Jennifer Feuerstein has been writing since she was a child. And while she always knew she wanted to one day write a book, for the longest time, she couldn't pinpoint exactly what she'd write about. As it turns out, some life experiences—ranging from tragic to triumphant—would eventually guide her vision.
Born and raised in Grand Rapids, Feuerstein studied broadcasting and cinematic arts with a minor in journalism, in hopes of becoming a broadcast journalist. Her career ambitions, however, were put on hold after getting married and starting a family. But what followed was far from a happy ending. Instead, Feuerstein faced a 10-year period of intense hardship; a time she says greatly shaped her outlook on life that included the loss of her cousin, grandmother, best friend and five pregnancies.
Shortly following, Feuerstein left a comfortable financial lifestyle and vocation as a stay-at-home mom as the result of a difficult divorce. She became a solo parent and sole provider to ensure her three young children—Tyler, Aidan and Ava—were given a more stable life. It wasn't easy, and Feuerstein had to start over with nothing. Through it all, with her children as her motivation, Feuerstein stood firm in her belief that she was capable of rebuilding her life.
"I clawed my way out of that pit because I knew I didn't want to stay there. I needed to find a job, but I hadn't really worked in 11 years," Feuerstein said, noting her attempt to dip her toes into her original area of study, but was told—at age 31—she was "too seasoned" to be on TV. "I ended up applying for a geriatric health care organization as a marketing and outreach coordinator. I had no idea what geriatrics really even meant, and I had no experience in marketing, but I was desperate."
Even with what Feuerstein calls a paper-thin resume and no industry experience, the job was hers. What she didn't know at the time is that moment was the catalyst of Feuerstein's journey in becoming a leader in gerontology and voice for older adults—who are often overlooked and stigmatized.
"I went to GRCC and became certified in aging so I could learn the lingo and ensure I was competent and knew what I was talking about," said Feuerstein, who also began freelance writing on the topic as an aging expert. "Then, I started participating in different councils, boards and networking events and became plugged in everywhere."
After only six years in the field, Feuerstein became Associate State Director for AARP—a position she's now held for nearly a decade. Ironically, though "more seasoned," she was given another shot to work on TV and is an on-air personality for ABC 4 West Michigan and WOOD-TV 8. Named among the 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan by the Grand Rapids Business Journal in 2022, Feuerstein has dedicated the past 15 years to being an influencer in aging and a staunch advocate.
"What I love about my work is the relationships I've built with the people I've met," she said, noting how no two days are the same. "I love hearing the stories of older adults and learning from them. They have such sage wisdom and hold such value. I also enjoy watching how people choose how to live as they grow older. When I see really vibrant, active older adults, it's inspirational because I want to be like them."
Feuerstein will soon be adding "author" to her resume with the release of her upcoming debut novel, Not Your Shoe Size, under the pen (and her soon-to-be-married) name, Jennifer DiVita. The coming-of-age story—and labor of love Feuerstein began writing in 2014 and completed during the pandemic—follows two life-long best friends who are at odds on whether to embrace their age or defy it, and all the ups and downs that come with trying to age well in an ageist society. It's a witty and poignant novel that speaks to every woman who realizes time is of the essence and has to decide how to bloom in every stage of life.
"There are so many non-fiction books about growing old, and yet I found none of them had captured aging in a fun narrative storytelling kind of way. So, I thought, 'I'm going to write it myself!'" Feuerstein said. "We want to be OK with wrinkles and gray hair but society says 'no' because we have all these intrinsically negative ideas associated with growing old. The story really represents the internal struggle and tug of war that every woman has with trying to love the skin she's in."
Feuerstein reflected on how the loss of her own lifelong best friend, Julie, who died unexpectedly at age 30 from health problems, affected her life and set the foundation for her novel.
"We were thick as thieves and as close as sisters can get without being sisters," Feuerstein recalled. "We grew up together, were college roommates; she was in my wedding and we were planning hers before she passed. This book is dedicated to her ... it really aligns with both of our personalities."
In addition to writing, community involvement is an immense passion of Feuerstein's, whether it's emceeing the Hope for Single Moms annual fundraiser, serving as Board Chair of Designed Future, working with the City of Grand Rapids to ensure age-friendly efforts are a priority or training to be a graduate of the FBI's Citizens Academy.
There's much Feuerstein is deeply proud of: the life she's built for herself and her family, the people her children have grown up to be ... And even when things don't go to plan, Feuerstein looks fondly and optimistically forward to the bright days ahead, which includes travel with her fiancé Brian and hopefully a place in Florida post-retirement where she can relax, host happy hours and write as much as she wants.
"Give me a piña colada, a book and some sand and I can be content for a week!"
Not Your Shoe Size is available via ebook and paperback on August 14 (what would be Julie's 50th birthday) through jenniferdivita.com and at your favorite local bookstore.
Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for West Michigan Woman.
This article originally appeared in the Aug/Sep '23 issue of West Michigan Woman.
Photo Courtesy of Kelly Braman Photography.