

A dream come true? Absolutely. The end of his adventure? Definitely not!

Don’t Let the Winter Blues Keep You Down

Beating the winter bluesEvery year when winter rolls around, it means less daylight, colder temperatures and less time spent outdoors. Over the years, I’ve learned that it can also bring on a case of the “winter blues” or little bit of depression.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do about the change in the season. What we can do is change how we look at it.

I learned a long time ago that my only real option was to learn how to live with winter and have fun with it. Kind of a, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” attitude. Over the years I’ve tried downhill and cross-country skiing, ice skating, sledding, snowshoeing and building snowmen with my kids. I grew to have fun in the winter. And (don’t tell my kids), I actually enjoy using the snow blower to clear snow from my driveway and sidewalk. For me, the snow blower is a toy I get to use every time it snows.

With a little effort, anyone can do the same thing to beat the winter blues. You might not learn to love winter, but you can at least learn how to accept it and live with it.

To keep the winter blues away, get outside! Try some outdoor sports like ice skating, skiing, snowboarding or snowshoeing. An added advantage of being outside during the day is being exposed to sunlight which helps our bodies produce Vitamin D. If you can’t spend much time outside, consider changing some of your light bulbs to “full spectrum” ones that help mimic the sun’s natural light. That extra feeling of sunlight goes a long way when it comes to chasing the blues away.

If you really don’t like the cold and don’t want to be outside, use your time to take care of indoor stuff you don’t do in the summer because you’re busy outside. Use winter as a chance to catch up on movies you’ve been meaning to watch or books to read.

Bottom line? Winter won’t adapt to us – we have to adapt to it. Might as well make friends with Mother Nature – you won’t regret it.

Editor's note: For more information about coping with seasonal disorders, check out this information from our friends at UW Health, or read the February edition of our @dvisor newsletter

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