Home

30 Days of Thanks: Being Present

JackThis time of year ignites a lot of conversation as to what we are thankful for. Of course, there are the basics for all of us -- mine being food, a warm house, family and friends, health and working for a company I’ve grown up in. 

I’ve challenged myself to think outside the box of the traditional gratitude items to find something unique to me or my family. Then, as I listened to my son on a car ride home from school one day, it struck me. He talked from the school parking lot to the time I pulled into the garage. It occurred to me I had something huge to be thankful for right in front of me.

What I am most thankful for this year is the simple conversations between my 13-year-old son, Jack, and me. When parent friends tell me their teen sits mute on the car ride to or from school, mutters little at the dinner table and rarely shares about friends, I realize I am one lucky mom. Jack talks, and I hang on each word in these everything and nothing conversations about daily life, school work, friends or  the latest YouTube video he has watched (insert uncontrollable laughter, whereas, I miss the point of his story).    

As my son entered 8th grade this fall, I was anxious about the upcoming years and how our relationship would change. I was sad to see my little boy growing up and needing less from me. I worried the days of chatting at the breakfast table or over a board game were things of the past. His interests have shifted to more online gaming, Friday nights with friends and doing homework. Thus, any skeptical parent of a teen, I worried he’d get quiet, and I’d lose touch of his day-to-day life.   

Although the sharing Jack does now is often an imitation, funny story or recitation from an episode of The Office, the point is, he still shares openly with my husband and I about his world, successes, challenges and the grown-up he is working on becoming. My husband taught me years ago that the key to keep Jack talking was to listen and to be present in the moment.

Those who know me, recognize I am a conversationalist by nature … but when Jack starts talking, I am amazed how long I will sit silently and listen, with an occasional simple nod. It’s easy to listen because I know there may be periods when he doesn’t talk so much.

As we move into his 14th, 15th, 16th year and so on … I remind myself to sit back, enjoy the ride and listen. This teen has a lot on his mind, a lot to figure out and a tremendous amount of growing to do. I’ve learned that I’m OK with the occasional sarcastic comment, as long as it’s not the only comment he makes to me in any given moment or day. 

As for my New Year’s wish, I hope I will have this same blessing to be thankful for again next year!

American Family Insurance 30 Days of ThanksEditor's note: Share your gratitude
This November, explore the incredible, dream-inspiring powers of gratitude! Visit us on Dream Protectors for inspiration and ideas for your own 30 Days of ThanksThen join the conversation! Share your own thankful thoughts and gratitude-inspired stories in the comments. You can also post them on our Facebook page, send us a tweet during November, or visit our #30DaysOf Thanks Tagboard!

30 Days of Thanks: Grateful for the Special Moments

United WayThe embodiment of a special moment – whether professional or personal – begins with an inner desire.

For instance, you don’t just cross the finish line of a marathon by chance. You cross that milestone because you had the aspiration to train for it and dedication to achieve it. It’s special to you because of what you put in.

See, special moments separate from run-of-the-mill moments because run-of-the-mill moments are commonplace. Special moments are rooted with exhilaration.

American Family has been a long-time partner with United Way chapters throughout our 19 operating states, including United Way of Dane County in Madison, Wis., a 500,000-person metro area American Family Insurance National Headquarters calls home. When it comes to corporate philanthropy, United Way is one of our go-to’s.

I was privileged to work on our internal United Way of Dane County campaign team this year. The structure of that team goes something like this … there’s a sponsor, a chair, co-chair and a whole bunch of volunteers who step aside their normal day jobs to pitch in, in whatever way they can.

Some led committees – special events, leadership giving, communications, to name just a few – and some helped facilitate events, donate and deliver prizes and, most importantly, creatively generate excitement among American Family employees about the upcoming campaign.

This year, we were challenged to outperform what we had done in years past and to spread the word of our community’s need by educating those within American Family how impactful any financial gift or volunteer time is.

The result?

The best United Way campaign American Family Insurance – and any Dane County corporation – has ever seen.

To recap, our Dane County employees, agents and retirees banded together to raise more than $1+ million dollars. That’s a number that doesn’t include any sort of corporate gift or the support United Way chapters have received from our regional offices throughout the United States -- numbers we can’t afford to overlook .

Speaking on behalf of our planning team, though, I can assure you it’s not about the dollars raised or surpassing a record-shattering goal that may have, at times, seemed insurmountable. I’d venture to guess you’d be hard pressed to hear anybody on our team, or any of our regional teams, say anything to the contrary.

It is, however, entirely about the elementary school student who now has school supplies he or she wouldn’t have had.

It’s about the parent who has been placed in stable housing with a stable job, allowing the safe development of their children.

It’s about the senior citizens who are able to stay in their homes because someone helps make certain medicines aren’t mixed in a dangerous way.

