I’m getting into the gardening game, and I’m a little nervous. I’ve signed up for a 10x10 garden plot in our American Family Insurance community garden.
It’s a little intimidating because we’ve got some very talented home gardeners around here. They’re talking about straw bale gardens and raised bed gardens. Josh Feyen on our social media team even has a blog about urban gardening – and he just planted an orchard in his small, urban front yard!
Me? I’ve had a few tomato plants around the yard. A few herbs. Some ailing blueberry bushes. But this is the first time I’m plotting out a garden.
My family loves the farm-fresh produce we can get in the summer, and we bike each summer Saturday up to the Dane County Farmer’s Market in Madison, Wis. So it’s natural for us to expand our own gardening effort.
Having our own garden is also going to be a way for us to give back to the community. Local food pantries want donations of fresh produce, and we’ll share some of our garden’s bounty with them.
Over the next several weeks, American Family Insurance is working to raise awareness of the opportunity to donate produce through our Pledge to Plant a Row effort on Facebook. We’re asking people to take that pledge, set aside a row of produce and donate it to a local food bank. For every pledge made between now and June 20, we’ll donate $1 to Feeding America, up to $5,000.
This is part of our ongoing effort to help fight hunger in our communities and help raise awareness of this important issue. It builds on last fall’s effort to support the National FFA Organization’s Rally to Fight Hunger, which was backed by more than 20,000 of our Facebook fans and funded 50,000 prepackaged meals.
Whether you’re a veteran gardener or just getting started, I hope you’ll join us in this pledge, and connect with us on Facebook, where we’ll be sharing information about supporting local food pantries, statistics on the impact hunger has in our communities, and ways for you to help.
Monday, May 6, begins “Teacher Appreciation Week.” For all the great things teachers do, it should be a year-round event.
As a parent of two, I deeply appreciate everything my kids’ teachers have done for them. It was their teachers who encouraged their reading and writing. It was their teachers who taught them to play music, solve problems and look for answers.
In many cases, children spend more of their waking time in schools with their teachers than they do with their family. Teachers are role models, coaches, cheerleaders and provide a shoulder to cry on when bad things happen. Their care for students extends beyond school walls.
I’ve seen teachers who can barely make ends meet in their own homes, quietly take up a collection amongst themselves to pay for emergency food or lodging for a homeless family whose child is in their classroom. Sadly, in recent events, we’ve even seen teachers lay down their lives to try and protect their students.
Teachers are called upon to make schools safe for your kids and mine. They break up fights, try to stop bullying, make everyone feel safe and keep order in the classroom. For all that, they get sworn at, get (credible) death threats from students and blame from parents when their child doesn’t do well.
As a society, we ask a lot from our teachers. We entrust our most valuable resource – our children and their future – to them. We ask them to educate and motivate young minds and give them guidance.
Yet the hours are long and the pay is low. Many teachers are in the classroom long before the start of the “contract” day and stay long after. Papers, tests and projects don’t grade themselves. It’s done by a teacher and often at home in the evenings and weekends. The stress takes its toll. Statistically, 45 percent of teachers leave the field after only five years.
I’ve heard people say that teachers have it easy with summers off, time off at Christmas and again in spring. The teachers I’ve met spend that time taking classes to renew their teaching license, planning out the next year’s curriculum or working a second job to make ends meet.
Make no mistake about it – teachers love what they do. They do it to make a difference in a child’s life. They do it to see the excitement in a student’s eyes when they “get it.”
Yet for everything our teachers do, they are seldom shown appreciation. This year, show your appreciation. Take a moment to thank the teachers in your life for all they’ve done.
Once in a while, something happens that makes you stop and appreciate life, small pleasures and big hearts.
American Family really is a big family, and our community is part of that family. One of our American Family members, long-time customer Carol Suchomel, is in hospice care for cancer. In February, learning that her four-year journey with brain cancer was coming to an end, she made a bucket list. It included connecting with Ellen DeGeneres, whom Carol has admired for a long time.
Carol’s niece, Averie Churchill, wanted to help make that dream come true for her aunt. She made a video, reaching out to Ellen. It created a buzz on Facebook that caught the attention of some of Carol’s friends who work at American Family.
Could we help connect Carol to Ellen, and could we do it soon?
