Honoring Pat Tillman and Veterans One Step at a Time

Pat's RunIn 2008, members of my family and staff joined me in a life-changing event. We were first-time walkers in Pat’s Run, a tribute and fundraiser to honor Pat Tillman, the outstanding college and pro football player who walked away from a multi-million dollar contract with the Arizona Cardinals to serve his country as a member of the elite U.S. Army Rangers.

Tillman wasn’t just an outstanding player on the field, but a remarkable student off the field. Playing outside linebacker for Arizona State University, Tillman graduated in only three-and-a-half years while earning a 3.85 GPA. In 1998, the Arizona Cardinals drafted him to play safety. Less than a year after the United States was attacked by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001, Tillman left pro football to join the U.S. Army Rangers. In April 2004, he was killed in action in Afghanistan.

To honor Tillman’s legacy and devotion to his country, friends created Pat’s Run. This event honors Tillman and raises money to provide scholarships to U.S. military veterans and spouses. The event has grown to the point where police and fire officials are forced to cap participants at 28,000.

In college, Tillman wore No. 42, and that number is woven into the event. The run/walk is 4.2 miles long and ends on the 42 yard line of the Arizona Sun Devils field. After 2010, I wanted to get more involved and organized an American Family team to participate. The response was overwhelming.

In just one year, we built a team of more than 180 people. As a company, American Family also became involved, sponsoring a kids run (420 yards) in 2011 and 2012. In 2012, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jack Salzwedel, Sales Strategy and Support Vice President Jerry Rekowski and other company officials joined the team and walked in the event. In 2013, American Family increased its sponsorship, and our logo is proudly displayed on every Pat’s Run shirt and thousands of kid’s jerseys.

It’s no secret many veterans need help with college. However, many are unable to attend because they don’t have the means. Pat’s Run provides funding for veterans who want to attend college. Funds can be used for daycare, rent, car payments and food – whatever it takes to help veterans earn their degrees. Each year, the Tillman Foundation selects 60 veterans to add to the program. To date, funds have helped 290 veterans.

Pat's Run - Kids' Fun RunLast year, my wife, Sandy, and I were guests at the pre-race festivities and had a chance to meet many of the veterans receiving support from the foundation. These are amazing people who put their lives on hold while they wore our country’s uniform. Participating in Pat’s Run helps me give back and say thank you to these brave men and women.

I am proud to be able to help this fine organization. I am also proud of so many from American Family are supporting this important event.  

This year, after 43 years with American Family, I plan to retire, but I’m not sitting still. My plan is to do volunteer work with the Tillman Foundation. 

Editor’s note: Donations from Pat’s Run directly support the Tillman Military Scholars program, which provides scholarships to U.S. military veterans and spouses who reflect Pat’s values, strength of character, and commitment to service. 

Posted by Tom Holmen on Tue, Apr 15 2014 10:46 amTom Holmen is an agency sales manager for American Family Insurance in Chandler, Ariz.

VSA Day is an experience you’ll remember

VSA Day - WisconsinThe kids get up early in anticipation of a very special day. It’s a day they’ve been looking forward to for a long time. It’s also a day I’ve enjoyed volunteering at during the last five years.

A couple of times my son, Demetrius, has also volunteered with me for the Very Special Arts (VSA) day when children with disabilities take part in a University of Wisconsin-Madison Badger football game.

On VSA Day at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, about 200 kids who are members of the VSA choir and marching band join the University of Wisconsin marching band during pregame and halftime activities.

We have volunteered in the rain, cold, snow and, on occasion, a beautiful fall day. But no matter the weather, it’s the smiles on the kids’ faces that always make the day beautiful.

Volunteers from American Family and other Madison employers meet at the stadium around 7:30 a.m. on game day to greet the kids as they get off the bus. Some of the kids have traveled from other parts of the state. Each volunteer is assigned one child, and it’s our responsibility to help them with pregame activities, lunch and during the game.

The kids really enjoy the chance to meet Bucky Badger, or even better, former Wisconsin football and NFL player Ron Dayne. When I have the opportunity to introduce the kids to Ron and take their photo with him, it really makes their day — and mine.

