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After the smoke clears: Stories from the Colorado Black Forest fire

With the American Family Insurance mobile CAT vehicle behind them, the Morehouses talk about their loss from the Colorado Black Forest fire and how American Family has been there for them.As the flames have been contained in the Black Forest wildfire, stories behind the statistics of homes destroyed, people displaced and acres burned are beginning to emerge.

The customer who had a large pond on his property and allowed firefighters access to it so they would have water to douse the flames if needed.

The woman who found a bird house still standing, covered in slurry and the nest of baby bluebirds alive and well with the mamma bird looking on from a nearby branch.

And the story of our customers, Kevin and Rebecca Morehouse, who suffered a total loss to their home.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Kevin and Rebecca last week and speak to them about their experience, what was saved and lost and what their plans are for the future.

The Morehouses consider themselves to be very lucky. Rebecca heard about the fire burning in the Black Forest from a coworker and rushed home, and she contacted her husband, who followed with friends from work in their pickup trucks. Together, they quickly gathered possessions that held sentimental value – family heirlooms and photos of their children, special gifts that were made for them by parents or grandparents.

Rebecca seems relieved to know that these special items were saved and can be passed on to their children and grandchildren.

The conversation then turned to what they didn’t manage to save. While Rebecca and Kevin had two hours to clear out whatever they could grab, many irreplaceable items were left behind. A portrait of their daughter, photos of their son’s sports teams, items from when their children were babies. When they were allowed to return to their home last week for a few hours, Rebecca sifted through the ashes and found the nightlight that was in her son’s room as a baby. Her face lit up when talking about that sentimental object surviving the blaze.

Despite the loss of their home and possessions, Kevin and Rebecca aren’t bitter or disgruntled. They seemed grateful. They have high praise for their agent, Nigel Cass (Colorado Springs), who called within hours of the blaze starting to check on them, as well as their adjuster, John Niemeyer, who promised to walk them through the process and “take care of them.”

And as Rebecca said, we know American Family will take care of us, and we’re with American Family Insurance for life.

The Morehouses with their agent, Nigel Cass.Echoing one another’s comments, the two seem at peace with the events of the past two weeks, knowing full well the difficult journey that lies ahead. As they sat with their arms around one another they shared how they felt blessed to still have the most important things; their children, neighbors, dog and each other.

After speaking with the two of them, I was the one feeling blessed. Not because I didn’t have to personally go through such a horrible experience, but because I work for a company that has the financial and personnel resources to get people like Kevin and Rebecca on the road to recovery. 

Editor’s note: American Family Insurance customers affected by the Colorado wildfires can report claims by contacting our 24-hour Customer Care Center, 1-800-MY-AMFAM (692-6326), their local agent or by completing our online insurance claim form. Visit our website for answers to common questions about wildfire claims.

Posted by Sandra Spann on Fri, Jun 28 2013 6:03 amSandra Spann is a strategic communications consultant for American Family Insurance.

Safety consulting: A partnership with small business owners

Safety consulting for small business ownersBeing a third-generation agent for American Family, I grew up living and breathing insurance. My father, Kenny Lionberger, was an American Family agent for 47 years. My grandfather, Waldo Lionberger, was an American Family agent before him.

Compared to them, I’m a rookie having been an agent for only two-and-a-half years. Even though I’m relatively new at this, I know a good thing when I see it. And one of the best things I see is American Family’s Loss Control/Safety Consulting program.

When I work with current and prospective customers, there are three things I stress:

  1. American Family's superior products 
  2. Our excellent customer service, and 
  3. Our safety consulting programs for small business owners. 

Many of my customers own and operate wineries. As their businesses grow, they may be expanding their buildings or adding new equipment. When that happens, they often turn to me and American Family’s safety consultants for suggestions on making their buildings and employees safer. They aren’t required to follow the suggestions from our safety consultants, but they do because they know it will make their operations safer and less prone to losses and down time.

