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30 Days of Thanks: Owning an attitude of gratitude

Natalie Hurley DreamBank

Author Melody Beattie once said, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”

This thought couldn’t resonate with me more as DreamBank approaches our second birthday and next exhibit, “Living in Gratitude.” It has also caused me to press the pause button and contemplate the things in my life that I am grateful for.

I can honestly say one of the things I am most grateful for is my role as a dream curator at DreamBank—for a few reasons.

To provide a glimpse into my daily role as a dream curator is a much harder task than one might imagine. Depending on the day, my job title might be a coach, an event planner, a crafting instructor or anything in between. When it comes down to it, the only real thing that any of these responsibilities have in common is I am always working to help people feel inspired to go after their dreams.

Talk about a job to be grateful for!

On the days I find myself feeling less-than inspired, I only have to look at room full of people chasing their dreams to feel a sense of gratitude overwhelm me.

I am also incredibly grateful for the support my team lends to one another. One of the main reasons Melody’s quote resonated so fully with me is because I feel the support of my team has turned a group of co-workers into a family. Each of us has very different strengths but we work to make a coherent whole and give our community the best experience possible when they walk through our doors.

As we move into our next exhibit, our goal is to facilitate this sense of gratitude for all those in our community. Research shows that gratitude is inextricably linked to joy, as well as a variety of health factors. Specifically, those who practice gratitude on a consistent basis report stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, higher levels of positive emotions and more compassion.

I don’t know about you, but this makes me think that everyone could benefit from a little more gratitude.

With all of this in mind, it is with incredible excitement I look forward to celebrating our second anniversary at DreamBank, our company’s 87th anniversary and #30Daysofthanks social media campaign!

There are many things in my life I am grateful for, but most importantly I am grateful to work for a company that values the importance of dreams, and works to be the champion of them.

Editor'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 or send us a tweet during November

Sharing the Caring Spirit

The American Family volunteer team at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. First row, left to right: Paul Lee, Todd Micholic, and Xue Chang. Back row, left to right: Ellen Mauss, Ryan Shohoney, Evan Feller, Sam Garwo, Jennifer Maiden, Sue Skalski, Geri Duffy, and Becca Grahn.

This summer, some of us at American Family Insurance were lucky to work with four interns who not only impressed us with their technical skills, but also showed their heart, strength and ability to get really dirty. Those summer interns were:

  • Xue Chang, Madison College, Madison, Wis.
  • Evan Feller, University of Wisconsin – Platteville.
  • Becca Grahn, University of Wisconsin – Platteville.
  • Ryan Shohoney, University of Wisconsin – Platteville.

All these interns began work June 9, and a week later on June 16, the University of Wisconsin – Platteville campus (where three of our interns attend school) was devastated by an EF-2 tornado. Several buildings on campus were severely damaged, and the football stadium was lifted off its original footings, and then set down again. In Memorial Park around 1,000 trees were destroyed.

Our University of Wisconsin – Platteville interns were shocked by the scene. They described the terrible devastastion as worse than they could have imagined.

We decided to use our company volunteer hours to help with the cleanup. The connection with our interns would make the experience more personal.

Logging companies with big equipment cleaned up trees at Memorial Park for six weeks. The next day, on July 31, the four interns and seven other American Family employees – Geri Duffy, Sam Garwo, Paul Lee, Jennifer Maiden, Ellen Mauss, Sue Skalski and me -- left Madison and headed to Platteville, which is about 75 miles  away. 

Our team joined a dozen other Platteville volunteers to haul large branches, and rake twigs and leaves. We filled more than a dozen dump trucks with debris from an area three-quarters of a mile long by 100 yards wide. The work was tough and dirty, but we felt so good about what we were able to accomplish in six hours.

The facilities folks on campus were very complimentary of our volunteer team for taking a day to help with the clean-up efforts. We’ve been featured in pictures and and brief blog post on the University of Wisconsin – Platteville website

Behind our dirty faces, you see something else: The pride of working for a company that allows us to give back to the communities we live, love and learn in.

A near-death experience brings life to mind

the importance of life insurance

A few years ago in early spring, I was involved in a head-on collision. My two children — who were 9 and 11 years old — and I were going to pick up my husband from work and then return home.

I was heading north on a local highway when a car heading south lost control and came at us head-on. I couldn’t get away from this car that seemed to come out of nowhere, and  with both of us going around 55 miles-per-hour, we hit very hard — about 110 miles-per-hour impact, head-on.

There I was, with a severely damaged liver and broken ribs, hardly able to breathe as my children screamed with pain. My youngest daughter had a broken arm and a bleeding head wound. My other daughter was suffering with a lot of pain in her neck that we later found out was a compressed vertebrae.

The conditions that day in March included icy roads and lots of snow. I was in a white car that blended in with the terrain. And I was stuck on the freeway in my damaged car, with injured children. A semi-truck came up fast behind our damaged car and almost hit us. I think there was an angel watching out for us, because it was a close call.

After we were rushed to the hospital, my daughters and I were admitted to intensive care. From there, we were sent to other rooms to recover for more than a week.

This accident got me thinking about the need for life insurance to financially protect my family. I felt lucky to be alive. I almost didn’t make it, and my family would have suffered financially because at the time I didn’t have life insurance. Today, I know my family would be financially okay in the case of my death, because I now have adequate life insurance.

September is Life Insurance Awareness Month. I hope telling my story will help people think about the need to have adequate life insurance coverage so their family is protected financially in the event of a death.

Trading My BlackBerry for a Brew Kettle

Rockhound Brewery and PubAs a company, American Family Insurance inspires and encourages people to pursue their dreams – no matter what they are. For some, it’s a cabin in the woods, a condo on a beach or a house with two kids and a dog. Me? I’m chasing my dream of opening a brewpub.

