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West Bloomfield Native Starts Company to Help Families Stay Connected During Quarantine

January 27, 2021

When the pandemic kept Ashley Bloom Kenny from visiting her grandmother, she created Heirloom — a new way to share precious family videos

By Perry Haselden

Since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, almost everyone’s lives have been turned upside down. This global pandemic has cost people their jobs, affected the economy, and, maybe most heartbreakingly, kept us from spending time and sharing memories with the people we love the most.

Last July, Ashley Bloom Kenny’s 92-year-old grandmother, Fran Penskar, had been alone in her 540-square-foot West Bloomfield apartment for five straight months, having virtually no contact with the outside world. Kenny, a West Bloomfield native now living in Washington D.C., often called her grandmother to check in on her. One day in particular, Kenny called Penskar to tell her that her 1-year-old great-grandson had just started walking, but to Kenny’s surprise, she didn’t sound like her usual, upbeat self.

Frand and AshleyPhoto courtesy of Ashley Bloom Kenny

West Bloomfield Township native Ashley Bloom Kenny poses with her 92-year-old grandmother, Fran Penskar.

“My grandma shared how much she misses seeing family and friends and how sad she is to not be able to be with us for [my son’s] first birthday, “ says Kenny. “She told me she would give anything to be able to just see her great-grandsons and hear their little giggles and watch them play.”

The problem: Penskar has little interest in using the internet or a cell phone. Kenny says that without means to receive videos, her grandma misses out on sharing special moments and messages. “The physical separation…has only added to the feelings of isolation felt by many seniors today, “ says Kenny.

So she decided to do something to help. Kenny came up with the idea to take an old LCD-embedded video brochure she had laying around, load it with short videos of her sons and nephews and then send it in the mail to her grandmother. “When my grandma received the video book, she instantly called me and left me the most touching, emotional voicemail about how much seeing them meant to her,” says Kenny. “I shared her voicemail with my siblings and we dreamt of how wonderful it would be for everyone lonely right now to receive videos in the mail, and an idea was born.”

HeirloomVideoPhoto via @sendheirloom

This February, that idea will become a reality with the official launch of Heirloom, a slim booklet containing a 5-inch, diagonal LCD screen loaded with 10 minutes of home videos that play upon opening. Priced at $49 (free shipping within the U.S.) the booklet also has a built-in speaker and comes with a mini USB cable for recharging.  How it works: Simply download the Heirloom app, upload the videos you’d like to share, enter the recipient’s information, and then Heirloom will process and ship your order within 24-48 hours.

Kenny and her brother Zack Bloom, who now lives in Austin, Texas, designed the booklet and then partnered with manufacturers in the U.S. and overseas to bring their vision to life. For most people, the thought of going into business with a sibling is cringeworthy, but for Kenny and Bloom, it made perfect sense. As a journalist, Kenny — who’s worked for the Atlantic and National Geographic — knows firsthand the power of storytelling, while Bloom, a software engineer, has a talent for solving complex problems.

Since their soft launch this past November, Heirloom has already sold hundreds of video booklets. “We have been thrilled to see how the market has received the product and how impactful it’s been,” says Kenny.  “We hope others feel the joy and love our grandma felt when she received her first video book,” she adds. “Our goal is to make a difference in the lives of as many isolated seniors as possible.”

SEEN readers can receive 15% off of their first Heirloom order with code SEEN15off.

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