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Be part of someone else's dream

Women in focus"No person has the right to rain on your dreams."

This is one of my favorite quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It because it reminds me although the rain will come, by doing for others, you help to protect their dreams and fulfill yours.

I am so lucky, because as a claims care center manager, I work in the dream department. Really, you say? Yep. I get to help protect my customer’s dream every day, along with the other claim care center folks. We are fortunate to be in the position to help others at a time when they are most worried about the deferment of their dreams.

As a "dream protector," if you will, I truly find satisfaction walking through the doors at American Family Insurance knowing today, just like every day, my job is to help my customers protect their dreams. We all know life surely will bring the rain, but if I am doing my job right, I will be a little sunshine, keeping life’s rain from pouring down on you.

Really.

Just as I get satisfaction in my professional life from being part of the dream-protecting fabric at AmFam, I try to apply the same principles in serving my community through Women in Focus, Inc. (WIF), a Madison, Wis., organization serving others with gratitude.

Dr. King said, "Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'" Others have helped me through my journeys and "rain" of life. This inspired me to join Women in Focus, an organization whose charge since 1983 is to help young men and women of color to fulfill their dreams. It helps them pursue education opportunities beyond high school. This is a dream of many, I’d say.

Each year, through fundraising efforts of this extraordinary bunch, of which I am proud to say American Family faithfully supports, these educators, business owners, doctors, lawyers and moms get together and volunteer at the YWCA as part of a literacy program. We also plan the group's largest fundraising effort, which is the annual "I have a Dream Scholarship Ball" honoring Dr. King.

Over the years, Women in Focus has awarded 240 scholarships to Madison-area youth -- to help fund their dreams of education. I like to think we are truly women, in focus.

"If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way." This quote, also by Dr. King, reminds me the efforts flowing from organizations like Women in Focus, and the contributions from companies like American Family Insurance, or simply doing my job with the goal of being a dream protector, do become a small but meaningful part of people's life fabric -- woven into a dream realized and protected.

The gracious part is when you realize in doing things for others, in small but significant ways, whether in your professional or personal life, you are blessed with the opportunity to become, momentarily, part of someone else’s dream.These dream-building moments become the protective fabrics that are then continuously rewoven into another’s, and then yet another.

So as we celebrate Dr. King, who had so many dreams -- for all of us -- I am going to celebrate in the spirit of continuing to do what I can to be a small but great part of someone else’s dream.

Dream with me?

A dream comes true, another is born

Jaden GaultIt is hard to put into words everything I saw and how I felt watching my son, Jaden Gault from Monona Grove High School (in Monona, Wis.), play and compete at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Texas, Jan. 4.

When we arrived at the airport in San Antonio the Sunday before the game, there were people there to greet Jaden with a “Gault” sign and a new letterman’s jacket.

His celebrity status was just beginning.

They quickly took Jaden from us and we were on our own, because he had things to do. He spent the entire day signing autographs and getting his equipment and gear for the game. My wife, Kari, and I also got some new gear. We received Dream Protector T-shirts from American Family, which was a major sponsor of the game. It was at this point when that slogan really started to hit home for us.

Jaden was understandably nervous coming into this week. He had never competed against kids with the combination of size and speed he would go against in this game. His nerves were quickly replaced by confidence after the first day of practice Monday. He did very well during the week, earning the starting left tackle position for the West team.

Throughout the week, when we had the chance to see and talk with Jaden, he continued to impress us with what he told us about his week. He talked about what the coaches were having him do, from a football perspective, and he would tell Kari about all the celebrities he had met that day.

There were hundreds of memories from the week that I could point to as my favorite. It could have been Jaden earning the starting spot or the daily positive mentions on Twitter about Jaden from national recruiting experts, or the two touchdowns that were scored running directly behind Jaden on the goal line, or Jaden being named a finalist for the Anthony Muñoz lineman of the year award (given to the top offensive or defensive lineman in the country).

It could have been any of these things, but the moment I will always remember was watching Jaden on the sidelines during the game, talking to uniformed Army soldiers, shaking their hands and thanking them for their service.

It was at this point I realized, not only have Jaden’s dreams come true, but mine have as well. Jaden had grown into the man I always wanted him to be. He is a great success, but remains humble and thankful to others who give him the opportunity to do what he does.

The week after returning from San Antonio, we signed the lease to Jaden’s first apartment on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, where he will be an early enrollee after graduating from Monona Grove in December. He will start classes and join the Badgers for their spring conditioning and football practice and will play in the spring game in April.

Jaden has set a new dream to one day play in the National Football League. Kari and I will continue to do what we can to nurture and protect that dream. 

Charles Ambrosavage: American Family Insurance pioneer

Charlie Ambrosavage in 1976.Often, when I meet new people and tell them where I work, their response is to sing the iconic American Family Insurance jingle to me. 

