andi Rubenstein knew the house was just a house. But as she cleaned out the rooms in Newport Beach where she had raised 10 foster children, she found herself overwhelmed with memories — and wanting to preserve them.
A quick call to Keri Gee Semmelman fixed that.
Semmelman, a Huntington Beach resident, launched My Memory Catcher last fall to help people capture their favorite moments with spouses, children, pets and more. She and her team of interviewers, known as the happiness historians, talk to clients every two or three weeks and write down their cherished stories. When the process ends, My Memory Catcher presents clients with a memento of their choice — a journal, a picture frame, a storybook or a mock newspaper.
Rubenstein's order was taller than most, as she had Semmelman interview not only her but her 10 former foster kids. The collection of anecdotes is due this weekend, and Rubenstein, who sold her house last year, can't wait.
"We're getting other perspectives on the house," she said. "Everyone remembers something different, kind of like 'Rashomon.' It's wonderful that we'll be able to combine some of what everyone experienced there."
Fighting those blues
A longtime public relations consultant and motivational speaker, Semmelman had a serious motive when she started My Memory Catcher.
One day, she was listening to the news and heard a story about a husband and father who committed suicide after losing his job. According to the report, the man had a seemingly happy life and did charity work in his community, but felt despondent when he wasn't able to provide for his family.
A few hours later, Semmelman heard another news report on the radio about a man who had killed himself. Almost immediately, she called a business coach and pitched the idea for My Memory Catcher, which she had conceived a year before.
Semmelman has created books and picture frames for four clients and publicized her business through Facebook, Twitter and word of mouth. To build her team of happiness historians, she enlisted 10 communications consultants and community leaders whom she met throughout her career. Still, Semmelman ends up doing a lot of the interviewing herself, and she relishes it.
"What I get from this is, I get to be around a lot of people's happiness," she said. "I laugh and cry during almost every interview."
Service with a smile
So what's the key to being happy, according to Semmelman?
Mostly, it's focusing on the positive. During hard times, she said, people often lose sight of what they still have to be grateful for. And she hopes her products will allow clients to relive those good times.
"Happiness can't be bought on the shelf," she said. "Happiness is in each one of us, and we have to make a choice."
One of the reasons she came up with her mock-newspaper design was because she believes the media stresses negative news too much. If one of her clients opts for that format, Semmelman and her team lay out the joyful stories with headlines, newsy ledes and photos.
She knows that many people, like Rubenstein, don't have time to carefully write down their memories — or even to organize them before the next interview. So she provides a "happy hotline" that clients can call at any time.
Clients can choose to be interviewed from three months to a year, with prices ranging from $500 to $1,700. Semmelman's business coach, Susan Bock, said she expected the service to catch on.
"When Keri Gee first asked me to consider working with her, I did research and came across absolutely nothing that was like this," she said. "So not only did she have a novel idea, she had the initiative and the desire and the passion to turn it into reality."