Brad Brewer is the Vice President of Legacy Kept, a social enterprise dedicated to preserving family stories and bridging the generation gap. After serving for over 15 years as a leader in small business startups and higher education community engagement, Brad is now on a mission to honor older adults in America and strengthen family relationships.
Frank Samson: Well, welcome to Boomers Today. I’m your host, Frank Samson. Of course, each week we bring you important useful information on issues facing baby Boomers, which I’m one of, certainly their parents, other loved ones, and I just want to thank everybody for all your support. Thank you for sharing with others and other family members and that’s why we’ve been able to continue to bring you such wonderful guests. And we have another wonderful guest with us today. We have with us Brad Brewer. Brad is the Vice President of Legacy Kept, a social enterprise dedicated to preserving family stories and bridging the generation gap. After serving for over 15 years as a leader in small business startups and higher education community engagement, Brad is now on a mission to honor older adults in America and strengthen family relationships. Brad, thank you so much for joining us on Boomers Today. Really appreciate it.
Brad Brewer: It’s great to be with you, Frank.
Frank: Yeah, great to have you. I think what you’re doing is just fantastic and I’m excited to learn more here. So, you know what I liked? Maybe we could just start out telling us what was your incentive or what made you think of Legacy Kept, and tell us just a little bit more about what you do. That’d be a great way to start.
Brad: Thank you. Well, it is a family social enterprise startup that’s been going for a few months now that we just heard too many stories of people who had lost their family history or didn’t know their family history and who would say, “Ah, man, I wish I had something in writing from my mother or my grandmother and my grandfather. We would have her thoughts or our stories.” And so Legacy Kept is a website that was designed by my father-in-law who’s a computer programmer, very handy to have in the family.
Frank: That’s great.
Brad: And it makes it simple for anyone to answer interview questions about their life. And then we’ll publish their finished project as hardcover books they can give to their kids, their grandkids, that would be cherished for generations to come.
Frank: That’s fantastic. Is this something you wanted to do for somebody in your family or you just saw people surrounding you that wanted something like this?
Brad: It’s actually really close to home in an interesting way. My grandfather wrote a book about his life and our family before he passed away in the late 90s. He died of cancer in ’99 but just two years prior, he finished his own autobiography, which he had worked on for years, just kind of typing away on it, and he made copies for his kids and grandkids that actually has meant the world to me to have this book. It’s helped me to understand where I come from and so many important things, and actually caused my wife and I to move to Florida where I grew up visiting him. And so that’s pretty special.
But conversely, my wife’s grandfather passed away a few years ago and they just lamented that they did not have anything in writing from him. They didn’t have any of his stories. They knew he had lived a really troubled life and they just wished they knew more about him, and they had lost that chance. And so, we know we came together on this and Heidi, my wife, and her dad really started the project. And then when I came around and said, “Hey, look, I got this great book that my grandfather wrote. What if we made this?” We all just kind of wanted to make it simple for other people to do this.
Frank: Would you say that it usually starts with the actual, let’s say, older adult that says, “Hey, I want to do this and I’m going to take care of this. I’m going to give it as a gift to my kids and grandkids,” et cetera. Or is it usually the adult children that go to mom or dad or grandma or grandpa or whatever and say, “Hey, would you like doing that? We’d love for you to do this. Would you do this?” I mean, does it work both ways?
Brad: It does work both ways. And it’s been so interesting to have conversations with both sides. Probably the majority of our early sales and strongest interest has been from the children or grandchildren who say, “I absolutely want this from my mom or dad, or from my grandmother. And so I’m going to buy this for them and ask them for their story.” And I think that’s almost been needed in certain cases because there’s a resistance sometimes from the older adults who might say, “Well, what have I done that’s worth writing a book about?” Or, “You know what? I’m not a writer.” And so there’s a humility there. And sometimes, honestly, maybe a little insecurity there about it, but we do certainly have older adults who have said, “Man, I’m always wanting to write a memoir or an autobiography, but it’s just overwhelming to think of starting from scratch. So if I just had this simple model where I could plug in my answers to these questions and have it, that’d be great.” So we do get both.
