Attaining the Unattainable: Powerful Stories that Inspire

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The phrase “Not Dead… Can't Quit” is something that has stuck with me ever since I heard the story of Kyle Maynard, a world-class athlete, cross-fit trainer, author, and motivational speaker. It's a saying that he picked up from a Navy Seal, and it defined his climb up all 19,341 feet of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's tallest peak. When the going got tough (and it got seriously tough), that phrase kept him going.

The climb up Mount Kilimanjaro is a grueling 15 day hike. It's a significant challenge for even the most experienced climbers who attempt the ascent. Kyle did it in 10 days, and he was born with arms that end at his elbows and legs that end at his knees. He is a congenital quadruple amputee who literally bear crawled his way up the mountain on all fours.

I'm pretty sure that I would have trouble doing the climb, and I have two arms and two legs that function fully. I couldn't even imagine Kyle doing it until I met him and heard his story in person.

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Risks and Rewards: Keeping Kids Safe at Family Entertainment Centers

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It's a familiar dilemma — parents stuck inside on a rainy day with kids who need a place to blow off some steam. When the playground is muddy and the basement's already a mess, what are your options? Cue the rise of the family entertainment center.

Trampoline courts, laser tag arenas, and indoor playground spaces give kids somewhere safe to play and ease parents' concerns about security, but family entertainment centers (FECs) come with unique risks. Parents and center owners that are aware of these risks and keep safety as a top priority keep fun safe.

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Big Brothers/Big Sisters: An Organization on the Move

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When I think about how Haas & Wilkerson can make a lasting difference in our community, I don't have to look much further than our partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Kansas City (BBBS). It is one of the most impactful not-for-profit organizations in our region. The organization has served more than 20,000 at-risk youth in the Kansas City metropolitan area since its start in 1964. 

How We're Involved

Kimberly Wilkerson, a co-owner and vice president of Haas & Wilkerson, and I have both been involved with and supporters of BBBS for many years. Kimberly currently serves on the board of BBBS. And thanks to their nomination, she was recently named a Rising Star by The Independent: Kansas City's Journal of Society. 

We also support BBBS throughout our organization. Many of our team members have been involved in the organization as Bigs and donors. As a company, we love bowling as part of the Summer Bowl for Kids Sake and playing in the annual Legacy Golf Tournament that benefits the organization. We are looking forward to March 24 when BBBS will be in our office recruiting Bigs as part of their March Matchness recruitment campaign. Everyone gets donuts and a free headshot by local photographer Rob Smith for participating!

An Inside Look 

Lives are changed by BBBS every day. Their programs serve our community's most vulnerable children (called Littles) who are growing up in one-parent homes. Matches are made with adults (called Bigs) who can give them additional emotional and social support. These one-on-one relationship are built on trust and friendship. Research studies show that kids who have positive adult influences in their lives are better able to reach their full potential. At BBBS, these one-to-one friendships between Bigs and Littles last a minimum of one year with the average match lasting 27 months, which is significantly longer than the national average match length of 20 months.

“Children growing up in one-parent homes are at more than five times greater risk of living in poverty than children growing up in two parent homes.”

BBBS offers at-risk youth a long-term developmental relationship with a caring adult. Bigs serve as friends, mentors, and role models to the Littles. They are instrumental in helping youth gain greater self-confidence and leadership skills. This model has been proven effective in changing the self-image of children and therefore their behavior.

BBBS's results are phenomenal. According to data collected in 2012 from youth who matched with a Big:

•        96% report no alcohol or drug abuse.
•        93% said they have learned new things since being matched with their Big.
•        84% say that they feel better about whom they are.
•        81% report that they have developed new interests since being matched.

New Digs for Awesome Kids

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In early 2015, BBBS opened their new Kansas City headquarters located at 1709 Walnut Street in the Crossroads District of Kansas City, MO. Their new space will allow for growth over the coming years. It is taking their already exceptional environment for kids to the next level. 

The new space is phenomenal! Some of the highlights of their new location include:

  • A Children’s Lounge
  • Auditorium-Style Learning Center
  • Event Space
  • Rooftop Terrace
  • Donor Brick Walkway (in front of the building)

How You Can Help

We encourage you to consider becoming a Big and get directly involved with an at-risk youth in our community. BBBS currently has about 500 Littles waiting to be matched and their waiting list grows every day.

2015 is the year to ‪#‎BeABig‬! I hope you will consider getting involved in our community through BBBS. It's a great way to ensure the future of Kansas City! 