It happened this week. Ellen DeGeneres sent an autographed copy of her book “Seriously…I’m Kidding” to Carol. It turns out, Carol is not only a huge fan of Ellen, she’s an avid reader. It turns out, not only does Carol have a lot of friends at American Family, her sister Beth Churchill, works here, too.
I don’t know Carol, and I didn’t know Carol and Beth are related until I ran into Beth yesterday morning, thanking people for helping make this happen for her sister. But last night, I cried as I shared this story with my children. The love this family is showing each other, the love Averie is showing her aunt, the love Beth displays in talking about her sister, and Carol’s strength and passion for life and joy, it’s overwhelming.
Knowing American Family was able to make this dream come true and help bring joy to Carol and her family during this difficult phase of their journey … it’s immensely moving to me and makes me so very proud to be part of American Family.
Once in a while, something happens that makes you stop and appreciate life, small pleasures and big hearts.
In January, I had the unique opportunity of traveling to Playa Gigante, Nicaragua, to play softball and share some life-saving cancer-detection techniques.
The trip started as an invitation to play in a softball tournament and share some softball skills and knowledge with the local women. However, members of our group from Oregon have a wide range of life experiences, and we wanted to share those as well.
Among us was a breast cancer survivor who had also lost her mother to breast cancer. She’s a firm believer that early detection and education saved her life. As a group, we made it our mission to deliver as much information about breast cancer as we were able to. Our survivor’s doctor was even able to join us!
As a group, we went through two breast cancer training sessions to prepare for our trip. We also brought training materials to leave in the village. A group of breast cancer survivors in Salem, Ore., even made hospital gowns for us to leave at a local clinic. Not to leave softball out, we also gathered bats, balls, mitts, helmets, visors, shirts and bat bags to leave as well.
We flew into the capital city of Managua and drove two-and-a-half hours to Playa Gigante. When we got there, the women were happy to see us, and we were excited to learn from each other. We even held a breast cancer training session that afternoon!
When our breast cancer survivor told her story, many of the women in the village were very touched. Not only was she sharing her story, but she was healthy and strong. In that area, it is uncommon for people with cancer to survive. The doctor who joined us also shared information about early detection and treatments and later helped train staff at the local clinic.
That weekend we held a softball skills clinic for the local women and girls. On our last full day in the village, we held a tournament among four teams. The local school children cleaned up the field and the entire village came out to watch.
I’ve never experienced anything like Playa Gigante before.
They don’t have many of the things we take for granted like electricity or running water. Many homes have dirt floors and people sleep in hammocks. Cooking is done over an open fire and animals and livestock are free range.
I couldn’t help but notice that life is more stress-free and relaxing compared to the U.S. We have so much yet are so unappreciative as a society.
I realized our trip made a difference for the women of Playa Gigante. I don’t ever doubt the impact one person can have.
Looking back, I’m not sure if we made more of an impression on the women of Playa Gigante or the other way around.
I have been an American Family employee for 25 years, and it’s always been a great place to work. One reason is all the wonderful co-workers and friends who surround me every day.
Another is knowing how much American Family cares and gives back to our communities, including the support of the American Family Children’s Hospital in Madison, Wis.
I am originally from Madison, and my family still lives there. The summer of 2008, my 10-year-old nephew, Adam, was in the American Family Children’s Hospital, and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The next two years he was a regular at the hospital for treatments and checkups and we know he received the best care possible. He also felt loved by every doctor and nurse who had contact with him.
Adam’s greatest wish was to meet former Green Bay Packer Brett Favre. In January 2010, Adam had his dream come true through Make-A-Wish – Wisconsin. This is a memory our entire family will cherish forever.
Sadly, Adam passed away six months later, on Aug. 15, 2010. His doctor even spoke at his funeral on behalf of all the staff at the hospital who had come to know and love him.
My daughter was very close to Adam and is always looking for ways to honor and remember him. Last year she decided we should start a team and walk in Adam’s memory for Make-A-Wish – Arizona and “pay it forward” for all the support Adam received in Wisconsin from the American Family Children’s Hospital and those who take such good care of the patients and families who come there. We were able to raise $2,700 as a team and help make other children’s wishes come true.
This year will be our second year as Team “Amazing Adam.” The walk is scheduled for Sunday, March 10, 2013. We are hoping to exceed last year's amount. If you’d like to learn more about our team, here’s our team page.
It’s important to “pay it forward” because we believe every sick child’s wish should come true.