It’s about the food bank with enhanced funding so it can continue providing healthy options for those having to choose between paying rent and putting food on the table.

I could go on and on.

In this season of gratitude, I want to reflect on how forever grateful I am to be part of an organization with an employee body as giving and heartfelt as ours, just as I’m grateful to be part of the Dane County community that has programs in place that are actively and efficiently working to improve the lives of so many.

When I think of the $1+ million our people pledged, I immediately picture a non-profit professional, a teacher, a police officer and a banker, all people who have difficult jobs that often require saying no to people who have done nothing wrong, but need to catch a break.

I picture them smiling because our generous, collective gift, will help those who have been mired in difficult circumstances overcome them.

Then I picture the family – the mother, father, son, daughter, brother, grandparent, whoever it may be – take the chance toward a better life and run with it.

And finally, I picture our team – nearly 200 people played a role in our campaign on some level – and all the great ideas, implementation, education and old-fashioned hard work that went into it … and I smile.

Talk about a special moment.

30 Days of Thanks American Family InsuranceEditor's note: Share your gratitude
This November, explore the incredible, dream-inspiring powers of gratitude! Visit us on Dream Protectors for inspiration and ideas for your own 30 Days of ThanksThen join the conversation! Share your own thankful thoughts and gratitude-inspired stories in the comments. You can also post them on our Facebook page, send us a tweet during November, or visit our #30DaysOf Thanks Tagboard!

You Can’t Do Everything, But You Can Do Something

American Family Insurance employees at The River Food Pantry

“What should we do with our volunteer hours this year?”

When this question was asked of the East Property Survey Team at American Family Insurance, we decided to go with The River Food Pantry, an organization on the north side of Madison, Wis., that serves more than 600 families a week by providing hot meals, groceries (1.5 million pounds of food a year!), clothing and household items.

Think about what you eat in the course of a day. A quick granola bar and some coffee in the car on the way to work, reheated leftovers or a sandwich and soup at lunch, and an evening meal with at least one protein and hopefully at least two servings of fruits and veggies. Some of us choose to eat healthier, some less so, but for most of us, what we choose to eat is just that – a choice.

However, for the approximately one in 20 households in Wisconsin who face what’s called “food insecurity,” the choice is whether to eat at all, not what to eat. If a family is facing food insecurity, they are worried they’ll run out of food, so they cut back on the size of meals, or they may go without eating at times.

Luckily, food pantries can help address these needs in many communities. And groups like these are always in need of volunteers.

Volunteering at The River Food Pantry was a great experience. We all were assigned jobs to help the families as they came in to gather necessities, and more experienced volunteers were there to guide us. Some of us helped clients with dry goods like cereal and soup, others helped with meat and dairy products, and still others helped distribute produce. We also had a crew helping the clients pack up the groceries in their cars. The best part for most of us was interacting with the clients through all the steps of the process. It can seem like just a drop in the “river” to volunteer with a group like this, but keep in mind that, as Aesop said, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”

It was an eye-opening experience for us all to realize the large number of families who depend on this help -- and The River Food Pantry is only one of approximately 50 food pantries in Dane County -- and the wide variety of ages and families who use the pantry.

We also learned that just because someone is employed, doesn’t mean they are earning enough to take care of themselves and/or their families. Greeting, helping and learning about the wide variety of people in need was as valuable for us as our help was, hopefully, for the pantry and its clients.

I’ll end with this quote: “Volunteers are not paid – not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless.” Not only were we made to feel welcome and appreciated for our work, we also got a priceless experience from our volunteering.

30 Days of Thanks: Gratitude for Mom (A Look Back and Forward)

Miri and her momRemember those “Mom’s taxi” signs back in the ‘80s? My mom actually had one of those in her back window and not in an ironic way.

I thought it was kind of embarrassing, but at the same time, didn’t blink an eye when I asked her to drive my friends and me to the mall, the school dance, the movies, crew practice and more.

My mom knew my friends so well that when they would call me on the phone she would often talk to them for a few minutes before I realized the call was actually for me!

I’m an only child. Oh, I know what you’re thinking. Spoiled brat! And maybe some of my friends would agree. But really, I was spoiled more by mom and dad’s attention and love than by material things …  although of course my mom and I did (and still do!) enjoy our shopping trips.

Although we were very close, at times, I felt smothered by the attention and affection. For example, after the fourth consecutive day of phone calls after I left home for college my freshmen year, I remember telling my mom that daily calls seemed a bit excessive.

Fast forward to present day. As my five- and seven-year-old boys run around the house having fun and screaming without listening to a word I say, I catch myself wondering if they appreciate all that we do for them.

And then I realize this is probably exactly how my mom felt.

