Sonya & Tedi Serge: “You’re going to want to quit”

You’re going to want to quit. Entrepreneurship is hard. Being of service to other people is harder. No one knows about the hours you put into helping others and most of the time you don’t get a thank you. Everytime Tedi and I wanted to throw in the towel, we pushed through. We pushed through […]

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You’re going to want to quit. Entrepreneurship is hard. Being of service to other people is harder. No one knows about the hours you put into helping others and most of the time you don’t get a thank you. Everytime Tedi and I wanted to throw in the towel, we pushed through. We pushed through because we would think about the girls we were helping and something good always came out on the other side.

As part of my series about companies and organizations making an important social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sonya Serge and Tedi Serge, Co-founders of Girl Powerful®.

Sand Sisters Los Angeles’ Girl Powerful™ program is a youth empowerment 501(c)3, co-founded by sisters Tedi and Sonya Serge, designed to give female youth the tools to build a strong sense of self. Their mission is to make all girls feel seen, valued and heard.™ Their Girl Powerful philosophy & mental health curriculum is based on socio-emotional learning (SEL) and is endorsed by L. Edmondson Ed. D.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Do you remember the first person outside of the home to really see you? Maybe it was a teacher, a coach, or a friend’s mother. These people are the ones who help shape who we are as we step out our front door and start to be independent. Throughout both of our lives, Tedi and I have had strong female mentors who helped us build self-esteem and shine a light on our strongest capabilities. In moments of self-doubt and unknowing, we sought the guidance and love of our mentors because they made us feel seen, valued and heard. Tedi and I have always been teachers and nurturers, so it’s no surprise we’ve turned our passion into a career of helping others.

Girl Powerful came to fruition from a very personal place. As an educator, Tedi worked in a private school that emphasized social and emotional learning (SEL). It was from these teachings that she passed them on to me as I was struggling with navigating my mental health in a toxic work environment. Along with yoga and SEL, I began to heal myself — journaling, practicing self-love, setting boundaries, etc. The tools I learned are instruments that every girl needs to have to prevent themselves from spiraling into a dark and unhealthy place. In 2014, Tedi and I knew we needed to teach girls how to have self-worth and believe in themselves, so we wrote our own curriculum for tweens ages 8–14, giving girls tools to spark their inner confidence. Now, girls across the country have access to Girl Powerful tools to use in their everyday lives, which gives them mental health and communication tools to develop into balanced and thriving adults.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

At Girl Powerful we have the honor and opportunity to watch girls grow and develop into beautiful human beings with open hearts, determination and self-worth. We have mentored over 2,000 girls in our program since 2014, but there’s a handful of girls we’ve known since they were in elementary school and are now graduating high school as senior class presidents, captain of the volleyball team and landing main roles in musical theatre. To watch their journey unfold before our eyes is unbelievably rewarding. This isn’t one interesting story, but a compilation of big and small moments shared with girls that we connect with. Our empathy allows girls to feel safe with us. Together we share and become tender hearted. That’s the beauty in providing girls with mental health tools, we have conversations around topics that are usually kept quiet, and those conversations bond us for life.

The most exciting thing to happen to our organization would be actor Chris Evans tweeting our fundraising campaign. He called us, “community leaders in real life” and it gave Girl Powerful the exposure to reach thousands of people across the United States.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

As entrepreneurs most mistakes are only funny after the fact because there is so much at stake. The “funniest” mistake we made first starting out was trusting that a handshake meant something. We had multiple people reach out to us wanting to work together. Some took our money and never delivered a product, some took pictures and never sent them over, some agreed to volunteer and never showed up. It doesn’t feel good to be ghosted in the dating world, but because we live by our own core values, we never expected to be ghosted by women our age in the female empowerment space! Our first year was a major learning period where we learned to do our own due diligence when deciding to work with people and organizations.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Girl Powerful gives tween girls, ages 8–14, social and emotional learning tools to build self-esteem and practice self-love starting at an age where their self-esteem usually decreases by 30% due to puberty and self-awareness. Girls constantly worry about what other people think, how they look, their performance on a sports team or play, social media “likes” and followers, being the perfect student, pleasing others, etc. Because we are a grassroots nonprofit and our feet are on the ground in schools, community centers and virtual classrooms, we see firsthand how girls would rather tear themselves apart for not being good enough instead of celebrating their strengths. Our mission is to change that perspective and spark every girls’ inner confidence by providing mental health tools to build a strong sense of self.

