I brought home a seven-week-old adorable golden retriever puppy about two and a half years ago, and began a volunteer opportunity that would forever change my life. Eli (shown in the photo here), who I named after the quarterback Eli Manning, was one of 11 puppies from a litter who would go on to be trained to live with, and assist, an individual in a wheelchair.
Helping Paws is an organization in Hopkins, Minn. It began 25 years ago and has trained and placed more than 400 dogs. Its mission is to further the independence of people with disabilities through the use of service dogs.
When I decided to pursue becoming a trainer, I was interviewed by Helping Paws and they told me training a future service dog would be a big commitment. I had no experience, but I was sure this was something I wanted to do. I attended classes with Eli at Helping Paws every week and worked with him every day for the next two and a half years.
During the time Eli was with me, he learned to open doors, turn light switches off and on, pick up things that were dropped and even take clothes out of the dryer! We learned how to do these things each week at class. He loved to work, and was always eager to please.
Once a service dog is placed with an individual, it goes everywhere with its new owner. It was important for Eli to start going everywhere with me as part of his training.
I approached American Family about bringing Eli to work with me, and it was agreed I could give it a try, although this was something that had never been done before. I had to go through a process with Human Resources and my manager, Penny Dietz. She and my work group were very supportive, and before long, Eli had become a beloved member of our subrogation department! He was happy to lie under my desk and pick up things I dropped – on purpose – for practice.
Eli has graduated and was placed in October with a man who was injured in a diving accident and attends the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis. They have formed a great bond and are doing really well. The practice Eli had lying under my desk he now uses at college.
One of the things I have learned in talking with people who get service dogs is how much they enhance their lives. Not only are they getting a new best friend but they also feel like they are once again visible in society. Many people have told me that before they had their service dog, people were afraid to approach them or talk to them. With a dog by their side, they were more approachable and felt like a part of society again.
I want to thank American Family for allowing Eli to come to work with me. It was a win-win situation on many levels and I hope others will consider this very rewarding volunteer experience.
In the Midwest, we look forward to the first weekend during the winter when the high temperature reaches 60 degrees. After a cold winter, it’s the first taste of spring.
Feb. 1, 2003, was one of those days. I was 17 years old, the starting quarterback for the football team, my school’s No. 1 golfer and a bench warmer on the varsity basketball team. Life couldn’t get any better. That warm February day, was also the beginning of a long journey for me. That morning I was in a tree-trimming accident that left me paralyzed from the t-9 vertebrate (belly button area) down to my feet.
Lucky for me, that was the only complication I had from the fall. Yes, I was left paralyzed, but it could have been much worse.
As time went on, I got back into my usual routine. I graduated from high school, started college and was hired by American Family as a temporary employee. After graduating from college, I was fortunate enough to get a Personal Lines underwriter position.
For the most part, I lived like I did before I was paralyzed. I had enough energy for two people and nothing could hurt me or slow me down. Eventually, the long days caught up with me and I developed a bed sore from sitting in my wheelchair.
I ended up having two surgeries and had to lie in bed for 106 days before the doctor would let me resume a normal life. From the beginning of April through August of 2010, I was in my parent’s basement in a special bed and thought about all the ways I was going to prevent this setback from happening again.
After six months of being back to work, I needed something different. I was tired of going home and lying down for hours when I spent all day at my desk working at my computer. There had to be a way for me to be pressure-free or close to pressure-free while working.
I talked to my manager, Lee O’Brien, about the possibility of getting a stand-up workstation. I know … you may be thinking, “Tyler, you’re paralyzed. How are you going to stand at work when you haven’t moved your legs in almost nine years?”
The answer is a standing frame. Environment and Safety Analyst Dan Coleman, thought it was a great idea and found one. The frame and workstation work great! The standing frame helps prevent the pressure sores. It also increases blood flow to my legs, reduces back pain and makes the bones in my legs stronger. I went from sitting eight hours a day to standing for six.
Now that I stand most of the day, I am able to do fun recreational activities after work such as hunting, fishing and exercising, activities I had to cut back on drastically while always sitting down at work.
I can’t thank American Family enough for what they have done. The standing frame is truly a life saver and has given me my life back.
Editor’s note: American Family Insurance received an award in October 2012 from Midland Empire Resources for Independent Living in St. Joseph, Mo., for finding a solution that helps Tyler Rohr work in a more comfortable workstation.
I have always liked helping people.
That's one of the main reasons I've enjoyed working for the past 12 years in American Family’s claims area, where we help customers at times when they need it most.
It also has been a big motivating factor in my 14 years of service in the U.S. Army. I've been deployed in Iraq, which was a very dangerous and trying experience, to say the least. I’ve also served in Kuwait. Whether abroad or in the states, I've always made sure I did a good job taking care of my fellow soldiers.
In short, I like the fact that people rely on me, and that I can be there for them.
So, it has meant a lot to me that American Family has been there for me, too, especially in connection with my military service. The company and my colleagues have been very supportive when I’ve gone on military leave, and have welcomed me with open arms when I returned.
But one of the biggest honors came recently, when the company invited me and Alex Barajas, a senior research analyst at American Family (who appears to the left of me in the accompanying picture), to attend the U.S. Army All-American Bowl game, sponsored by American Family. For me, the experience was amazing and eye-opening. We were among thousands of military personnel who watched the nation’s elite high school football players compete in an exciting east-west matchup. American Family also recognized our service in many different ways throughout a warm and welcoming weekend that culminated with on-field recognition during a very moving pre-game ceremony.
