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!
As 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.
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.
I’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.
On 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.”
One blood donation can help save the lives of up to three people.
I’m not sure I understood this when I started giving blood. I was only 17 years old, so I needed a parent’s permission. I was living in a small town, where giving back was something that was just expected.
I continued donating through college. And when I started working at American Family’s National Headquarters (NHQ) in Madison, Wis., 30 years ago, I was thrilled to find out employees were given two hours every two months to travel to the American Red Cross across town to give blood. It was encouraged. We had a blood coordinator here who would call you when you were due for the next donation and sign you up for a time.
At that time, there was a friendly competition between businesses and organizations in Dane County, Wis. The One-a-Week Club (established in 1968), tracked which businesses had the most blood donors per year. Giving blood was really a social event, with co-workers carpooling to the donation center.
But most important, there was a huge need to be filled and many lives to be saved through the gift of blood donation, and American Family recognized this need and supported employees answering the call.
And for the most part, all this hasn’t changed.
There is still a One-a-Week Club. (In fact, American Family has won this award from 2003 through 2010.) And in some situations, our employees are still provided time to give blood.
Regular blood drives are held at NHQ and East Region buildings in Madison, plus our St. Joseph, Mo. office. We still get emails about upcoming blood drives, but we no longer need to carpool. The downside to this is the social interaction of co-workers donating with each other and veteran donors encouraging new donors seems to have waned a little through the years.
So about a year ago, a group of regular blood donors (see photo above), including myself, decided it was time to resurrect that social aspect. Me, as the experienced donor, and five new donors all secured our donation times through the American Red Cross online appointment system. We booked the same time slots so we could support each other through the process. This system works nationally, so you can use it to find a blood drive near you no matter where you’re located.
As it turned out, in this case only half of us were able to give. This can happen for a number of reasons – all to make certain donors and recipients are safe and protected.
One potential donor didn’t meet the hematocrit level (amount of iron in your blood) which is the No. 1 reason individuals are deferred from giving blood. One had traveled to a country on the ineligible list. And one had an upcoming medical procedure scheduled. All of them have vowed to try again.
I can guarantee you will feel so good when you’re done donating, knowing you’re helping others, and maybe even saving a life. There is no cost except your time. Want to find out more?
Not everyone is able to give blood or chooses to, and that’s fine. But for those of you who have been contemplating it or just need a little extra boost, I encourage you to make 2013 the year you give it a try.
Editor's note: Feb. 14 is National Donor Day, aimed at raising awareness and encouraging blood, marrow, organ, and tissue donations.
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.