If you lined up a group of girls in a room you would be able to tell which girls have been in Girl Powerful by how they carry themselves and communicate. Not only are they going to live their entire lives practicing self-love, self-care, and showing empathy towards others, they will lead by example and teach others through their own actions to be confident and love yourselves, breaking the detrimental cycle of low self-worth, depression and isolation that so many American teen girls face.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

One of our board members has significantly impacted the course of Girl Powerful. As a lawyer she is unable to create something like Girl Powerful, but she knows her donations and time with us allows us to do the work she can’t do. Money moves mountains and her donations have allowed us to sponsor girls, create a new website, and print journals which has a positive ripple effect into the community. Even though we are mentors ourselves, it’s important to us that we still feel seen, valued and heard by our own peers and have their support. This individual has graciously reached down and raised us up without wanting anything in return.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

  1. Educate Girls: If communities ensure that underserved girls around the country are being educated there will be positive long term effects such as increased literacy, economic growth, political representation, pay equality, poverty reduction, safe sex, and reduced human trafficking.
  2. Provide Accessible Mental Health Services: Normalize conversations around mental health by helping organizations like Girl Powerful reach more people. Support by sharing resources, sponsoring girls, getting your corporation involved, buying Girl Powerful Journals and card decks, etc.
  3. Support Grassroots Initiatives: Grassroots nonprofits are led by people with passion and purpose. They make the most immediate impact on their population because they are face-to-face with the issue at hand. If you’d like to support a nonprofit, look into grassroots initiatives in your own neighborhood.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is leading a group of people through your actions, not your words. We have a “Leadership” page in our Girl Powerful Journal and we discuss with the girls that you can talk a big game, but people are watching how you act in order to feel inspired to start changing their own behavior. A leader is someone who stands up for themselves, others, animals and the environment. The most important lesson is that there are so many ways to lead, it doesn’t have to be from behind a microphone or television screen. A confident parent can lead their daughter, a loving human can lead by taking care of rescue animals, a teacher can lead by teaching children to protect the environment. There are a million right ways to be a leader, just make sure you’re doing one.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. When you first start not everyone will support you. If you are determined and fired up about your mission you have to put your blinders on and have tunnel vision. When you become successful those same people will say “I always believed in you.”
  2. You’re going to want to quit. Entrepreneurship is hard. Being of service to other people is harder. No one knows about the hours you put into helping others and most of the time you don’t get a thank you. Everytime Tedi and I wanted to throw in the towel, we pushed through. We pushed through because we would think about the girls we were helping and something good always came out on the other side.
  3. Know how to check-in with yourself. We practice what we preach and you certainly can’t pour from an empty cup. Take time to give yourself proper nourishment and relaxation.
  4. Be real with yourself. Missions, ideas and goals change. The business you started on day one is going to evolve into something totally different 5 years later. Allow your work to ebb and flow. If you realize you’re not getting the result you want, it’s okay to make changes.
  5. Create an authentic relationship with your community. Build and collaborate with like-minded individuals and organizations. Stay united and help each other. When people offer to help say yes. Life is so much better with a support system.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Girl Powerful is a movement in itself. It was created to help girls find the power within to be proud of who they are. If every girl celebrated her capabilities, loved her body, led her community, and helped other girls do the same, then the world would be a much brighter place.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

At Girl Powerful the first thing we do is identify our core values and then create I Am mantras. Learning to turn negative self-talk to positive self-talk through I Am mantras has been the biggest life lesson for us and the girls. We teach them that when they are experiencing self-doubt, anxiety or stress they can calm the mind with soothing I Am mantras. Our favorites are I am calm, I know love, I feel confident, I deserve respect and I see peace.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Michelle Obama 100%. She’s a straight shooter like us. Everytime she gives a speech we get goosebumps and have always respected her work as a champion for children’s health. Selena Gomez because she has told the truth in her mental health journey and opened up when most stars are kept silent to be perceived as perfect. She has a lot of courage to normalize conversations around mental health.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Follow us on IG @girlpowerfulproject and TikTok @girlpowerfulproject. Shop our Girl Powerful Journals and Mirror Card Deck at #girlpowerful

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