Each week, our Friday Feature will celebrate powerful women who share their magic with the world in unique and inspiring ways. This week, we chatted with Sonya and Tedi, the founders and force behind Sand Sisters, a youth empowerment 501(c)3 that’s transforming the way girls feel about themselves and each other.
FF: What made you happiest as a child?
Sonya: Three things come to mind immediately (besides buttered noodles). Art class, diving into huge waves and the feeling of safety snuggling with my mom.
Tedi: Going outside and laughing with friends. Nothing has changed.
What inspired you to start Sand Sisters?
Sonya: My sister, Tedi, started Sand Sisters in 2012. At that time, I was working in the music industry and spent 9 hours in a chair and 2 hours in my car commuting every day. I was young and eager, straight out of college, so foolishly I said "yes!" to every task. I never wanted to let anyone down. Three years in, I saw how my company was constantly reminding everyone we were "lucky" to be there. If you ever had a complaint they'd remind you how easy it would be to replace you. One day I looked around and thought, "I don't want to become any of these people." There wasn't anyone inspiring, there wasn't anyone I could relate to, there was only an inventory of employees --- not people. Stress and sitting all day was causing serious harm to my body and I was neglecting my desire to live happily. I had to make a change to better myself. In 2014, Tedi and I decided to go full throttle and develop Sand Sisters into a social emotional learning experience for girls, designed to empower children to lead and light our world, by starting with loving themselves first. We want the new generation of females to live a life of self-love and confidence without realizing people can go a lifetime without it.
Tedi: I was jumping from job to job and I finally asked myself, "What do you know/love?" From my background in education and my love for the ocean and children, Sand Sisters was born. I would describe it as an outdoor classroom where you can be yourself and connect with friends and nature. We teach life skills and character building. Those are the skills that help you get to where you want to go. If you aren't good at math there is a calculator, but you can't fake social skills or that you are a shitty person.
Is there a roadblock you had to overcome to get where you are today? How did you do it?
Sonya: My biggest battle is the one I have with myself. My thought pattern used to be: do everything perfectly for everyone else, and then get to Sonya. I did that so much that I became anxious, numb and sick. I suffered a major personal injury that left me unable to walk for months. Multiple doctors told me that I may lose sensation in my legs and vagina. I was terrified. I let this happen to my body by not taking care of myself first. For months, I just laid on my bedroom floor with my daily goal of walking to the corner. I felt pathetic, scared and defeated. When I was feeling better I went to a Kundalini yoga class. I felt like the teacher was speaking right to me and was hand delivering the answer to my prayers. She taught me about the mind body connection, the power of the breath and self-care routines. I now know my injury was sent to me for a reason. It was the universe telling me to slow down. It was the universe telling me to take care of my body. It brought me to Sand Sisters. It was what literally saved me.
Tedi: Life is hard. I don't think anyone would disagree with that. It is just perspective that helps get you through the tough times. We are a grassroots organization and we have single handedly built our community. We moved to LA not knowing anyone and we were resilient against the naysayers and the people that wanted to take from us. If you have your mission and your passion is behind your company, you will succeed. It might not happen overnight but it will happen. Stay the course, be honest, and have fun.
What does choosing yourself mean to you?
Sonya: The mind is very powerful. Choosing yourself means recognizing every gift that you possess. It's easy to beat yourself up for not eating healthy or having uneven ears, but on the contrary, it’s also easy to train yourself to celebrate what you have. Take for instance disliking a body part. You can either spend time creating negative energy saying, "I hate my feet. They are so big and ugly. The hair on my toes is embarrassing," or you can look at your feet and say, "Thank you. Thank you for carrying my body. For letting me run. For letting me stand tall. Thank you for literally letting me explore this earth."
Try it. When a negative thought about your physical body or self worth pops in your brain shut it down. Literally say, "Stop!" and then change how you view yourself. Once you make this a habit your negative thought pattern will turn into a positive pattern of gratitude. If you choose to speak kindly to yourself, it will be easy to make decisions on putting your own mind and body first.
Tedi: Since I turned 30, I have realized how much I mean to myself and other people. I value my time, my body and my voice. I have been open to change lately and with that I honor the people and work that serve me and realized who and what doesn't. Then I just stepped away. It doesn't need to be a huge fight or a conversation. I just stay on my path of self-love and I go that way. I choose happiness and quality over fake and plentiful. I choose me. I choose me in an unselfish way. I choose me in a way that I am a better person for the whole world if I am not sad or frustrated with a situation or a person. This allows me to give so much love and kindness to our Sand Sister girls. It allows me to go out in LA and be happy and smile at random people. It allows me to build on a mission that is so personal to me that I truly walk the walk day in and day out.
