A Conversation with Tedi and Sonya Serge of the Sand Sisters girls program
Interview by Jeremy Lux, article by Eric Gasa
Tedi and Sonya Serge are two women on a mission to make every girl feel seen, valued, and heard. Their nonprofit program, Sand Sisters helps little girls become powerful, confident women from the waves of Los Angeles to the boardrooms of corporate America and everywhere else in between. For the Life in Motion podcast, Jeremy Lux discusses the sisters’ story of entrepreneurship, adventure, womanhood, and their journey building the next generation of female leaders.
To quote the Serge sisters themselves, Tedi and Sonya are the yin to each other’s yang. Tedi, the eldest one is the self-styled surfer and risk-taker, while Sonya is known as the rugged mountain girl. Their different facets work very well.
Together they are good friends, adventurers, and business partners. Their program, Sand Sisters was founded in 2012 and started as a beach camp for girls. As two women who loved the mountains, oceans, and sky, the Serge sisters knew a thing or two about the esteem-building remedies of being outside. When bringing up girls there’s a lot that goes into building up courage. Everyone is different but sometimes all is takes is a surfboard and some waves.
“We could just see how much confidence the girls were gaining by taking a risk and just getting on the board,” says Sonya.
It’s a humble start that can have a profoundly positive impact. When the young girls take on the big, sometimes scary ocean, they’re all grins. Tedi and Sonya can’t help smiling too.
The Serge sisters are people with a servant’s heart. In fact, Tedi and Sonya come from a long line of nurses, doctors, police officers, public defenders, and teachers.
Tedi originally wanted to be a teacher. She even had the degree and everything but something about it just didn’t sit well with her.
“Caging kids in and making them sit down for eight hours a day wasn't my forte. So, after student teaching, I was like, I can't do this,” she says.
“I thought about how I could use my degree and be happy doing this? That’s when I thought well, I love the ocean, I love kids, and I love to teach. So that’s when the brainstorming started.”
Tedi wanted to take a break from the norm. She credits the endless sources of inspiration in LA, a town she says is full of dreamers, scrappers, entrepreneurs, and celebrities trying to make their mark on the world. She decided to follow suit with the trailblazers.
“It was my dream,” Tedi continues. “Why would I build someone else’s dream when I can build my own with my sister, enjoy our lives, and call the shots?”
What Tedi and Sonya created was a 10-week program based on social emotional learning practices for girls. The results speak for themselves.
While Tedi was a nanny for a client she watched a young girl named Maya who didn’t have friends, disliked school, and had low self-esteem. To get her out of the house, Tedi began taking Maya to the beach, something that Maya’s mother wouldn’t do because she hated sand and didn’t have the time. Tedi noticed Maya slowly open-up and feel comfortable in her own skin with the added attention.
“The first basic version of Sand Sisters was pretty much going to the beach for four hours at a time,” she says.
Soon Tedi convinced Maya’s school to take her entire class out to the beach.
Maya, now 15, is class president of her school and member of the swim team. The little girl who hated school is now a model student and happy young woman. Tedi couldn’t be prouder.
Sonya on the other hand came to her realization from less friendly conclusions; the trenches of corporate America.
“I was working in a job where everyone told you how easy it is to replace you,” she says plainly. “As a young professional I didn’t know how to set boundaries to just say no. I just didn’t have the confidence.”
Sonya had her aha moment after spending a late morning at the beach with Tedi and the girls.
“When I got into work I looked around and thought, ‘I don’t want to become any one of these people around me,’” she says.
Sonya quit her job and took a leap of faith with her sister to do the program fulltime. What became of their dream is now the successful Sand Sisters program.
So far, the Sand Sister have worked with 800 girls, ages 6 to 12 in classes of 25. Sonya explains that these ages are vital in the confidence gap of female children. By the time a girl turns 8, her self esteem may decrease by 30 percent, Sonya says. This is exacerbated by hormones, changing bodies, and preteen social pressures.
“You’re self-aware at this age. You’re not playing with My Little Pony anymore,” adds Tedi, “You’re noticing yourself and others. The girls that lose that 30% of their self-esteem during this period may never get it back.”
She continues to explain how this confidence gap continues into adulthood. Soon entire generations of women are playing catch up and finally learning how to truly take care of themselves emotionally much later in their lives. It’s a cycle that the Sand Sisters want to break with their own girls.
Any mighty oak tree once started with a carefully planted seed. That’s the way the Serges look at bringing up children.
“If anyone wants to connect with a young girl or boy, just show up for them and give them their time,” says Sonya. “That’s really all children want; to be seen and to be valued.”
“So just treat them as equals, connect with them, and be accountable?” says Jeremy.
“Yep,” Tedi responds.
“I mean isn’t that how you make friends and keep them in all aspects of your life?”
She couldn’t have said it better herself.
For more info and updates on the Sand Sisters check them out at www.sandsistersla.com or on their Instagram @sandsistersla. As for the rest of their interview you can always listen to the Life in Motion podcast with Jeremy Lux on iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play, which is highly recommended. The Serge sisters’ incredible story is bigger than any 1,000-word interview.