Additionally, American Family Executive Vice President Peter Gunder presented a special award to an outstanding defensive player, and another award honoring a family for strongly supporting one of its family members who is a top musician in a high school marching band.
During the past several years, I have had more than a couple people thank me for my service and wish me the best. I smiled and thanked them for their kind words because I didn’t really know how to handle it. I have come to see that what I have done through my service is not just unique and rare, but appreciated and honored.
I am grateful for this incredible opportunity and experience, and proud to work for a company that protects dreams of customers, high school students and other community members, and people like me.
Editors Note: For a closer look at American Family’s support of John Neppl, Alex Barajas and other employees who serve in the military, watch this video from our YouTube channel.
American Family is a past recipient of the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award, which is the highest recognition given by the U.S. Government to employers for their support of their employees who serve in the National Guard and Reserves.
In October 2009, my son Jack, now 11, was admitted to American Family Children’s Hospital and diagnosed with Type 1 insulin dependent diabetes. With Type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin, so insulin shots must be given. There is no cure for Type 1 diabetes, unlike Type 2, which can usually be controlled by diet and exercise.
This was an immediate life change. The endocrinology team worked to stabilize Jack and teach Mom and Dad how to care for him once we returned home. Our new normal would become a routine of checking blood sugars, giving shots and counting carbohydrates. A lot to learn in a two-day hospital stay, but the hospital gave us the tools we needed.
Their attention to detail amazed us. The first night, just a few weeks shy of Halloween, the admitting doctor presented Jack with a sheet of carbohydrate counts for snack-size treats. The nurse on duty spent hours in the room as my husband was on a hiking trip out West and was trying to get a flight home. Late that first night she asked how things were going and I replied, “He’s good, he’s sleeping.” She looked over her glasses and said, “I’m not asking about your son, I’m concerned about Mom.”
During the next several days, as we worked with doctors to regulate Jack’s blood sugars, we learned to test blood sugars and give shots; we met with a dietitian, psychologist, chaplain and nurse educator. Jack, on the other hand, enjoyed playing video games, visiting the play rooms and doing art projects. The hospital is such a kid-friendly environment Jack always says it looks like a school, not a hospital. The teaching tools the hospital provided us were amazing, and the empathy from the doctors and nurses always real.
Jack will be a patient at the hospital until his early 20s. He visits quarterly to make sure things are in check. The doctors and nurses are wonderful. They know Jack and his likes and dislikes. As a parent of a child with a chronic illness, I am reassured to have the children’s hospital right in our backyard to help us manage Jack’s diabetes.
As a family, we have been involved in the hospital since the original capital campaign to build. We are donors and volunteers, and I sit on the Advisory Board. I never dreamed we’d use the hospital, and here we are today, several stays and a dozen or so quarterly checkups later.
As an agent, I have always taken great pride in American Family’s legacy of giving to the children’s hospital. It started years ago with my father, (former CEO) Harvey Pierce, and continues with current leadership. I am proud to share the story of American Family Children’s Hospital with customers, friends and neighbors. It is such a tremendous gift to this community.
I hope you’ll take the opportunity to tour, learn more and consider a gift to the hospital. Like the Pierce Jacobsen family, you never know when you may need American Family Children’s Hospital.
Editor’s Note: Spurred by an initial $10 million flagship gift from American Family Insurance in 2003, American Family Children's Hospital in Madison, Wis., provides specialized care in a healing environment designed especially for pediatric patients and their families.
However, more beds and treatment spaces are needed to care for the growing number of acutely ill babies and children. The "Sick Kids Can't Wait" campaign was launched to raise the funds needed to provide 26 more pediatric critical care beds, new operating room equipment and pediatric treatment spaces for children requiring advanced heart and radiological procedures.
Join American Family Insurance in our support of American Family Children’s Hospital’s “Sick Kids Can’t Wait” campaign.
For me, it just feels natural to help with the American Family Insurance United Way campaign. I think it’s important to give back to the community I live and work in, and it always has been.
I come from Delano, a small community west of the Twin Cities. I help with our Fourth of July celebration, pick up trash on the side of the road, and help organize a toy drive with the local church to make sure kids have toys for Christmas. Delano is small enough I can see firsthand the good that comes from my volunteering.
All the time I give is worth it when I’m able to see children smiling from ear to ear because Santa brought them the toy they’ve been waiting for, or when I see the relief in the eyes of a parent whose son or daughter just received a college scholarship I was able to help fund. That’s why I give back whenever and wherever I can in my community.
The United Way of Delano, Minn., donated more than $40,000 last year to more than 27 local charities in and around the area. It helps the food pantry provide meals to hundreds of families who don’t have enough to eat in these tough economic times, and provides funds for local organizations.
Supporting the United Way means helping those who need a hand. The United Way campaigns are a big event at American Family for most locations. I’m proud to work for a company that devotes time, money and resources to help create a better life for everyone. To me this is living our mission to be the most trusted and valued service-driven insurance company.
If you have the opportunity to give back to your own community either through the United Way or some other way, I’d urge you to go for it.
Doing good just feels good, and who couldn’t use that?