Heidi Brewer and her father, John Naylor, had a problem.
After Naylor’s father, Roy Naylor, died two years ago, they realized that he had never written down any of the wonderful stories he had told them.
“They thought ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if we had his words written down, so that we could return to them and read them and pass them down to our children and grandchildren,’” recalled Heidi Brewer’s husband, Brad Brewer.
From that idea, Naylor, a software engineer, spent two years creating what would become Legacy Kept — an online startup that helps people write and publish their memoirs. The new business, which went online in January, also has deep ties to Christopher Newport University, where three of the four staff members studied and worked.
“It grew us up,” said Brad Brewer, who is also the company vice president. “We feel really fortunate to have received the education we did there and get our start professionally.”
Brad Brewer said that as loved ones die, family stories are being lost at a record pace. Websites like Ancestry.com or 23andMe might be able to tell you your family tree, but aren’t able to relay the personal stories that a firsthand account would provide.
“Going forward, we want to change that,” Brad Brewer said.
Once signing up for the site, participants are asked questions in an interview format. For example, one of the first questions is “What are some of your earliest memories?” Brad Brewer said people generally enjoy talking about themselves and their lives, and the interview prompts give them the push to get going with their stories.
Heidi Brewer’s experiences at Christopher Newport University helped her structure the interview process. After becoming a student there in 2007, she studied writing and leadership. As part of her service work, she helped residents of Hampton Roads nursing homes and other care facilities compose their own oral histories.
Brad Brewer studied at the university much earlier, arriving in 1998. He was one of the first graduates of the school’s President’s Leadership Program. He also is a former director of the school’s Center for Community Engagement. Asa Townsend, business development manager for Legacy Kept, also attended the school, starting in 2013 and participated in the Bonner Service Scholars program.
The website costs $50 to join. After finishing, users get access to an e-book file that they can print themselves, or, for another $50, can choose to order a hardcover book from Legacy Kept.
Brad Brewer said the company is privately owned and will try to grow organically during its first year of business rather than raise capital from other investors. He also hopes to grow the company through partnerships with senior citizen organizations and hiring students to help with marketing this summer.
Townsend said he hoped the company would become a great way to engage families in meaningful conversations and bring them together.
“I like referring to it as something that’s really dedicated to bridging a generational gap,” he said.
Trevor Metcalfe, 757-222-5345, firstname.lastname@example.org
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