Frank: So that first scenario that you said, that you have that older adult that maybe gives a little push back because like, “Hey, what do I have to write about and I’m not a writer and I don’t want to do this.” What’s your response to somebody like that?
Brad: Well, I’ve had fun actually having these conversations, and I confess my own dad resisted, and it’s like our business. But I said, “Dad, I need your story and you do have a lot to say and you have lived an amazing life.” And so we had some conversations where it ended up being really special in our relationship because he felt honored that I wanted to know his story, and that kind of pushed him, I think, over the top to agree to do it. But ever since then, whenever we have phone calls about something, maybe he’s thinking about writing or getting into it, it starts flowing. I mean, all it takes is, “Hey, what’s one of your favorite road trip stories from when you were younger?” Or, “What was the growing up in the Vietnam War era like for you?” And then it really starts. So people just need sometimes that push back. So when they resist, I really give it to them. No, we need you.
Frank: So whatever information, and we’ll talk about the process in a minute, but whatever information that that older adult is writing, is there somebody on your team or a family member that’s kind of taking that, and maybe, I hate to say edit because you don’t want to make changes to what they’re saying, but, or are you taking the information as is, or are you making any changes or additions if maybe the person isn’t such a great writer?
Brad: Right now, it’s whatever someone puts in and they’re getting… Often folks are getting help from family members, which is a really cool aspect of this, is that, so they’ll get someone else to proofread it. We’re a pretty small team right now and we wanted to make this scalable so that anyone can do it, and we wouldn’t have the time to edit everybody’s work, but by prompting them to really make sure they review it and have a family member or a friend review it, it’s set up so that it’s really simple to just input/output becomes your eBook or you can print those hardcover books.
Frank: Right. So can you take us through the process of it, from start to finish?
Brad: Sure. Well, it’s amazing, when I get people talking about how valuable this is and they tell me how these stories are one of a kind and to have this would be so important. And then I tell them how much it costs, their jaws drop. They think it’s going to cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars to have a custom book printed or do this project. We wanted to make it totally affordable for people. So, an account, your own personal account where you write all your story, is just $50.
So you get on there for 50 bucks and that includes the finished eBook if you just want to share that digitally. But obviously, we want people to print hardcover books as well, that’s something they’ll be really proud of, and those are $50 each as well. So, pretty doable, we think. And so, if your son or grandson buys this for you and says, “Hey, I bought you a Legacy Kept account.” It’s as simple as putting in your email address and just some very basic information. You give your book a title, so make it your own, your own Legacy title. And then when you log into your account, we understood that a lot of the folks that are going to be working on this may be a little resistant to certain technology or have some concerns about things. So we made it very, very user-friendly and simple.
You get on the site and what you would see is five different categories. The first one’s called early life, and then it’s adulthood, and then you have relationships, career, and so on. And when you click on the category, the question prompts appear and you get to choose which question you want to answer. A little text box comes up, and it’s as simple as typing in your answer or having a partner do that for you while you sort of dictate. And that’s been done too. It’s really fun. So, that simple.
Frank: What’s been your experience with people on average of how long it takes them to get it done from beginning to end? And do they do it over a longer span of time, or are they usually one sitting? Boom, boom, boom, it’s done.
Brad: Well, we’re actually right in the middle. Our legacy writers, as we call them, really started just in January. And that’s when we opened the doors. And so everyone so far is still in process. And we’ve gotten some feedback on how they’re doing it and some, it’s just their own project, but they’re really are taking it seriously, which we love. And they’re kind of making maybe a question a week or something like that, is what they’re trying to answer. There’s one grandson who calls his 92-year-old grandmother every week with the new question and they talk on the phone and she answers it and he types in.
People are getting creative with it, but it can be done quicker. There are 30 prompted questions and you can add more if you want more and you can edit and delete some if you don’t like them, but 30, and so what sometimes we’ll say is, “Look, if you really want to do it quickly, answer one question a day, it’ll be done in a month. You could answer more than that and be done in a couple of weeks.” Maybe time is a factor and we know some folks are dealing with end-of-life situations and hospice care, and if you just want the very basics and you want to take some time and just get some answers, you can certainly use it for that as well.