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Steeped in Tradition: An Inside Look at the American Royal

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If you ask an out-of-towner what they know about Kansas City, you're likely to hear about one thing — world-class barbecue. A few might mention jazz or the Royal's recent compelling attempt at the World Series title, but there's no denying that Kansas City's national reputation is built on our history as a livestock hub. At the center of that history is one of my favorite local institutions, the American Royal.

A Royal History

From its humble beginnings as a Hereford cattle show held in a tent in the Kansas City Stockyards in 1899, the American Royal has grown to include horse shows, rodeos (both professional and youth), and the American Royal World Series of Barbecue®. Since the initial event in 1980, this barbecue competition has grown into the largest in the world, with over 500 teams spread over 54 acres competing against each other in multiple categories. Held every fall, the event draws competitors and visitors from around the country to Kansas City's historic Stockyards District.

The American Royal is a non-profit organization that, in addition to presenting cultural events, actively promotes American agriculture through education and competition. It reaches over 20,000 students each year through various programs and events. Just last year, the American Royal contributed over $1.4 million towards the future of agricultural education through a combination of scholarships, competitive prize monies, and educational awards. It is truly a cultural gem, a vital part of our regional heritage, and a great contributor towards a future that continues to value the spirit and practices of American agriculture.

A Family Connection

Every family has its' traditions and for the Wilkerson family, the American Royal is a big one. We have been involved for three generations now! I spent my childhood attending the Royal with my parents and grandparents, and now continue this tradition with my own family.

Both my sister Kim and I are American Royal Governors and love supporting the Royal in this way. We have the opportunity to attend many events each year, including the rodeo, horse shows, and the World Series of Barbecue. Becoming a Governor is a fantastic way to get involved with the American Royal community, support Kansas City's history and future, and get a taste of the western lifestyle. And with a Family Governorship, we're able to include our children in these events, carrying on a family tradition and hopefully raising future fourth-generation Governors!

Our family strongly believes in the mission and values of the American Royal. We are passionate about the need for agricultural education. As our society becomes more and more disconnected from the food that we eat, it is even more important to understand where our food comes from and to support the work of farmers and ranchers. We need to ensure that agriculture and agribusiness continue to draw educated and passionate students who will strengthen the field well into the future. The American Royal makes major contributions through its educational programs and outreach, and I am honored to serve on the Board of Directors and contribute to this important mission.

We're In the Rodeo Business

At Haas & Wilkerson, we not only attend the American Royal rodeo, we're in the rodeo business ourselves. Our Rodeo Division has been providing insurance solutions tailored to the unique needs of the rodeo, equine, and livestock industries for more than 30 years. Through our Specialty Program Insurors, we are able to proudly provide spectator event liability as well as accident coverage for contestants and volunteer workers. We are a full service agency handling all lines of coverage for rodeos including: property, inland marine, automobile, weather insurance/event cancellation, and animal mortality. By focusing on each client's potential exposures, we are able to satisfy their unique insurance needs. 

Support the American Royal

If you haven't been to an event at the American Royal, I highly encourage you to check it out. It's an entertaining and educational experience that highlights an important aspect of Kansas City's history and future. With a wide variety of events (explore the events calendar here), there is something for everyone to enjoy. If you'd like to play a bigger part in the American Royal community, look into their Governors program for access to even more events and membership perks. 

What's your favorite American Royal memory? Share by tweeting @haaswilkerson!

(Title images from kansascity.com and americanroyal.com)

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Staying Ahead of the Game: Lessons From a Former CIA Agent

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I'm always up for a good spy flick. The intrigue, gadgets, explosions, and disguises all provide serious entertainment for me. It doesn't matter if the movie is about James Bond, Jack Ryan (Hunt for Red October), Ethan Hunt (Mission Impossible), Jason Bourne (Bourne Identity), or Agent J (Men in Black), I'm ready to pop up a bowl of popcorn and settle in for a couple hours of adventure. 

I'm fascinated by the cool gadgets and disguises the characters use to hide their weapons and conceal their identities. I've always thought it was the imagination of Hollywood that created this image of being a spy, but that all changed when I met James Olson, a former Central Intelligence Agent (CIA) undercover agent and now a professor at Texas A&M University. Jim opened my eyes to the realities of modern day spying, and let's just say, Hollywood has some catching up to do!

“Our gadgets are so much better than [Hollywood's],” Olson said. “When you retire, you're supposed to turn your gadgets in. Some of them are just too good.”

When I met Jim Olson, I'll admit, he didn't look the part. He's an unassuming man who grew up in Iowa. While he's incredibly fit for his age, you would be more likely to think he was a banker than man trained to kill with his bare hands.

