Storytelling is central to human existence. Older generations who are still with us have so many stories to tell, but not many of them have been written down—and this creates a sense of urgency to capture these stories so we can learn from them and remember those who have told them.
That’s why Feet to the Fire Writers' Workshops® came into existence. Backed by Keyhorse, Feet to the Fire sparks imagination, memory, and connection in the older generations—not only are these workshops a way to get stories written down and shared, but they contain a healing element in that they generate a feeling of social connectedness and purpose which supports longevity.
We asked the company’s founder and CEO, Angela Burton, a few questions about her journey, inspiration, and predictions for the future of storytelling and aging care.
How did you become interested in writing? And, what sparked your interest in aging care?
AB: I became interested in writing at a young age, when, as an 8th grader, I had a short story published in a national magazine for teens. I have always used writing as a means for self-expression so I naturally gravitated toward an English degree as an undergrad and then completed my MFA in Writing in grad school. After teaching for a long number of years, I began Feet to the Fire Writers' Workshops® as a passion project in my living room. Inspired by my father who had written many of his stories down before he died, I had a fondness for older adults and knew that those legacy stories should be captured before people are no longer alive. Everyone values family stories, but in our program, there is an added benefit of cognitive health (in exercising memory), social connectedness as writers share with their peers and loved ones, and a sense of purpose that inspires longevity.
What inspired you to found a company?
AB: My father was very inspiring as a small business owner, and I turned toward my passion—writing —to begin what I knew would be a valuable expressive program for older adults.
Where do you see storytelling, as it relates to aging care, headed in the near future?
AB: Storytelling and story sharing are the human connection points we all need to feel vital and purposeful as we age. When I started working with older adults, I noticed very quickly how eager they were to share long-held memories. Each story written is as complex as the person writing it, and this is especially important in person-centered care (both in congregate living and aging in place at home). People experience a sort of catharsis, clear autonomy, and eventual happiness at being able to recall their particular lives through expressive writing. There’s much evidence that writing is a healing pursuit; people can process not only positive experiences but also uncomfortable ones. Those who participate in Feet to the Fire explore all topics, and that experience gets further validation because people are doing so in a safe, nurturing group with other people who support and care for each other as friends.
Inspired by my father who had written many of his stories down before he died, I had a fondness for older adults and knew that those legacy stories should be captured before people are no longer alive.
What does success look like to Feet to the Fire Writers' Workshops® in the short term and long term?
AB: Success for Feet to the Fire Writers' Workshops® will depend on resources for growth and allowing the program to spread through the country and beyond. We currently serve hundreds of older adults in senior living communities in 10 states and piloted the program at the Centre for Aging Brain Health in Ontario last year. What's notable about the latter is through our pilot, we charted people's progress. The biggest thing that we saw was a 31% increase in people’s sense of purpose. Similarly, we saw a 30% increase in social connection and a 26% increase in feeling connected to the world around them. We know that the mental health benefits of expressive writing can directly correlate to social connection, longevity, and increased life purpose, all important to what is becoming the fastest-growing segment of our population. We have a vision to extend our program to be offered to benefit in other areas—social/emotional support for cancer patients (and survivors), rehab and addiction programs, mental health programs for teenagers—the list is endless for how our expressive writing program can help people in many ways.
Find out more about Feet to the Fire Writers' Workshops® at feettothefirewriters.com. Are you a startup based in or looking to relocate to Kentucky? Keyhorse’s current quarterly investment cycle is open! Apply now.