Frank: Yeah. So I know the power of the written word is huge. I mean, I know my mom who passed away many years ago, but if I come across anything of hers that she wrote, number one, in her own writing, but also in her own words, I cherish that. Just cherish that. So talk to us about that written word compared to maybe other programs out there. I know there’s others out there that may be legacy programs with photos and recordings and things like that. So, can you help explain maybe the difference and your thoughts about that?
Brad: Yeah. Thanks for asking that. It is something we’re really passionate about. Obviously having my grandfather’s book that I can just pull off the bookshelf and flip to my favorite stories and read them to my wife and then, God willing, read them to my son and grandson someday or have them pass it on, that’s something that’s special that you get with this book. But it’s fascinating to me that there is such a huge interest these days in our society in heritage. And so, companies like ancestry.com and the DNA sites and things like that, people want to know, “Where did I come from, and what’s this all about?” But what they get, and I don’t really want to take a fight with Ancestry, but what they often will give, so maybe it’s a name and some dates and some locations. But what those things aren’t giving is the rich context in their own words, like you said, that she can get when someone writes something down.
I think there’s power in doing that. And then I shared with my wife the other day, if I had a video of my grandfather telling these stories that are in this book at maybe the age of 78, before he passed, I’d listen to his voice and I’d see him, and now it’d be really special. But one cool thing that happens, at least for me when I read his story about growing up in the Great Depression and being excited to go out in World War II and be a fighter is that picture of a young man when I’m reading that story. And I picture when he’s kind of pursuing my grandmother before they started dating in the 1940s, and I can see them as young people, which, it’s not a huge thing, but I think it helps to have the written word to accompany your understanding of everything.
Frank: Maybe so that we don’t run out of time and we’re not hurrying this, why don’t you share with people how they could learn more about Legacy Kept. Whatever information you’d like to share with people on how they could reach you.
Brad: Oh, thank you. Yeah, so the website is just legacykept.com. That’s legacy K-E-P-T.com and from the site you’ll be able to buy accounts as gifts. You can pre-purchase the books that you want to buy. You can watch a short video of the inside of the website so you kind of see how it looks before you buy on the how it works page. And we even had a little video made with my own story having my grandfather’s book and what that meant to me, too. So, if any of the older parents need a little nudge, you can show them that video, too. But, it’s legacykept.com.
Frank: Right. Great. So, I got a question now. In our computer age now, there’s just so little of paper. Everything’s kept on your computer and backed up and all of that. So somebody that utilizes Legacy Kept and has this wonderful book and then something happens to that book, whatever, you know, was lost, damaged, something happened. What’s the backup plan?
Brad: We’ve been saying, this is sort of timeless meets tech, and the tech part is that you get to put your story in a very secure, encrypted and personal website where it’s going to be kept safe. And you can share it with your family and friends digitally, if you’d like, through the eBook version, something that you could read on a Kindle or on an iPad. And so it’ll be kept secure for you there. You can even edit it later, add more to it, change things around. But when you’re ready to publish the hardcover books, that can be done at any time and it can be done again and again.
I’ve heard of some of these products where you can buy it maybe at a store and it’s a book that says, “Hey, tell me your story.” And they’re like a hundred questions in there. I was just talking to my best friend’s mom the other day and she said, “Oh, I have two of those on my bookshelf and I never do it.” And she said, “Why are you different?” And I said, “Well, mamma G, if you answered all those questions, number one, there’d probably be a lot of lines through things and you would have forgotten the thing you wanted to add, but you wouldn’t be able to because it’s in print. But then, when you’re done, you’d only have the one copy. And so if you wanted to make another one, you’d have to write it all over again. So the beauty of time must meet tech is you get this beautiful printed hardcover book that’s really easy to read, but it’s also kept secure online and you can update it, you can add to it and reprint it if you want.”
