For me, the start of a new growing season sparks ideas and opportunities for growth. Since this year’s growing season took a bit longer to kick into gear, that left plenty of time to dream and plan!
As co-lead for the American Family Employee Community Garden at the company's National Headquarters in Madison, Wis., I’ve had the pleasure of seeing new faces, new plots and new enthusiasm invigorate our garden’s third season. And without the support of an incredibly dedicated group of garden volunteers, participant gardeners, and corporate champions the garden wouldn’t be what it is today.
Here's a look at some of the 2013 highlights:
- Enough gardener interest to justify four new 10’ x 10’ plots (bringing our total to 122).
- Commitment from our company's Food Pantry Committee and our garden community to exceed last year’s fresh produce donation of 388 pounds, which aligned well with our support of Feeding America during our Pledge to Plant a Row in May and June.
- Utilize extra space for our community garden's Vine Patch. In its second year, this group of gardeners grows squash, pumpkins, cucumbers and melons. In addition, this space serves as the incubator for one gardener’s dream of growing her own Great Pumpkin! (Stay tuned for updates.)
Interest in employee community gardens has reached American Family's St. Joseph, Mo., regional office, where a recently formed garden committee is exploring what it will take to bring a garden on site. The hope is that a garden will be in place for the 2014 growing season!
So, why would an insurance company bother with an on-site community garden?
Back in August 2010, I enrolled in a leadership class and was challenged to create something that would foster a more sustainable community. LeeAnn Glover, another American Family employee also in the class, joined me in the effort to develop a vision and plan for what is now the Employee Community Garden. The project aligned perfectly with American Family's goals of workplace sustainability, health and wellness, and employee engagement. The garden plan not only addressed forward-looking goals, but also reflected back on the company’s history.
American Family has deep roots in agriculture, going back to 1927 when the company was formed here in Madison. Back then, we were Farmers Mutual Insurance Company and the business strategy focused on insuring farmers (in 1963 the name changed to American Family Mutual Insurance Company in response to geographic and customer expansion). It didn’t take American Family long to grow beyond Wisconsin’s borders, but the company has never forgotten those agricultural traditions of integrity, hard work and community relationships.
Those traditions have manifested themselves through the garden’s personal-scale cultivation. The land continues to give back. The garden is a conduit by which employees and their families can experience the reward of a harvest, share fresh produce with those in our community who need it, and form new friendships as well as a new-found respect for patience in nature.
When I first met Emily Anhalt, I was struck by how calm she was. She was a very mellow individual despite all that had happened to her. Now more than ever, I know the strength of the neighborhood girl who grew up across the street from me.
Since she was two-and-a-half years old, Emily has been battling Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis, or FSGS, a kidney disease that has put her through multiple surgeries and infections. Recently, she’s had an even greater stay in the hospital (since the beginning of this year).
But Emily is a survivor. And a dreamer.
She has inspired the Waunakee, Wis., community. At the Waunakee Community High School graduation, the class of 2013 wore orange ribbons on their gowns in Emily's honor, since she couldn’t join them. There are orange signs in the front yards of many homes in Waunakee, with a kidney shape around the words “Orange4Emily”, the title of an organization started to raise funds for her medical bills and kidney illness awareness overall.
My dream is to get Emily's favorite band, One Direction, to visit her at American Family Children’s Hospital in Madison, Wis. The band is on a North American tour, and they’ll be coming through Madison sometime between July 13 and July 18.
The boys of One Direction wrote a book about their life stories and rise to fame. Emily is inspired by their stories and dreams of writing an autobiography as well. If she’s able to meet them, she’ll be newly energized to publish her story, and get her message out there for other kids fighting chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
By getting One Direction to Emily, I want to make sure another American Dream is met. It's also what my company stands for.
Emily’s dream is not just her own, but the dream of her family, her friends, the hospital staff and her community. Now we're taking that dream on as our own.
You can help! Use social media to share Emily's story. I've even written a few tweets you could send - and share with Emily's favorite band - One Direction:
Sometimes a dream passes from an individual to a community (link to this blog) #1DMeetEm
Help us help Emily reach for her dreams despite FSGS (link to this blog) #1DMeetEm
Survivors are beautiful. Em is a survivor. Beautiful people do not just happen (link to this blog) #1DMeetEm
Emily’s a BIG fan. She’d love to see 1D to help move her towards her dreams (link to this blog) #1DMeetEm
RT if you know of Em’s strength and dream (link to this blog) #1DMeetEm
One community, one family, one girl, one dream (link to this blog) #1DMeetEm
Send your tweets to these people to generate the buzz we need to bring One Direction to Emily!
@ModestMgmt (One Direction’s management company)
@paulyhiggins (One Direction’s tour manager)
@onedirection (the band)
@Harry_Styles (Harry Styles, band member)
@zaynmalik (Zayn Malik, band member)
@Real_Liam_Payne (Liam Payne, band member)
@NiallOfficial (Niall Horan, band member)
@Louis_Tomlinson (Louis Tomlinson, band member).
Tweet as many times a day as you want. Tweet at as many different band members as you want. My only request is if the band or its management show any interest in meeting Emily, please direct them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you so much for your support and tweets!
Let’s make Emily's dream come true.
Growing up in a family of five kids, you can imagine the kind of chaos that embarking on our summer camping trip created.