When you volunteer for this event, you need to be ready for a very full day. We attend a training session a week or so before the game to help us understand the best way to assist someone who has a disability and the responsibilities of volunteering for this event.

I often help a neighbor at home who is my age and disabled, so I share what I know about volunteering at this event during the training. I also enjoy hearing the stories other volunteers share. This is one event where finding someone to stand in is not easy and could impact one of the kids’ experiences at the game.

It’s gratifying to be a part of VSA Day and it brings a real joy to my heart. Maybe you’ll consider joining me next year.

Editor’s note: Learn more about VSA Wisconsin, an organization offering artistic opportunities to Wisconsin children and adults with disabilities. American Family has sponsored this organization with financial contributions and volunteers for events such as this since 1997.

Posted by Bev Brazzel on Tue, Apr 08 2014 7:25 amBev Brazzel is an offset printer/finish operator for American Family Insurance.

Sick kids won't have to wait

Sick kids can't waitAs an American Family Insurance employee, I am proud of my company’s $1 million pledge to help finish the “Sick Kids Can’t Wait” capital campaign for American Family Children’s Hospital (AFCH). As a mom of a kid treated at AFCH, I am simply grateful – because I can see what’s next.

American Family Children’s Hospital will add 26 critical care beds, an imaging center and additional heart services. Twenty-six new beds mean 26 more families to feed and support during their stays.

With current annual fundraising programs and the capital campaign nearly complete, dollars are now freed up to fund patient and family-centered programs.  The possibilities are many: Fellowships, nurse educators and enhancements to AFCH’s ongoing Child Life Services program – or, as I call it, “the concierge of AFCH.”

This program is what knits together patient- and family-centered care.

As a parent of a patient, I am amazed by the Child Life Service programs and happy this will be an area of focus once the capital campaign is complete. This area supports 24-hour playrooms and a teen lounge, a school, Tyler’s Place (play area for siblings) and Positive Image Center (where kids learn to cope with appearance-altering illnesses).

In addition, Child Life Service programs provide family meals, gas cards and lodging during lengthy visits. It also acts as a patient liasion and helps prep young patients or their siblings for their stays in the hospital.    

As the mom of a kid with a chronic illness, I have been this family – more than once. I’ve been the family who gets admitted at midnight after being in the emergency room all evening and there is an offer of a hot meal, laundry service or entertainment for an anxious kiddo.

These services, along with exceptional medical care, make American Family Children’s Hospital the world-class facility it is today. And, with the capital campaign complete, even more can be done to assist patients and their families.

Many have asked if I am surprised by American Family’s $1 million pledge. Not a bit. Since American Family’s original flagship gift ten years ago of $10 million, our employees, agents and retirees have continued to donate money and give their time as volunteers, and board and committee members.  

At a minimum, my son, Jack, visits the hospital quarterly for check-ups. From American Family’s namesake out front to the names of friends, family and co-workers adorning clinic rooms as a result of their donations, I am reminded to be grateful… for world-class care for my Jack; for a company that gives back so generously and supports my dream of what’s next for all sick kids cared for by American Family Children’s Hospital.

Editor’s note: Join our support of American Family Children’s Hospital. Donate to the hospital’s campaign, or get involved with these upcoming fund-raising events:

Wisconsin Dance Marathon
American Family Children’s Hospital Radiothon
Mike and Jessica McCarthy Golf Invitational

Sick kids can’t wait! 

Posted by Susan Pierce Jacobsen on Fri, Mar 07 2014 7:02 am

Teaching – and learning – through Big Brothers Big Sisters

Britt and Je'KyahI was matched with my “little sister” Je’Kyah in June 2007 through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County in Madison, Wis.

The first time I met her in person was at her house. We ate monster peanut butter cookies and talked about what we liked to do. When I told Je’Kyah I liked to go shopping, bake cookies and watch movies, her eyes lit up. She smiled and I knew we’d be a great match.