I think it takes growing up to develop the kind of gratitude for your parents that they wish you had when they were raising you. And I put myself in my mom’s shoes and feel bad for not being more grateful at the time. If I’m honest with myself, I think part of my mom will always wish I were more patient and shared more details with her. And when I’m stressed by all the things we adults have to do, I sometimes have to remind myself to appreciate our great mother-daughter relationship. 

The irony is that I guess it’s what I’ll have to look forward to when my kids grow up.

My father died unexpectedly last year. One of the things I asked myself after that happened was, “What do I wish I did more of when he was alive?” And I realized that like him - and unlike my mom – I am not much of a phone person. In hindsight, I wish I had forced myself to call more often to keep a stronger connection with him.

So although I can’t change the past, I can do something about the present and future. I committed to calling my mom every weekday morning. I realized it made her happier even if we talk about nothing special and even if it’s a quick call.

I realize these calls are a practice of gratitude for me. Gratitude for her role in my life, my appreciation for our relationship and all she has done to make me who I am today.

I think this means I’m telling you to call your mother (Or your father. Or a special person in your life who cared for you that wishes you’d call more.) I never thought I’d hear myself say that. Yes, it’s pretty cliché, but there’s a reason that saying is timeless. Moms love getting the attention and unfortunately we kids don’t always call often enough.

So, call your mother! You’ll both be grateful.

30 Days of Thanks American Family InsuranceEditor's note: Share your gratitude
This November, explore the incredible, dream-inspiring powers of gratitude! Visit us on Dream Protectors for inspiration and ideas for your own 30 Days of ThanksThen join the conversation! Share your own thankful thoughts and gratitude-inspired stories in the comments. You can also post them on our Facebook page, send us a tweet during November, or visit our #30DaysOf Thanks Tagboard!

30 Days of Thanks: Thankful for My Neighbors

Jason Waller Every cloud has a silver lining, right?

Well, that was put to the test earlier this year, for me, when dark clouds rumbled over my neighborhood.

One afternoon, on a bright summer’s day, two out-of-town rival gang members fired gunshots at each other at the end of my street. In the next few weeks, not a mile away from my neighborhood, there were two other shootings. My family and I live close to town and have seen some friction in the past, but nothing like that.

The dark clouds were bringing storms.

A couple of days after the initial shooting, my wife and I discussed what was going on. “What’s the point of doing anything? Nothing will change. It’ll only get worse from here,” I said.

I couldn’t see any way out of the clouds.

“We can change things, if we want to. We really can,” she responded.

There was a pause in the conversation, but that one sentence shifted things in my head.

Twenty minutes later I was on the phone to our alderperson asking for advice. A few minutes after that, I was writing an email to some neighbors to see if we could organize a meeting. That night, I wrote a flier inviting people to a community meeting. Within a week, we’d organized it.

Ten minutes before the meeting, our alderperson started putting out chairs in a circle - 12 of them. I didn’t say anything, but my heart sank. My mind went back to a gloomy forecast for our neighborhood.

Would so few turn up after what had happened?

That feeling didn’t last long. When people I recognized, and even more I didn’t, started flooding in, hope returned.

More than 70 neighbors as well as police, social services experts and politicians were there. Even the city’s mayor attended. Pertinent questions were asked and good advice was given. That night galvanized and motivated us to improve the place as a community.

Since then, we’ve set up a team focused on issues affecting us. We’ve made our goals to reduce crime, improve the state of nearby parks and reduce traffic issues.

Our neighbors are very talented. We’re surrounded by musicians, artists, teachers and business-people. We only need to ask them, and they deliver. We’ve written emails, held phone conversations and meetings with City employees to voice our concerns, and made suggestions for change. We’ve met with nearby neighborhood associations to talk about issues we can help each other with. We’ve also had fun, organizing events ranging from planting trees along the nearby creek to potluck picnics and musical jam sessions in the park -- all of which have been well-attended and thoroughly entertaining.

Not six months after the shooting, we may be on the edge of winter, but the sun is shining on our neighborhood’s future. It’s because of the people.

My wife was right. We can do something about the dark times. We are trying to make a difference, making a positive change, and it’s working.

I want to thank everyone who is playing a role: Those who are part of our community team, our families who support us while we’re working on this, those who come to the events, those who question what we’re doing, those from the outside offering help and advice. It all takes us to the next level.

So, thank you neighbors, for making our neighborhood a great place to live.

30 Days of ThanksEditor's note: Share your gratitude
This November, explore the incredible, dream-inspiring powers of gratitude! Visit us on Dream Protectors for inspiration and ideas for your own 30 Days of ThanksThen join the conversation! Share your own thankful thoughts and gratitude-inspired stories in the comments. You can also post them on our Facebook page, send us a tweet during November, or visit our #30DaysOf Thanks Tagboard!

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9