This happens all over the country. 

If you’re one of those people who hums our jingle when you hear our name, you can thank Charles Ambrosavage.

Charles led marketing and sales promotion efforts at American Family Insurance for 35 years, retiring in 1983. In 1963, he led us through a name change, from Farmer’s Mutual Insurance to American Family Insurance.  

As part of that change, he oversaw the creation of our iconic logo, jingle and tagline, “All your family’s protection under one roof,” which is the foundation for the tagline we still use today.

American Family Insurance National Headquarters in the early 1960s.We lost a member of our American Family when Charlie passed away Jan. 5 at the age of 96. But he leaves behind a legacy intertwined with the history of American Family Insurance in a deep and abiding way.  

A lot has changed since Charlie retired in the early 80s. We’re operating in more states. Websites and social media have changed how we interact with customers, and they with us. We’ve acquired new companies.

But the values embodied in that tagline and jingle, and what the logo represents – helping families protect their dreams – remains.

Thanks, Charlie.

Editor's note: Funeral services for Charles Ambrosavage were Monday, Jan. 13, 2014, in Madison, Wis. Read his full obituary here

What are your New Year's resolutions?

New Year's ResolutionsEvery year, millions of American’s make New Year’s resolutions. They range from the personal (lose weight, hit the gym or learn to dance) to the professional (start my own business, get a different job or be nicer to co-workers) and often involve family, friends and colleagues.

The problem is, by the end of the first month, many resolutions tend to get broken, or at best, severely bent.

For years I diligently made resolutions like everyone else. Some of them I’ve been able to keep while others fell by the wayside. Fortunately, I’ve been able to keep the resolution about quitting smoking and have been smoke-free for more than three years.

I have to admit, though, I’ve never been a fan of New Year’s resolutions. When a resolution gets broken, the person who made it tends to get angry with themselves that they couldn’t make it work. They beat themselves up and get depressed that they broke one of the resolutions they made hoping to make themselves a better person. I’ve even heard people say they are a failure because they couldn’t keep a simple New Year’s resolution.

Who needs that kind of aggravation?

To me, resolutions shouldn’t be something to stress about. Rather, they should be a way to practice a little self-reflection and identify ways we can be a better person, friend, family member or co-worker. I look at them as guidelines, not commandments.

So this year, my resolution for 2014 is to not make resolutions. Instead, I’m going to make “I’d like to” statements. As in, “I’d like to be more helpful to others.”

“I’d like to take on new projects at work.”

“I’d like to lose weight.”

Or, “I’d like to have more date nights with my wife.”

By looking at things as an “I’d like to,” I give myself a little wiggle room. If I have some junk food watching a movie with my wife, I won’t think of myself as a failure and feel guilty about it.

What about you? What would you like to do this year?

In challenging times, American Family Insurance stands tall

An American Family claims adjuster assesses the damage following the Joplin tornado.Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” I believe this is true for American Family Insurance, as well, and was reminded of it at a recent event I attended on behalf of my company. 

Northwest Missouri Children’s Advocacy Center provides free counseling and courtroom preparation for children who have been physically, sexually or emotionally abused. American Family has provided more than $50,000 to this group since 2006, and several American Family employees have served on its board of directors. At the organization’s recent anniversary dinner, the center recognized American Family with an award for Outstanding Commitment to Children in Northwest Missouri.

I sat at a table with the person who oversees all the child advocacies in the state, the local director of the organization, the local prosecutor and the former prosecutor from Joplin, Mo.

Some may consider the 2011 Joplin tornado to be old news now, but to those who were there, the memories are still very fresh. The retired Joplin prosecutor told us he thought American Family’s performance in the aftermath of the tornado was exemplary. He also said that at the time of the tornado, he was not insured with American Family, but after seeing our efforts, he now is.

Another person at the table said she, too, was influenced by how American Family responded to the tornado victims and is also now insured with us.

We really do provide excellent customer service. Getting feedback like this just reinforces that when we do the right thing, everybody wins. Clearly, we hit a home run in Joplin. Hearing what these people had to say about American Family was one of the best experiences I’ve had in my many years with the company.

The ones who really deserve the recognition, though, are the local agents, the property claim field adjusters and the agency sales manager for the area, Julie Hickman. One of our agents even lost his office during the tornado, and yet he was working around the clock to help his customers recover from their losses.

More than 130 American Family employees and adjusters helped out in the wake of the Joplin tornado. These people are the real folks who lived our mission, and their efforts pay off in the form of new, loyal customers – like the ones I met at dinner.

Editor's note: Click here to learn more about how American Family supports our local communities -- like Joplin -- through philanthropy and event sponsorship. 

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