No one ever wants a loss or an injury, and this service can help prevent them. Advice from American Family’s safety consultants has gone a long way toward preventing losses and building strong relationships between me and my customers. They know I’m not just trying to sell them something. I'm working with them to be a partner in their businesses and find ways for them to be successful.

Editor's note: Contact your local American Family Insurance agent and ask about our Safety Consulting program

Posted by Raylene Hollrah on Tue, May 28 2013 2:41 pm

A dream come true for firefighter Brandon Troia

Madison firefighter Brandon Troia and his daugtherEver since I was a little boy, I dreamed of becoming a Madison firefighter.

Growing up, I was mesmerized by the stories my great-uncle, Mel Troia, told about his experiences as a Madison firefighter. It wasn’t hard to picture myself riding fire trucks, fighting the flames and most of all – helping people. As a firefighter, I’d save people’s homes, their possessions and even their lives!

First though, I had to grow up and prove I was firefighter material.

I was raised by a single Mom who worked three jobs to support us. She wanted to give me a good life and she led by example. She showed me no matter what your dream is, with hard work and dedication, you can reach it. Armed with her guidance, I was convinced my dream was always within reach. I didn’t realize though, that along the road to achieving my dreams, I’d have some bumps to contend with.

As a high school student, I attended a career day and met recruiters from the Madison Fire Department. That sealed it for me – I knew from that point on I wanted to become a Madison firefighter.

After high school, I enrolled in the Fire Science program at Madison College and landed an internship at the Maple Bluff Fire Department. My goal quickly became a passion.

I admit I didn’t have the world’s best background. I had some trouble in high school and my initial applications to MFD were turned down. I was also a single father of two wonderful kids. Like my mother did for me, I had to support them. Fortunately, I was able to find work in construction which allowed me to support my kids but I was away from home a lot and missed them desperately.

Stories from DreamBankMy goal of being in the MFD was now even stronger. My kids were the extra motivation I needed. I turned to the lessons my Mom taught me and applied again. A rigorous physical agility test and interview designed to reveal one’s core identity and character were my chance to prove who I really was, rather than be shadowed by a few questionable events in my past.

I’ll never forget the day when Chief Steve Davis called to offer me the opportunity to become a Madison firefighter. I couldn’t believe it. I called my Mom first and could barely keep it together. The proudest moment for me though, was when my 11-year-old son, Garrett, pinned my MFD badge on my uniform at the Madison Fire Academy commencement ceremony this past January. I did it! I reached my dream.

Although the road had a few bumps along the way, I never lost sight of my dream. With hard work, determination and dedication I reached it. If I can, you can. Your dream is out there. Don’t ever stop trying to get it.

Editor’s note: This is part of a Dream Protectors blog feature called Stories From DreamBank, which showcases real-life dreams from visitors to the American Family Insurance DreamBank in Madison, Wis. Visit DreamBank on the Square or online at www.amfam.com/DreamBank

Posted by Brandon Troia on Wed, May 15 2013 6:31 pmBrandon Troia is a firefighter for the Madison, Wis., fire department.

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

New blog helps us share your stories

Helping customers in JoplinThis month, we introduced this public blog on our website called Dream Protectors, the American Family Insurance blog.

It’s a new place for us to share our American Family stories. In creating this blog, we were motivated by an internal blog we have, where employees and agents share their experiences and inspiration. Why not share the stories about how we take care of customers or ways we are involved in our communities with the world, too?

These posts will be an opportunity for you to get to know us better. From taking care of customers during a big storm (like after the Joplin tornado in 2011) to agents going the extra mile to help a customer cut down a tree, to our focus on sustainability and our support of community agriculture, it all paints a rich picture of who we are as a company, and what we stand for.

If you have any thoughts or ideas about our blog, I’d love to hear from you. Please drop me an email at mwingate@amfam.com

I hope you enjoy what you read in this space, and it gives you a little more insight into American Family. 

Posted by Michele Wingate on Wed, Oct 10 2012 7:08 pm