Community Involvement

Fulfilling a dream and honoring life

Averie presents her Aunt Carol with the autographed book from Ellen DeGeneres. 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. 

Ellen DeGeneres autographed her book for Carol.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.

Posted by Michele Wingate on Fri, May 03 2013 12:13 pm

Empowering women through sports and education

Monica Smith with some of the children of Playa Gigante, Nicaragua.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!

Monica Smith with breast cancer training sessions in Playa Gigante, NicaraguaAs 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. 

Posted by Monica Smith on Fri, Apr 12 2013 6:15 am

Saying thanks by paying it forward

Lisa Simmons and her nephew, Adam.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.​

Posted by LisaSimmons on Fri, Mar 08 2013 2:33 pmLisa Simmons is a field administrative assistant at American Family Insurance's Phoenix office.

Celebrating the dreamers among us

The ZimnysOurs is a nation of dreamers. We grow up believing that just about anything is possible. But dreams change along the journey of life, as we discover new opportunities and face unforeseen challenges. That’s where insurance comes into play.

We visited the Zimnys of Lockport, Ill., to hear their compelling story of how Russell Zimny pursued the American Dream of family, home and business. It’s a real-life illustration of how dynamic dreams are … we start out in full pursuit of a dream, only to find our perspectives shift, our dreams change or we encounter obstacles along the way.

Across our 19 operating states, American Family helped preserve our customers’ dreams with anticipated payments of $3.4 billion for claims occurring in 2012. That amount included $840.6 million for damage caused by storms, tornadoes and wildfires. 

We also marked our 85th anniversary with the opening of DreamBank, a place dedicated to the inspiration, celebration and protection of dreams for individuals, families and the community in our hometown of Madison, Wis.

Late in the year, we expanded our family with the acquisition of Permanent General, a group of companies that writes direct non-standard auto insurance. Permanent General is successful and growing, and the addition improves our ability to meet our diverse customer needs and preferences.

Our customers like the changes we’ve implemented in recent years – customer satisfaction and customer loyalty measures are at record highs. We will continue to refine our products and services, and we’ll also start serving customers in new parts of the country.

It’s an exciting time in our family, and we’re so grateful you trust us to protect your dreams.

Editor’s note: You can read the stories – and the financial reports – from our 2012 Annual Report on our website

Posted by Jack Salzwedel on Tue, Mar 05 2013 8:05 pm

Why I was 'freezin' for a reason'

Polar PlungeI’ve known since a very young age that awareness and inclusion are not always easily obtained. I’ve also learned it’s the people you surround yourself with who can make all the difference in the world.

At American Family, I was so excited to see awareness and inclusion as an objective of my work group, and I knew I wanted to take part. What we have accomplished has brought such joy, valuable information and personal fulfillment to me that it’s difficult to put into words.

You see, I have been personally involved with the issue of inclusion. I have an adult son who received a brain injury in 1984, which left him with physical and mental challenges. We have endured many hurdles, as well as triumphs, along the way.

One of those triumphs has been our involvement with Special Olympics. We have a wonderful support system that is like family at home in Sun Prairie, Wis. But I also have my work family here.

Polar PlungeOn Feb. 9, I was a first-time jumper in Madison’s Polar Plunge to benefit Special Olympics. While looking at some of the other team members, I found a co-worker, Brandon Gingher, who is a four-time plunger. He told me, “The rewarding feeling of raising money for such a great cause far outweighs the shocking feel of the icy-cold water. It’s a great adrenaline rush, and a great accomplishment to share with others!”

So I sent requests for donations to Special Olympics to family, friends, coworkers, and past and present managers, as part of the Polar Plunge. I was overwhelmed and humbled by their generosity. We have so many caring people with big hearts here at American Family, and I am so grateful to all of them, and so proud to say I work here. I was able to raise $2,200 for Special Olympics Wisconsin!

I can tell you the jump was indeed an amazing and exhilarating adventure and one I will be doing again! (See the photos of Anita  on this page – in the gray T-shirt – before the jump with her team and on her way into the icy waters!)

This event proved to me the inclusion and awareness we strive to create at American Family. Brandon and I were proud to be “freezin’ for a reason.”

Posted by Anita Short on Tue, Feb 26 2013 8:05 amAnita Short is a business strategy and planning specialist with American Family Insurance.
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