Westerville independent insurance agent gives back to local military families

COLUMBUS, OH – For Chris Callen, president of Chris D. Callen Insurance Agent in Westerville, giving back to military families is a true calling.

A Vietnam War veteran who received the U.S. Army’s highest honor – The Combat Infantryman’s Badge and Bronze Star – Callen has personally walked in the shoes of those he helps with his nonprofit, The Callen Foundation. Because of his work with the Foundation, Callen is the recipient of the OIA Community Service Award, which recognizes an Ohio independent insurance agent making a positive impact in his or her community.

“As a former U.S. Army Combat Infantryman in Vietnam, I have seen the sacrifices our military families are required to make in order to serve our country and protect all of us, especially when the main breadwinner is called to duty overseas,” Callen says. “Like most Americans, we tend to forget the special price others pay for us on our behalf, especially those in the Ohio National Guard who are forced to leave good paying jobs to do tours overseas for extremely low pay. As our family has been blessed with a successful insurance business, we felt that it was time to give back.”

Established in 2011, The Callen Foundation provides short-term financial support to Ohio military families with urgent needs, such as food and basic living necessities, late bill payments, baby care items and emergency household repairs. In fact, 100 percent of donations to the foundation go directly to Ohio military families. “In 2010, when preparing Christmas gift lists for our family, my wife Lynn and I decided that no one in our family needed gifts and we should focus our efforts on helping Ohio military families,” Callen says. “It was then that we founded a 501c3 non-profit corporation to help us accomplish our goal.”

The Callen Foundation provides assistance to an average of four or five military families each month. In some cases, the servicemen and women have suffered serious, even career-ending, injuries. Other times, the main bread winner is serving in a combat zone and the spouse has no family or friends to rely on for support. For example, one military family relocated to the Columbus area from the south and could not afford winter boots for their seven children. Upon receiving this request, Callen and staff members from his insurance agency immediately went shopping for seven pairs of boots.

“With our foundation, we have found a niche that wasn’t being served,” Callen says. “Unlike most nonprofits supporting the military, The Callen Foundation doesn’t require recipients to be veterans or have experience serving overseas. For many servicemen and women who serve part-time in the National Guard or Reserve, it can be difficult to find and keep employment with trainings held throughout the year and the possibility of being called into active duty at any time.”

Callen works closely with the Ohio National Guard’s Family Readiness and Warrior Support Program to connect with local servicemen and women who need emergency assistance after all other options have been exhausted. Many times, The Callen Foundation is the last line of defense for these families.

“The Callen Foundation has helped many service members and their families with emergency needs,” says Captain Doug Franz of the Ohio National Guard. “In most cases, the majority of these requests have been resolved within 24 hours or less. The Callen Foundation continues to be a great partner that can be called on to assist service members who may not qualify for any assistance through other local agencies.”


Ohio Insurance Agents Association

Ohio Insurance Agents Association (OIA) is the collective voice of 1,400 independent agencies that employ nearly 10,000 Ohioans. We promote, progress and protect the professional advice and guidance only independent insurance agents provide. OIA members write 82 percent of the commercial insurance policies and 44 percent of personal insurance policies in Ohio. Our purpose is to help our member agencies protect consumers and employers by offering them access to the best resources, tools and professional development programs available. OIA serves our members in four key areas: advocacy, professional development, business solutions and industry thought leadership.


Stolly Insurance Group supports local high school students, nonprofits through community service efforts

COLUMBUS, OH – With a history of giving back to the local community dating back to 1904, the family-owned Stolly Insurance Group received the OIA Community Service Award for its Operation Giveback and SUCCEED scholarship programs. This award recognizes Ohio independent insurance agents making a positive difference in their communities.

“We have never lost our giving spirit, even five generations and 112 years after opening our doors,” says Peter Stolly, CIC, independent insurance agent at Stolly Insurance Group. “I think it’s important for any local business, especially independent insurance agents, to give back to their communities. We are blessed to have offices in five different community locations, and make an effort to help out in any way we can.”

Through the agency’s Operation Giveback program, an online contest for local nonprofit charities, Stolly Insurance Group gives donations to a variety of causes. Since 2015, the agency gave away a total of $4,500 to 10 charities. Members of the community can vote for their favorite nonprofit on Stolly Insurance Group’s website (stolly.com), and the nonprofit with the most votes gets the largest donation. The annual program and voting typically runs in July.