Jim's Story

Jim was recruited to the CIA after he completed law school and a tour in the Navy. He accepted a position with the CIA's clandestine service, which covertly gathers information and secrets from other nations. Originally, he thought he'd be a spy for just a couple of years and then return to his original plan of becoming a small town lawyer. Thirty-one years later, he and his wife, Meredith, retired from the CIA so he could accept a professorship at Texas A&M's Bush School of Government and Public Service. I guess he liked it more than he thought he would! 

Jim and Meredith, who he met at the CIA, worked in tandem undercover. They gathered intelligence on the Soviet KGB during the Cold War. In other words, they chased a lot of Russians in their careers.

Jim told an amazing story about a time when he was to meet a Soviet KGB agent who wanted to exchange secrets for an opportunity to escape the Soviet Union. The meeting involved rolling out of his family's car on the way to the Embassy to escape Soviet surveillance, dressing as a Slavic worker with full face and hand masks and coveralls, dealing with the fear of being ambushed, wandering the streets of Moscow all day until the 10:00 pm meeting, and finally dealing with the consequences of getting off the Soviet radar screen when he finally returned home. 

Parallels to the Insurance Business

To say that Jim's story was riveting would be a serious understatement. He definitely got me thinking about what freedom means in this country and how important it is to have men like Jim protecting us overseas. His stories also got me thinking about how being an undercover agent is a lot like being an insurance agent. 

1. Serve and Protect

When you are a CIA agent, your job is to serve and protect your country. These men and women sacrifice their lives to live covertly and risk being caught by the foreign countries they spy in. 

At Haas & Wilkerson, we also serve and protect our customers. We are here to understand and mitigate risk. When something goes wrong for our customers, it's our job to protect them with the right coverage and get them back on track as soon as possible. 

 2. Think Ahead

A spy is always trying to stay one step ahead of the enemy. They have incredible intelligence that keeps them up on potential threats. They are always on their toes.

At Haas & Wilkerson, that's our job too. We are always researching and examining the risks associated with running a business, theme park, carnival, rodeo, state fair, etc. The more we can anticipate liability and injury risks, the better we are at protecting our customers.

3. Look for Trends and Connections

A CIA agent is an expert in their field. When Jim was spying on the Russians, he learned to speak perfect Russian, plus he learned all of the customs, body language, and cultural affectations necessary to blend in. He was schooled in all the public policy issues of the Soviet Union. He was probably one of the most knowledgeable people in the world on Soviet foreign policy.

At Haas & Wilkerson, it is our job to be an expert in our customers' industries so that we can anticipate issues and serve their needs. Part of our business is in the niche area of rodeos, fairs and festivals, and water parks. To be effective at providing the insurance needs for these entertainment venues, we need to understand their businesses backwards and forwards. 

4. Follow Through On Your Promises

As a CIA agent, Jim often had to make promises to potential informants that were tough to keep. He had to gain the confidence of people who could have easily turned on him when he was collecting intelligence, and he had to deliver on his promises when he got the information he needed. 

At Haas & Wilkerson, our word is our promise. It's our job to stick it out with our customers through thick and thin. If we insure a business and it has a claim, we're focused on getting the business back on its feet, not how much we are paying out in the claim.  

Final Thoughts

I'm proud to be an American and an insurance provider. I recognize how easy I have it in life because people like Jim and Meredith Olson are willing to serve in the CIA and protect our country from terrorist threats. Unfortunately, we live in a dangerous world, but knowing that CIA agents are giving their all to keep us safe is comforting. I hope that when our customers think of Haas & Wilkerson and the insurance products we provide, they too feel safer and more protected because they partnered with our company. 

If you love spy stories as much as I do, please check out Jim's book — Fair Play. It's a fascinating read that will really make you think outside the box office!

What's your favorite spy flick or book? Tweet @haaswilkerson or comment on the blog!

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Transforming Autism: Making a Difference in Kansas City

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Have you ever thought about what it would mean to have an autistic child in your family? The diagnosis, the education, the costs, the day-to-day realities?

Today, more than 3.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder. According to the organization Autism Speaks, autism is the fastest growing developmental disability with the diagnosis of children in the U.S. increasing by 120 percent since 2000.

Here are some sobering statistics on autism from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Autism affects 1 in 68 children.
  • Boys are nearly five times more likely than girls to have autism (1 in 42 boys).
  • Autism costs a family $60,000 a year on average.
  • It costs more than $8,600 extra per year to educate a student with autism.
  • Lifetime care of an individual with autism spectrum disorder is estimated to be nearly $2.4 million.
  • There is no cure for autism.

A Bright Spot in Kansas City

In the Kansas City metro, it is estimated that there are more than 8,200 children living with autism. Luckily, we have an incredible resource focused on serving this community —the Kansas City Autism Training Center (KCATC). It is a school, a resource, and a “teacher of teachers.” We at Haas & Wilkerson are so impressed by the work they do and the impact they are making on our community.

