About Tonya

This author has not yet filled in any details.
So far Tonya has created 361 blog entries.

5 Action Steps To Prevent Youth Suicide

Suicide is a leading cause of death in youth ages 10 – 24. Each day in the United States, there are an average of over 3,041 suicide attempts made by young people in grades 9 – 12. These are staggering statistics that can be prevented.

Now, more than ever, it is vital that we address the ‘whole’ child, their social and emotional well-being and this learning begins at home. “Family life is our first school for emotional learning,” states Daniel Goleman, the author of the groundbreaking book Emotional Intelligence. Through family life “we learn how to feel about ourselves and how others will react to our feelings; how to think about these feelings and what choices we have in reacting; how to read and express hopes and fears.”

Social and emotional learning is a process which allows children to acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage their emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

Social and emotional learning is a powerful way to help children become healthy, caring, and competent.

If children learn to express emotions constructively and engage in caring and respectful relationships before and while they are in their lower elementary grades, they are more likely to avoid depression, violence, and other serious mental health problems as they grow older.

Here are the 5 key skills social-emotional learning develops:

Self-Awareness

Self-awareness involves understanding one’s own emotions, personal goals, and values. This includes accurately assessing one’s strengths and limitations, having positive mindsets, and possessing a well-grounded sense of self-efficacy and optimism. High levels of self-awareness require the ability to recognize how thoughts, feelings, and actions are interconnected.

Self-Management

Self-management requires skills and attitudes that facilitate the ability to regulate one’s own emotions and behaviors. This includes the ability to delay gratification, manage stress, control impulses, and persevere through challenges in order to achieve personal and educational goals.

Social Awareness

Social awareness involves the ability to understand, empathize, and feel compassion for those with different backgrounds or cultures. It also involves understanding social norms for behavior and recognizing family, school, and community resources and supports.

Relationship Skills

Relationship skills help students establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships, and to act in accordance with social norms. These skills involve communicating clearly, listening actively, cooperating, resisting inappropriate social pressure, negotiating conflict constructively, and seeking help when it is needed.

Responsible Decision Making

Responsible decision-making involves learning how to make constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across diverse settings. It requires the ability to consider ethical standards, safety concerns, accurate behavioral norms for risky behaviors, the health and well-being of self and others, and to make a realistic evaluation of various actions’ consequences.

Here are 5 ways you can strengthen your child’s social-emotional well-being:

1. Create a trusting, safe connection with your child.

Spend time with them and talk about anything that comes to their mind. Offering a safe space or time for children to talk to you assures them that you care. Ask children how they feel. When you ask how your child feels, the message is that feelings matter and you care. Then, stay open to listening without judgment so they know you are a safe space for them to express themselves. Acknowledging and exploring their feelings help children feel understood.

2. Give children choices and respect their wishes.

When children have an opportunity to make choices, they learn essential problem-solving skills. Giving children ways to express preferences and make decisions shows that their ideas and feelings matter. Rather than helping solve a challenge, offer encouragement and help them believe in themselves. Ask questions or make statements that allow your child to find their own answers. It can be as simple as ‘I wonder what you’ll do’ or “What do you think you can do in this situation?” Positive encouragement from a parent can go a long way in building your child’s self-esteem and sense of optimism.

3. Avoid humiliating or mocking your child.

This behavior can be damaging and lead to a lack of self-confidence and, in turn, problems with schoolwork, illness, and trouble getting along with friends. Unfair criticism and sarcasm also hurts the bond of trust between children and parents. Be mindful of how you speak to your children. Give them the room to make mistakes as they learn new skills.

4. Create a ‘kind identity”.

Ask children to reflect. If you notice them being empathetic towards another child who is upset, ask your child to talk about what they were feeling and why they behaved in the way that they did. Be sure to encourage this type of behavior by saying, “I liked how you were kind to Billy when he was feeling sad.”

5. Teach healthy ways to express, process and manage emotions.

There are many effective techniques and exercises. Find the ones that connect with you and your child. The goal is to help your child promote healthy expressions of their emotions.

Mindfulness exercises, such as guided breathing, stretching, and movement activities, can be extremely beneficial.

Reflective activities, like journaling or meditation, where children sit still while focusing on becoming aware of their surroundings and posture, can help them unpack their emotions and feelings.

Listening to music or creating art can help relieve stress and strengthen relaxation. Research shows the arts promote creativity, social development, personality adjustment, and self-worth. You can learn more about Free2Luv’s art empowerment programs, the Free2BeME Project here.

The goal of social-emotional learning is to help youth develop more positive attitudes toward themselves and others, enhance self-efficacy, confidence, persistence, empathy, and connection, and develop a strong sense of purpose.

It is vital for families, communities, and schools to work together to raise confident, empowered, and balanced children. It takes a village to minimize bullying and teen suicide and begins with each of us modeling kindness, acceptance, inclusion, and healthy emotional expression. Let us start today.

5 Action Steps To Prevent Youth Suicide 2018-06-22T01:28:03+00:00

PRIDE: Living My Best Life Without Fear

To me, pride means I MUST live my BEST life without FEAR of ANYTHING. It means I must conquer anything in my inner space that is keeping me from becoming my best self so I can ignore and outperform the haters every single time. It means early mornings and meditation when my eyes are heavy and an extra effort into my appearance, not for vanity’s sake but for pride of self. It means not only not stopping when I’m tired but pushing through that much harder. Because one day??? I WILL be able to have the huge impact I dream of because I’m putting in the work TODAY. PRIDE to me means being a great role model (even though I might swear in proper company), and making sure that NO ONE feels inferior. It means acknowledging that we ALL suffer in life and to never paint someone a villain for the sake of their actions.  Listen, louder than I speak.