Recipients of the Operation Giveback program include Discovery Riders, based in Bellefontaine, which provides therapeutic equestrian riding to individuals with physical, mental and emotional challenges. Another nonprofit, Our Daily Bread soup kitchen in Bellefontaine, serves nearly 20,000 meals each year to members of the community in need. “I’ve volunteered at the soup kitchen with my local Rotary club over the years, so it was personally rewarding to present a donation to this organization,” Stolly says.

In 2004, Stolly Insurance Group established the SUCCEED Scholarship Program, which awards scholarships to two high school students each year who demonstrate excellence in academics, personal achievement and leadership abilities. The scholarships are used for post-secondary education, whether college or a technical school. The agency has received 200 applications for this year’s scholarship program.

“The Stolly Insurance Group philosophy has always been a commitment to education and helping young people in our communities,” Stolly says. “It’s a rewarding experience to visit a local high school and present a check to a deserving student, knowing we helped ease the financial burden for them to attend college.”


Ohio Insurance Agents Association

Ohio Insurance Agents Association (OIA) is the collective voice of 1,400 independent agencies that employ nearly 10,000 Ohioans. We promote, progress and protect the professional advice and guidance only independent insurance agents provide. OIA members write 82 percent of the commercial insurance policies and 44 percent of personal insurance policies in Ohio. Our purpose is to help our member agencies protect consumers and employers by offering them access to the best resources, tools and professional development programs available. OIA serves our members in four key areas: advocacy, professional development, business solutions and industry thought leadership.


Portsmouth Philanthropist honored by Association

COLUMBUS, OH – “In the state of Ohio, 1 in 4 children go hungry. In South Central Ohio, 1 in 3 children go hungry. We can do better. We need to do better,” said independent insurance agent Mark S. Hunter, CSRM, owner of Hunter-Williams Insurance Agency in Portsmouth.

Hunter received the 2015 Community Service Award for his selfless work helping the impoverished children in his southern Ohio community at the 2015 Professional Independent Agents Association of Ohio, Inc. (PIAA) Conference on Oct. 9 in Dublin.

Hunter and wife Virgie established the Steven A Hunter Hope Fund in 2006 after their 21-year-old son tragically died of an unknown congenital heart defect while at tennis practice at Milligan College. Though young, their son was already well known in their community for his compassion and acts of kindness. “Steven was a special child with an amazing ability to connect with anyone he met. We knew when he passed away that we needed to find a way to continue his work,” Hunter said.

The Steven A Hunter fund originally covered expenses for clothing, books, tutors, dental and vision checkups, and whatever else the disadvantaged children needed. The purpose was to give these children the same benefits and experiences others get and to treat them with dignity, as their son did his whole life.

But after a few years, the Hunters felt they weren’t doing enough. That’s when they expanded their efforts to fighting childhood hunger in the community through the Steven’s Power Pack Club, which this year alone provides 825 students in 15 different schools with a package of food before they leave school every Friday.

The logistics of getting food to each of them at multiple schools each weekend is no small task, but the impact is tremendous. Jim Daehler, a close family friend who was Steven’s tennis coach, said the children’s eyes light up when they see the food packages on Fridays because they know they will get to eat over the weekend.

“No one can fathom the time and energy Mark invests in helping the children. Steven, too, had a great zest for life, and he got that from his parents,” Daehler said.

Other charities that have offered help to the Hunters are astounded at how the fund has grown beyond expectations. But whenever the couple wonders how they could possibly expand their reach, something positive happens and the fund continues to grow. Hunter sites a loving, supportive community as one source of strength. “We also have faith because God has given us a mission to help hungry children,” Hunter added.

Hunter and his wife were among others recognized to celebrate the vital role independent insurance agents play in their communities. “In the end, we’re just a couple of grieving parents who love children dearly, and we just want to help them while keeping the memory of our son alive,” he said.


Ohio Insurance Agents Association

Ohio Insurance Agents Association (OIA) is the collective voice of nearly 1,400 independent agencies that employ nearly 10,000 Ohioans. We promote, progress and protect the professional advice and guidance only independent insurance agents provide. OIA members write 82 percent of the commercial insurance policies and 44 percent of personal insurance policies in Ohio. Our purpose is to help our member agents thrive in a modern insurance marketplace by offering them resources and content in four areas critical for success: digital marketing, recruiting and training, perpetuation and improving the customer experience.


Agent honored for leadership in helping consumers

COLUMBUS, OH – “This business allows you to help people. Whether answering a client’s questions, stepping in to help when times are bad, or taking time to research and make a case for someone who had an insurance claim denied, that’s what gives me a sense of purpose. That’s why I love what I do,” said independent insurance agent Jeffrey T. Lewis, CIC, president of Putnam White Lewis Insurance Agency in Columbus.