Frank: That’s great. So, one thing that I was also thinking about is age. I mean, at what point… Is there a right point to start to write that memoir, because maybe somebody, let’s just say somebody could be in their sixties, all right? And the kids and the grandkids want grandpa to start doing that, they might still have another good, who knows, 20 to 30 years or more left. So, do they wait, do they start, what do they do?
Brad: I love that. So I’d say if you’re really at a place where you are reflecting on your life and your legacy and the things that you want to share with your family, then do it. And then, I hope you do live another 20 and 30 years. There’s a lot of great research that indicates the process of writing and reflecting on your life will actually enliven you and embolden you for the next chapter and how you want to spend your days and how you want to have your relationships strengthened. So, yeah, go ahead, write it and then keep living. And if you end up taking this world trip that you’ve always wanted to because you got inspired, write about that. Add it to your book and you can print another one or share the updated version. I’m actually working on a book right now and I’m just about to be 40, and so, hopefully, I have plenty of next chapters to add to that.
Frank: Yeah, you’ve got a long way to go. A long way to go. That’s great. So, I don’t expect you to share any names here, but are there any stories that you could think of people that utilize Legacy Kept and just kind of stand out in your mind? Just some great stories that really had such a positive effect on families.
Brad: There are two that come to mind. The first I mentioned that we have a grandson who calls his 92-year-old grandmother every week, and somebody who was born and lived through, even as a young person, lived through the Great Depression and World War II, and then you think about the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, etc. There’s an African proverb that says, “When an old person dies, a library is lost.” So what this grandson has done, is he’s called me and he said, “Brad, I just want to thank you because the conversations I’m having with my grandmother are just so beautiful, and I never would have had them if I didn’t have this project as sort of the prompt to pick up the phone and ask her these questions.”
People are calling their family members, especially now, right in the midst of what’s happening with COVID and in particular isolation that’s happening. What about a better conversation where you can ask these really beautiful questions and get heartfelt information? The grandmother said she feels like a celebrity that her grandson keeps asking her, you know, that he wants to interview her.
Frank: That’s great.
Brad: And then there’s someone in our own community, they’re very influential and have really been exemplary citizens and done a lot for people in our community. And I got to sit with her. Her name’s Mary, and I sat with her for a little while and we just had a beautiful conversation about why she’s doing this, why she’s taking her time with it. And so I just think, “Man, there’s so much good that can come from the process even of writing these legacies for the families themselves and the relationships and conversations that can be had.”
Frank: Yeah. So, those are great stories. So, as you know, I’m in the senior care business industry and we quite often are dealing with loved ones who maybe are suffering from some cognitive challenges, could be some form of dementia, could be Alzheimer’s, et cetera. And sometimes, maybe, have you had situations where a family wants to move forward in somebody that has having some memory issues, which are usually short-term versus long-term. But maybe you could talk about that, that it’s not too late. I would think it’s not too late to do this. Right? But maybe you could talk about that.
Brad: Absolutely. And it’s a tough topic, but it’s so common and it’s so real for a lot of us. And so we have… we’re relatively new getting our start but we have already developed a partnership with our local Alzheimer’s Foundation here in Florida, and they are going to use Legacy Kept as an activity, as a reminiscence therapy project, which, you know, reminiscence therapy is essentially this idea that it supports mental health and can help you then with folks that are dealing with dementia or Alzheimer’s. So they’ll have a group of friends, folks that are hanging out and they’ll ask the question and get them thinking. And what I’ve been hearing is that, certainly with early onset, that the older stories, the longer term memory does tend to last longer than sometimes the short-term. And so it really helps people to be able to tell, to think back and tell those old stories and why not capture them while they are able to tell them and preserve them for future generations.
Frank: Yeah. Brad Brewer, legacykept.com. Check it out. I think it’s wonderful what you’re doing. Best of luck with your organization, and thank you so much for joining us on Boomers Today, Brad.
Brad: Oh, it was a pleasure, Frank. Thank you for having me.
Frank: Yeah, and I want to thank everybody out there for joining us today on Boomers Today. Please, please be safe, and we’ll talk to everybody real soon.