Why I was 'freezin' for a reason'

Polar PlungeI’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.

Polar PlungeOn 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.”

Posted by Anita Short on Tue, Feb 26 2013 8:05 amAnita Short is a business strategy and planning specialist with American Family Insurance.

Give blood, give life

First-time blood donors at American Family Insurance.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. 

Posted by Dorene Disch on Thu, Feb 14 2013 8:16 amDorene Disch is a customer experience consultant with American Family Insurance.

A helping hand for helping paws

Eli NobleI 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. 

Posted by Ranae Noble on Tue, Jan 29 2013 5:50 amRanae Noble is a subrogation senior adjuster for American Family Insurance.

Jack’s story: Why sick kids can’t wait

Jack Pierce JacobsenIn 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.

Posted by Susan Pierce Jacobsen on Fri, Dec 28 2012 1:32 pm

Doing good just feels good

Nichole Krause and her mom helping with sandbagging efforts.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.

United Way logoThe 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?

Posted by Nichole Krause on Tue, Dec 18 2012 7:12 amNichole Krause is a casualty claim associate adjuster for American Family Insurance.
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