Lewis was recently awarded the 2015 Excellence in Leadership Award for years of work helping independent agents support consumers at the 2015 Professional Independent Agents Association of Ohio, Inc. (PIAA) Conference on Oct. 9 in Dublin. The event celebrates the vital role independent agents play in their communities.

In accepting his award, Lewis recalled the words of a previous PIAA president, who said no matter how much work he put into the association, he got back so much more. Lewis heartily agrees.

“Jeff is not in it for himself. Even when things are difficult, he is going to do the right thing. Jeff is going to help people whether it benefits him or not,” stated Lewis’ wife, Dawn, who said the extent of her husband’s integrity and professionalism is boundless.

When Lewis began his career at age 24, working in claims, he quickly realized he was positioned to help friends, business owners in his community and consumers, to make a difference right in his own town. Thirty years later, Lewis is still helping consumers, now as co-owner of the agency he joined as an independent agent 24 years ago.

In the 1990s, Lewis began volunteering his time to help other independent agents. “There is no question that Jeff is dedicated to this association and our goals of helping people achieve peace of mind. His loyalty and dedication are tremendous, and his commitment has never wavered,” said PIAA Director of Member Services Mike Grushon.

Jeff demonstrated that commitment by serving on numerous committees, in different board officer positions and then as president, all with the goal of doing the right thing for Ohio consumers. Then, instead of retiring after his term ended, Lewis stepped up again to represent Ohio agents and their clients at the national level. Lewis currently serves on the PIA National Executive Committee and as chair of the PIA National Presidents’ Advisory Board.

When not working at the agency or performing PIA National duties, Lewis spends time with his wife and three sons.


Ohio Insurance Agents Association

Ohio Insurance Agents Association (OIA) is the collective voice of nearly 1,400 independent agencies that employ nearly 10,000 Ohioans. We promote, progress and protect the professional advice and guidance only independent insurance agents provide. OIA members write 82 percent of the commercial insurance policies and 44 percent of personal insurance policies in Ohio. Our purpose is to help our member agents thrive in a modern insurance marketplace by offering them resources and content in four areas critical for success: digital marketing, recruiting and training, perpetuation and improving the customer experience.


Lanese receives Independence Bell/Industry Person of the Year Award

COLUMBUS, OH - Kathy Lanese, CIC, owner of Affinity Insurance Group in Lyndhurst, OH, received the Independence Bell/Industry Person of the Year Award at the 2014 Professional Independent Agents Association of Ohio, Inc. (PIAA) Conference, held Oct. 2-3. The conference celebrated independent insurance agents and their commitment to their clients, their communities and the profession. The award honors someone who has made a significant impact on Ohio’s independent agency system.

Lanese is an established leader in the insurance industry, volunteering her time to serve on various boards and promoting professional development as an important priority for agents. She serves on two company advisory councils using feedback she receives from independent agents in Northeast Ohio to create a dialogue with insurance companies. She then advocates for the issues to be addressed.

“I’m passionate about being a voice for independent agents and their clients,” said Lanese. “The carriers listen and come back with solutions and improvements. It’s exciting to be a part of that process.”

Lanese, an independent insurance agent, began working at her agency in 1996 and acquired it with her husband in 2005. She is currently a trustee for the Insurance Board of Northern Ohio (IBNO) and serves on its Education Committee. Lanese is also a member of State Auto’s Central Region Agency Council and Motorists Mutual President’s Advisory Council.

Serving the community and educating younger generations is also important to Lanese. She is a member of the VFW Post #6768 Ladies Auxiliary and her local Chamber of Commerce. She has co-chaired the Nordonia High School “Kick for the Cure” event and has taught a Junior Achievement class about the insurance industry to grade school students.

“Being an independent agent is a very noble profession. I’m thankful to be part of this industry,” said Lanese. “When someone asks what I do, I am proud to tell them that I offer protection for what people value most – life, health, personal and business assets.”


Ohio Insurance Agents Association

Ohio Insurance Agents Association (OIA) is the collective voice of nearly 1,400 independent agencies that employ nearly 10,000 Ohioans. We promote, progress and protect the professional advice and guidance only independent insurance agents provide. OIA members write 82 percent of the commercial insurance policies and 44 percent of personal insurance policies in Ohio. Our purpose is to help our member agents thrive in a modern insurance marketplace by offering them resources and content in four areas critical for success: digital marketing, recruiting and training, perpetuation and improving the customer experience.

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