Open a brewpub?
Nearly 10 years ago, my wife and I tried home brewing beer for the first time and produced something that was … drinkable. Eventually it became my hobby and my wife was the taste tester — a job she still has and takes seriously. Over the years I bought more equipment, cobbled some more together, and was soon brewing beer the same way as the pros, only on a much smaller scale.

Now, fast forward to the fall of 2012. The craft brewing industry is growing by leaps and bounds and thoughts of “what if?” started to fill my head. What if I tried to open a brewpub? What would happen if I approached a bank for financing? What would happen if I left my job?

The reality is that dreams aren’t built on “what if.” Dreams are built on action. Acting on dreams requires gumption and sometimes, a kick in the pants.

In the fall of 2012, in a conversation among friends, a close friend who used to be part owner in a small, successful brewery here in Wisconsin asked if I wanted to serve samples of my beer at the fall closing party at a music venue he now owns. He had never tried my beer. As I tried to back out, my wife pulled me aside and said, “You need to do this!” She had just given me my first kick in the pants. *Kick*

We worked out the details and I committed. Six weeks later, I served three types of my beer at his party, going through more than 10 gallons of my precious homebrew, with more than 100 people tasting it and coming back for more, including my friend.

The next day, my friend provided feedback on my beer, while drinking yet another one. “Lots of people make homebrew,” he said. “The thing is, your beer doesn’t taste like homebrew.” *Kick*

There wasn’t anything I could say after a compliment like that – it was the best feedback anyone could have given to me.

The energy from that discussion got me thinking. I wrote down what it would take to accomplish my dream in terms of financing, time, permitting, equipment, location and more. Then I started to talk to people about it. I’ve sought advice from professional brewers, business owners, politicians, accountants, friends, family, and even a couple of lawyers — all so I could put together my plan to make my dream a reality. I’m now acting on that plan.

After more than 12 years of walking the halls at American Family, July 1, 2014 was my last day. It was the next step — the last kick — I need to move forward and chase my dream. Now is when the real work on my dream begins.

It’ll probably be early to mid-2015 until I open my doors, but I’ll keep working and chasing my dream. If you want to track my progress, find me on Facebook and click the “like” button for Rockhound Brewing Company

Big dreams take more than hard work and dedication – they take help from family and friends. Sometimes, they also take a kick (or three) in the pants.

Fighting Lung Cancer One Ride at a Time

Rita's Ride

There’s nothing more invigorating than hearing the thunder from a pack of motorcycles riding to give hope! It’s especially invigorating to me because I help make it happen. You see, one of my passions in life is “Rita’s Ride,” a fundraiser in the fight against lung cancer – a passion driven in part because of my own personal battle with cancer.

A few years ago, I felt on top of the world. I was young and thrilled to be a first-time business owner. However, my world toppled when I received “the call” that I’ll always remember. That was the call when a nurse said to me, “It’s cancer.”

As a business owner in the insurance industry, I was accustomed to hearing my clients’ stories of joy and tragedy. These weren’t just clients – they were part of my family, just as I was part of theirs. We laughed, cried and shared stories together. I had the privilege of protecting their dreams.

Just as my own dreams were coming to fruition, they were abruptly halted by “the call.” All that I had dreamed of in my life suddenly changed. I went from dreaming of success, to dreaming about staying alive. That’s when I reached out to Rita Crook, one of my clients – one of my family members.

Rita was in the midst of her own battle with lung cancer, a battle I followed closely thanks to her husband, Les. Although I no longer owned my business, I still felt a strong connection to my former customers. The day I went to visit Rita was the day her soul touched me so deeply, I knew she was someone special. Unfortunately, that was the only chance I had to connect with Rita as the lung cancer she was fighting took her too soon.

I knew I had to do something – something big enough to make a difference. That’s when I met with Rita’s husband and family to create Rita’s Ride.

Rita’s Ride is an annual fundraiser that creates awareness and funding for lung cancer research and support. In the first four years, Rita’s Ride has donated more than $50,000 for lung cancer research and awareness. We also host a raffle where our grand prize is a brand new Harley Davidson motorcycle.

Rita's Ride

In 2012, Rita’s Ride joined forces with The Jodi Lou Lung Cancer Foundation as their signature event. Like Rita, Jodi Lou was also taken too soon by this horrible disease. Jodi knew it was critical for her to share her story with others and motivate people to support lung cancer research. In a letter to her family and friends, Jodi wrote, “I’ve asked myself what can I do to help spare just one mother or father from having to say goodbye to their child(ren), sacrificing their dreams and housing sadness in their heart as I do.”

According to the National Cancer Institute, Lung cancer accounts for more deaths than any other cancer in the U.S. However, because of its stigma of being a “smoker’s cancer,” lung cancer is the most underfunded cancer in terms of research. Truth is, Jodi never smoked a day in her life and Rita had quit years ago.

We don’t have to fight this battle alone. Together we will make a difference.  Our motto says it best: “A force of hundreds with a clear purpose is far greater than a force of millions with no resolve.”

As I think back to my pre-cancer dreams, I realized my dreams were only goals surrounded by achievement. Today, as a humbled cancer survivor, my dreams are much more meaningful. I dream of making a difference, of never forgetting to appreciate the beauty nature provides, of being healthy enough to ride into the sunset. I dream of touching the lives of others to remind them to keep dreaming and never take a moment for granted.

"I never Dreamt...Now I Dream..." – Jodi Lou Rickert

Note: For more information or to participate in future events, visit www.ritasride.com. Next year’s event will be held Saturday, July 25, 2015.

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