KCATC transforms lives daily by bringing the latest science in autism treatment, research, and teaching techniques to the families that need it most. A unique quality of KCATC is its focus on building individualized and hands-on programs for children and their families.

A Little Background

Kansas City Autism Training Center accepted its first students in 2006. Since then it has grown into a community that currently serves 50 students. Year-over-year growth is 30 percent, and KCATC is expected to reach capacity in its current facility by the end of 2015. The good news is that the services of KCATC extend beyond the four walls of the school. Annually, the organization provides countless consultation, referral, outreach training, and autism support programs throughout the region. Last year more than 70 additional children and their families were assisted by KCATC outside of the school.

Autism advocacy and education about the science underlying successful autism treatment is a cornerstone of the KCATC mission. The 30 staff members all have degrees in applied behavior analysis or a related field. Seventeen percent have master’s degrees and another 15 percent are working toward their advanced degree. These teachers have studied with the leading scientists and researchers in autism education. As KCATC grows, it continues to focus efforts on improving autism education methods and sharing those practices locally and nationally.

Importance of Autism Education

Autism education is not just important to children and adults living with an autism spectrum disorder, it is also important for our society. Autism services cost Americans $250 billion annually, and the majority of that money is spent on adult autism services. That is why Kansas City Autism Training Center is so committed to supporting and teaching children early, so they can live the best life possible.

According to the Autism Society, the lifelong costs of autism treatment can be reduced by two-thirds with early diagnosis and treatment. Thirty-five percent of autistic young adults have not held a job or received a college education after leaving high school. KCATC dramatically improves that reality for young adults with autism who have participated in their programs. Outcome-focused autism programs like KCATC make a world of difference.

How You Can Help

In 2013, Haas and Wilkerson began sponsoring the monthly breakfast meeting for Accelerent, a national organization bringing business leaders together to grow their respective companies. At that breakfast, we saw an opportunity to highlight a regional not-for-profit to raise awareness and engage the business community to support causes important to the health and well being of our region.

At our February 2015 Accelerent breakfast, we chose to highlight KCATC because of the incredible work they do in serving the autism community in our region. They are a hidden gem that deserves greater awareness and support!

We invite you to learn more about KCATC and participate in their civic leader orientation program that offers an up close look at what they do daily. It’s worth your time. To learn more, please visit KCATC’s website at www.kcatc.org.

What community causes are important to your business? Please share by tweeting @haaswilkerson or commenting on the blog. 

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January Accelerent Breakfast powered by Haas & Wilkerson Insurance

Thank you for attending the January Accelerent Breakfast powered by Haas & Wilkerson Insurance.

I would like to thank my Accelerent Partners and their guests for embracing the Accelerent nonprofit initiative we launched in January 2013.  As a collective, we have made an impact in our community and have provided support to several local nonprofit organizations.  At the breakfast last November we asked that you re-engage with one of the 16 nonprofits already touched by our Accelerent community.  Today I want to shift your attention to Art Bra KC.

Art Bra KC  is a unique and fun auction event showcasing eclectic work-of-art bras modeled by breast cancer survivors to celebrate their triumph over cancer.  A tribute to survivors’ fighting spirit, Art Bra KC’s mission is to uniquely celebrate breast cancer survivors and provide funding for Kansas City area organizations that provide life-empowering services to uninsured and underinsured individuals who have been touched by cancer.

During the main event, approximately 70 work-of-Art items are auctioned live and in a silent auction.  These one-of-a-kind Art Bras are designed and created by family & friends of survivors, local artists, celebrities and volunteers.  The “Top 25″ bras are modeled by breast cancer survivors and auctioned off during a live Fashion show. In addition, over 40 pieces of amazing art objects are featured in the silent auction. All art is donated by local artists and features artists from the Crossroads District live.

In just four years, Art Bra KC has raised over $500,000 for the Patient In Need (PIN)  Fund at the KU Cancer Center, opened an ABKC Appearance Center at Truman Medical Center and has served close to 2,000 uninsured-underinsured cancer patients!  All money raised stays within our local community!

I connect to Art Bra KC’s mission because both my mom and my step-father are Breast Cancer survivors.  Do you connect as well?  If so,  please consider supporting the mission by becoming a sponsor of the May 1, 2015 event being held at the Downtown Airport in Kansas City, Missouri.  For more information please see the attached documents and contact Michelle Lockman at 816.682.0329 or sponsorship@artbrakc.com.

Thank you for helping Art Bra KC with their mission to celebrate breast cancer survivors.   My team and I look forward to seeing you at a future Accelerent event.

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