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Celebrating Life

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.

Posted by Michele Wingate on Mon, Feb 17 2014 7:51 am

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

Posted by Eric Wolf on Tue, Feb 11 2014 8:42 pm

The big game, teamwork and family

Russell Wilson Dream BigIt’s finally here: the big game.

The excitement among American Family Insurance employees and agents has been building for weeks. We’re so proud of our brand ambassador, Russell Wilson, for reaching the Super Bowl in his second season. We’re excited to see a great game today between two class-act teams.

And, we are super-proud of the teamwork and creativity on display in our new commercial featuring Russell (and the voice of the legendary Harry Belafonte). We’re also having fun getting our social media communities excited about the spot’s debut during the big game.  

Social media helps us connect with people in new ways, rallying around common interests, like the Grammy’s or the Super Bowl. We’ll be doing that today, joining the conversations about our commercial on Twitter and Facebook, using our hashtag #longlivedreams.

We’ll talk about what inspires us during the Super Bowl. And, we’d love to hear what you think. So use #longlivedreams or share with us on Facebook or Twitter.

One of the things on my mind this week has centered on the theme of team and family, and how much they are alike. They support each other and build each other up. Each individual contributes based on his or her strengths, and the whole of the effort is stronger because of it.

That’s how we’ve felt here this week, building on each other’s energy, and it’s been amazing.

A lot has been said about Russell Wilson this week – about his leadership and determination. The New York Times had a fantastic piece on his quiet determination and how he’s been easy to overlook in the midst of all the Super Bowl hype.

Russell’s determination and drive impress me, too. But what impresses me most is his focus on team, family and his commitment to building up others. Every Tuesday, he visits the children at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

The Tuesday after the Seahawks won the NFC Championship? There he and his wife Ashton were, visiting the children.

I used to work at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, and it was a big deal when an athlete came to visit. A really big deal. And usually a person came maybe once a year, rarely during their busy sports season.

Russell and Ashton do it every week. The impact this has on the kids and their families, who are stuck in a hospital week after week, wondering what their future holds … to me, it says more about his character than anything else.  And that’s what makes me proud that American Family has Russell Wilson on our team. He inspires me to be a better person.

Long live dreams.

Posted by Michele Wingate on Sun, Feb 02 2014 8:20 am

Long Live Dreams, Russell

Russell Wilson long live dreamsRussell Wilson is the epitome of dreams realized.

He says he lives by the three Ps: perseverance, perspective and purpose. This isn’t some sports cliché. This is how Russell lives – every day.

At 25, Russell is young...very young.  But he inspires people from all ages and backgrounds because he defied the odds, the naysayers and the skeptics to become a successful collegiate and professional athlete. He’s also devoted to his family, his faith and specific philanthropic causes.

Some described him as too small to play in the NFL.  Hmmm... You don't hear that anymore. The fact of the matter is, Russell has never stopped pursuing his dreams. In talking with Russell, I always notice his poise and calm leadership abilities. They’ve inspired his teammates (and a large following of fans) to dream – and do – bigger things.

Earlier this week, we shared Sam Girard’s ‘Russell story.’ His rise to prominence and ability to overcome long odds inspires Sam every day. It’s more than being a fan of a football player. It’s seeing the life lessons everyone can find in what Russell does on – and off – the field.

It inspires people at our company, too. Like American Family employee, Dwayne Maddox, who shared his ‘Russell story’, too – one which began during Russell’s time at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and continues in the important work supporting developing dreams in the Russell Wilson Passing Academy.

American Family understands what it’s like to be an underdog, too. It’s why we want to be a source of continual inspiration for our customers and people everywhere. Russell Wilson is part of how we’re telling that story and spreading that inspiration, and why we’re excited he’s leading his team to the biggest stage in sports this weekend.

When you watch the big game, look for a new TV commercial featuring Russell. Then let us know how Russell’s story inspires you.

Long live dreams. 

Posted by Jack Salzwedel on Fri, Jan 31 2014 8:51 am

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. 

Posted by Matt Gault on Wed, Jan 15 2014 5:55 amMatt Gault is a computer support senior technician for American Family Insurance.
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