How do you practice self-love and care on a daily/weekly basis?
Sonya: Hot yoga and hiking heal my soul. I go to yoga and block out everything around me. I love Sweat Yoga in Santa Monica because you're encouraged to flow freely to the music. On my mat, I connect to every inch of my body. My ritual is to thank every part of my body for healing and keeping me strong. I breathe in my intention throughout the class and exhale any bullshit or self-doubt I am experiencing that week. I'm also a frequent hiker. I like to go alone and be with nature. I sit at the peak and meditate and thank the universe for my life. It calms me. It grounds me. And when I feel the sunshine hit my face and the wind blow against my back, I know the universe is listening.
Tedi: I think a huge self-love practice for me is to work out. I was just honored with a sponsorship to run the LA Marathon. This has changed my mindset and taught me to take on challenges that are beyond scary. At first, I had to get through all of the negative self-talk. I literally had to say, "SHUT UP TEDI! You can do this. You are a runner. You are strong. You are healthy and you will finish this." I have had so much support doing this. I have co-workers and friends come tell me that I inspire them and they want to try running. I have had people tell me that they love my work with Sand Sisters and they wish they had SSLA when they were young. Self-love opens up a door to heaven on earth. The happiest place for me is self-love land. Not to be confused with Disneyland.
What do you love most about yourself?
Sonya: I love my core value of loyalty that I possess with the people I love. I will be loyal to my loved ones always and forever. I keep my circle small and tight, but for those I trust I will celebrate their accomplishments, help in any way I can, go on wild road trips, send amazing snail mail and appreciate their love/friendship. It's the most refreshing thing to see women who lift each other up, instead of competing to bring one another down and I hope my strength of loyalty shows support to my community.
Tedi: I love that I can connect with any kind of person. I am open and trusting. I cry and am vulnerable. I care too much. I am a leader and I am humble. I am also proud of myself for making my dreams happen. I could just sit around and say "poor me" because I wasn't born into the right family or I wasn't given this or that. I just work. I make shit happen. I will never quit.
What is your message for our tribe?
Sonya: My message to our tribe is to celebrate yourself. You deserve to love yourself and be happy. If you struggle with self-doubt and self-worth, start by changing your everyday patterns with doing one thing for yourself or recognizing one strength you possess. Once you start embracing the good things about yourself, add on. Then once you are complete, find good people, good food, good music, etc. It's not hard unless you make it hard. My new motto in life is "one day or DAY ONE!" So get to it.
Tedi: BE KIND. BE UNIQUE. BE GRATEFUL. BE PRESENT. Everything good that has ever happened to me has happened because of those qualities. I walk my own walk. I wear mismatched clothes. I dance funny. I tear up when kids say they love me and it's all because I am kind, unique, grateful and present. I am in touch with what is going on with people and the earth. I am sensitive and I know these things about myself so I can navigate life better. Trust yourself and get to know yourself. You won't regret it.
Can you share a story about a girl you've worked with through Sand Sisters Los Angeles?
Sonya: My favorite thing about our Sand Sisters enrichment class is that we start each class with a journal entry centered around a positive word of the day. Usually during the first few classes girls don't want to stand up in front of the class and share personal things about themselves, but we encourage them to try. They always say they don't know what they're good at or what they love about themselves. By the end of the session the girls are eager and proud to read the qualities they celebrate about themselves. It is truly a gift to see them be confident and secure in what makes them a one-of-a-kind Sand Sister.
Tedi: Sand Sisters started with one girl and now we have met and worked with over 500 girls. The other day we went hiking and 2 girls showed up not really being friends and now they sit together at lunch and are BFF. Being outdoors and having some freedom lets our girls connect in a way they wouldn't in the classroom. They both found common ground in loving the same songs, nature, and dance. Everyone has a light that shines from within them. We are attracted to those people that are shining the same kind of light. Sometimes you need to be taken out of your regular habitat to find those kindred souls. Shine YOUR light. Self-love makes your light shine brighter. Good people with find you. I am available if you need me. :)
Finish these sentences:
Women should: always extend a helping hand.
Women can: be creative, intelligent, badass, sexy and funny all at the same time.
Women will: teach the world to coexist.
I am: evolving every day.
Women should: know they are valuable. They create life. That is everything. You are all a gift.
Women can: rule the world if we support one another.
Women will: always be who I run to when I need support, a hug, a laugh, advice, and unconditional love.
I am: proud to be me. I am proud to be a woman. I am proud to be an entrepreneur. I am proud to inspire youth and my community.
Connect with these magical women on Instagram @sandsistersla or by visiting their website www.sandsistersla.com.