As my mother frantically filled our industrial-sized cooler with enough hot dogs and baked beans to feed a small country, my siblings and I scurried about looking for lost swimsuits, fighting over beach toys, and trying to coax our stubborn dog into the back of our ancient Volkswagen van.
“Bus is leaving!” my Dad used to holler, honking the horn as we scrambled to get in - fishing poles sticking haphazardly out the windows, and our dog naughtily sneaking nibbles from the picnic basket. This chaotic routine greatly amused our neighbors, along with our inevitable return to the house to retrieve whatever beloved stuffed animal someone had forgotten – and just couldn’t do without.
You’d think this yearly circus we went through to go camping would have gotten tiresome, but it never did. To me, it signaled the long-awaited start of summer – but more importantly, it was a rare chance for my whole family to spend time together. Whether we were relaxing around the campfire, hunting for frogs in the lake, or playing card games, these moments are the ones I will always remember and cherish.
Whatever your own, fond recollections of summer may be, the truth is this time of year has a wonderful, effortless way of bringing us closer to the ones we love. In this spirit, American Family invites you and your family to join us for our 30 Days of Summer celebration.
Throughout the season, we’ll feature ideas for family fun and safety with our communities on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google Plus. We’ll also offer opportunities for you to share your own summer experiences with us. Whether it’s catching fireflies, a day at the ball park, or waiting for the neighborhood ice cream truck, 30 Days of Summer seeks to celebrate and protect the little summer moments that can inspire lifelong memories.
Visit the American Family Insurance Facebook page today and throughout the summer to join the 30 Days of Summer celebration with your own comments, stories and pictures!
One of my favorite summer activities is bike riding. After a long winter, getting back on my bike is a treat.
I’m not training for competition or trying to see how far I can go. I ride to relax and enjoy the scenery. Exercise is an added benefit.
When it comes to riding, I’m lucky. There are nice, rural roads about five blocks from my home with few cars and trucks to worry about. When riding, I can focus on the scenery and fresh air.
Here are a few common-sense tips get ready for the season:
- Take a few moments and get last season’s dirt and crud off your bike and its mechanisms. This helps extend the life of your bike and its components.
- Inspect your brakes. Brakes not only stop you, they prevent you from going too fast for your comfort level. You don’t want to be going down a hill only to discover you can’t slow down or stop.
- Inspect the chain, pedals, gears and derailleur. Make sure everything is clean, properly lubricated and functioning properly.
- Make sure the tires are in good condition, have plenty of tread and don’t show any cracks or other signs of wear. Properly inflate them, too. The last thing you want is to be miles from home with a flat tire.
- Check the brake and gear shift cables. Cables that are clean, in good condition and at the proper tension make changing gears and braking that much smoother.
- Don’t forget your helmet and reflective clothing. Riding isn’t a stealth operation – you want to be seen. There are lots of options for bright, reflective neon colors to increase your visibility. When it comes to a helmet, get a good one. You don’t have a $10 head, so why trust it to a $10 helmet.
- Remember traffic rules. You have the same responsibilities as auto drivers. Obey traffic signals and stop signs. Ride with traffic, use the rightmost lane and signal all turns.
Following these simple tips can give you a summer of great biking. If you’re not comfortable making repairs or adjustments to your bike yourself, most shops offer spring tune-ups by reputable mechanics.
Summer is too short to spend indoors. Give yourself a lift and go for a ride.
Editor's note: Where do you like to ride? Leave a comment and share your dream cycling getaway spot. Enjoy the ride!
I've never been big on gift-giving for Father's Day. I'm pretty reserved and practical. I don't wear ties much. I appreciate the simple things fatherhood provides - like time and experiences with my family.
The rest of the world seems to be different. Holidays like Mother's Day and Father's Day skew toward retail, using these special days to get us to buy the latest gadgets, ties or $19.99 flower bouquets that last a few days.
This year, AskMen.com put together a list of the 10 best gifts for Father's Day. It's a fun and visual look at popular items for today's busy Dad. (I mean, who wouldn't want a new set of golf clubs?).
But lists like these always ring a bit hollow for me.
Don't get me wrong, I appreciate giving and receiving gifts - any time of year. But I'm more interested in what those gifts can create. Like No. 10 on AskMen.com's list - grilling tools. I love to grill dinners for my family in the backyard. Would new grilling items help? Sure. But the better part of that gift is how it enhances the time I get to spend with my family.
This year, my family and I are spending Father's Day together at a Major League Baseball game. I can think of few things more enjoyable on a summer day than going to the ballpark and experiencing the sights and sounds with my kiddos. (My only regret is not getting to spend some Father's Day time with my dad.)
This year, I appreciate the gift of game tickets and having the health and means to get there. But I will remember how my kids reacted to the day's events more.
What does your dad want for Father's Day? Hopefully, you can spend some time together this year with the Dads in your life.
Editor's note: Leave a comment on this blog post, and tell us your best Father's Day gift idea. For doing so, you'll have a chance to win this grill-cooler combo (see photo to at right). This giveaway closes Monday, June 17, 2013 at 12 p.m. CST. One entry per email address is permitted. We'll select the winner using random.org and announce him/her the following Tuesday, June 18, as an update to this post. We'll notifiy the winner via email and ask her/him to provide a mailing address to receive the prize; if the winner does not respond within seven days, the winner forfeits the prize and another winner will be selected.