That was more than six years ago. My little sister is now 16 and has her learners’ permit. For her 16th birthday, we got facial treatments together and went for coffee afterward. It was her first facial (and to be honest, only my second).

As she was driving us back from our appointment, she mentioned that she’s experienced a lot of “firsts” with me. That got me to thinking I’ve had many firsts with her, too. From feeding the geese at the Henry Vilas Zoo on our first outing to sailing and jet-skiing to watching an opera to Take Your Child to Work Day at American Family.

JeKyah and I have a long list of firsts we’ve experienced together.

She introduced me to Tyler Perry movies and taught me how to use a hot glue gun and tried to teach me dance routines. I introduced her to my childhood favorite movies, like Pretty In Pink, picked up books to read together, and took her shopping at the farmers’ market.

Do we have all the same interests? No. But that’s one of the best parts of our relationship. Our differences have helped each of us learn and grow over the years. I’m confident that will continue as we grow up together.

If you’re interested in finding out how you can make a difference in a child’s life for just a few hours a week, contact your local Big Brothers Big Sisters organization. School mentoring programs may also be available. 

Editor's note: American Family Insurance is a long-time community partner of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County. And for 32 years, the Bowl for Kids' Sake event has supported dreams of children. Visit the Big Brothers Big Sisters website to learn more about this important event, which raised more than $160,000 in 2013. 

Posted by Britt Kinder on Fri, Jan 24 2014 10:08 amBritt Kinder is a strategic communications specialist with American Family Insurance.

Be part of someone else's dream

Women in focus"No person has the right to rain on your dreams."

This is one of my favorite quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It because it reminds me although the rain will come, by doing for others, you help to protect their dreams and fulfill yours.

I am so lucky, because as a claims care center manager, I work in the dream department. Really, you say? Yep. I get to help protect my customer’s dream every day, along with the other claim care center folks. We are fortunate to be in the position to help others at a time when they are most worried about the deferment of their dreams.

As a "dream protector," if you will, I truly find satisfaction walking through the doors at American Family Insurance knowing today, just like every day, my job is to help my customers protect their dreams. We all know life surely will bring the rain, but if I am doing my job right, I will be a little sunshine, keeping life’s rain from pouring down on you.


Just as I get satisfaction in my professional life from being part of the dream-protecting fabric at AmFam, I try to apply the same principles in serving my community through Women in Focus, Inc. (WIF), a Madison, Wis., organization serving others with gratitude.

Dr. King said, "Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'" Others have helped me through my journeys and "rain" of life. This inspired me to join Women in Focus, an organization whose charge since 1983 is to help young men and women of color to fulfill their dreams. It helps them pursue education opportunities beyond high school. This is a dream of many, I’d say.

Each year, through fundraising efforts of this extraordinary bunch, of which I am proud to say American Family faithfully supports, these educators, business owners, doctors, lawyers and moms get together and volunteer at the YWCA as part of a literacy program. We also plan the group's largest fundraising effort, which is the annual "I have a Dream Scholarship Ball" honoring Dr. King.

Over the years, Women in Focus has awarded 240 scholarships to Madison-area youth -- to help fund their dreams of education. I like to think we are truly women, in focus.

"If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way." This quote, also by Dr. King, reminds me the efforts flowing from organizations like Women in Focus, and the contributions from companies like American Family Insurance, or simply doing my job with the goal of being a dream protector, do become a small but meaningful part of people's life fabric -- woven into a dream realized and protected.

The gracious part is when you realize in doing things for others, in small but significant ways, whether in your professional or personal life, you are blessed with the opportunity to become, momentarily, part of someone else’s dream.These dream-building moments become the protective fabrics that are then continuously rewoven into another’s, and then yet another.

So as we celebrate Dr. King, who had so many dreams -- for all of us -- I am going to celebrate in the spirit of continuing to do what I can to be a small but great part of someone else’s dream.

Dream with me?

Posted by Treater Prestine on Fri, Jan 17 2014 2:24 pmTreater Prestine is a claims care center manager for American Family Insurance.
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