Pride acknowledges a true love of self and the human soul. To have pride is to recognize that no one is superior nor inferior, we are simply here to love and live with our own individual journeys. It is to have the roar of a lion to defend those whose voice is not quite loud enough to be heard, and, to have the warm heart of a Golden Retriever to have empathy towards even the toughest of adversaries. There is so much to do and so much more I need to accomplish and better myself with and I know this…but I REFUSE to quit until I get there. I REFUSE to slow down until I know I can say I’ve done my best.  This is absolutely going to happen in our lifetime. THANK YOU SO MUCH FREE2LUV FOR ALL THAT YOU ARE DOING!!!!! #cantstopwontstop

We invite you to join Avi and help us support LGBTQ youth. Together we can change lives.

Contributed by composer/instrumentalist Avi Garvin @altruistmusicus

PRIDE: Living My Best Life Without Fear 2018-06-22T16:33:00+00:00

WE TELL OURSELVES STORIES TO LIVE

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live…” I remember reading that recently in The White Album by Joan Didion. Immediately my head went into a spiral. I’ve always proudly lived by the idea that stories are how we live. How we understand each other, and ourselves. Suddenly it was like the world had shifted its axis. Everything turned upside down. Yes, we tell ourselves stories to live – the kind of stories that make people want to love harder and be heroes – but we also tell ourselves lies {lies told so well, they can become stories} in order to live. Lies in order to be loved. Lies in order to feel accepted. Lies to feel like we belong.

This is probably one of the hardest stories I’ve had to write. In fact, it’s not even really a story. It’s more of a letter. I’ve grown accustomed to hiding behind characters and plot lines to speak my own truth, avoiding sharing first hand what I’m actually feeling.

Before I was comfortable in my own identity, I did A LOT of pretending. I told myself this narrative that being bisexual wasn’t real or was “wrong” and I told it to myself so well that I believed it. What I didn’t realize was how damaging pretending was. How this toxic story I was telling myself was dictating my life to the point where I realized one day the life I was living didn’t feel like mine. That is why I choose to label myself; although there are times I wish we could live in a label-less world, society isn’t there yet. I noticed the more I spoke out about my experiences, the more other people spoke out too. The more I identified as bisexual, the more other friends felt comfortable to share they too were. Or even felt safe to explore their sexuality. That is the power of honesty in stories. And building community. The LGBTQ community has finally given me the chance to feel like I belong.

As a storyteller, that is why I feel this immense responsibility to create stories with diverse, LGBTQ characters that are authentic. I was tired of never seeing a “girl next door” who was like me. I was tired of seeing stereotypical LGBTQ characters whose only purpose were the comedic relief or plot twist. We relate to the protagonists we see on screen. Imagine never seeing anyone else like you? No wonder so many kids think loving someone can be wrong. Or living their truth isn’t an option. We need representation in stories to connect. To navigate. And inspire.

My love for the arts & storytelling led me to discover Free2Luv. I started working with them as an advocate when I was directing my first short film. I wanted to work with Free2Luv to reach younger kids, who may be struggling with their identity. Or feel like there’s no place for them in the world. There is power to giving someone the tools to create and share their story. I appreciate so much how the outreach program within Free2Luv empowers youth through the arts.

This letter is mainly for anyone out there who wakes up every day thinking they will never come out. I was you. I know how painful that feeling is and how the “it gets better” seems so far away. Sometimes too far away. But it really does. This is for anyone who feels alone. You are not. There are amazing organizations like Free2Luv out there, ready to provide support and resources. Remember, you have the right to be happy. To live your life to the fullest, authentically. And to tell YOUR story. Happy Pride month!

We invite you to join Ella and help us support LGBTQ youth. Together we can change lives.

Contributed by Free2Luv Advocate, filmmaker and activist, Ella Lentini @ella_lentini

WE TELL OURSELVES STORIES TO LIVE 2018-06-20T19:04:54+00:00

Delicious Brew That Supports LGBTQ Initiatives

We’re brewing up some serious LUV with PEACE, coffee for a cause from our friends at Awareness Coffee. During the month of June, every time you purchase any bag of their delish brew, they will generously donate to support our LGBTQ outreach! So head on over, show your support and add ‘free2luv’ code for a special discount. Awareness Coffee shared their exquisite coffee with our UNSTOPPABLE event attendees and many reported back it was ‘the best coffee I’ve ever had!” We can’t think of a better endorsement and tastier way to support and empower LGBTQ youth.

Delicious Brew That Supports LGBTQ Initiatives 2018-06-04T19:30:50+00:00

5 Ways to Become an Ally for LGBTQ Youth

Now more than ever, it is critical that we support and ally for LGBTQ youth. Imagine feeling confused, isolated and not accepted for who you are and who you know you are supposed to be.

It’s already hard enough discovering who you are as a human being.

Here are some ways you can support LGBTQ youth along their journey:

  1. Listen to LGBTQ Youth.

Members of the LGBTQ community and youth especially are often not given the respect they deserve when it comes to being able to have their voices heard. This has to change. Be willing to listen to LGBTQ youth and pay close attention to what they are telling you, whether it is in person, or second hand via social media or the news. They know what they want, what their needs are, and how they are feeling more than anyone. Listen with compassion.

  1. Be a role model for kindness and inclusion.

It is essential that we model kindness and inclusion in our everyday life. Go out of your way to be kind to people and always see the worth and dignity in every person. Strive for justice, equity and compassion in human relations. Don’t get me wrong – it is not always an easy task – but something that we all need to work on because the world could always use more kindness.

  1. Show young people that they can be authentic around you.

Being a young person in today’s society is hard enough, add in the fact that you are “different,’ and it suddenly can become even harder than it already is; this is the case for our LGBTQ youth. They often feel that they have to act like something they are not around others because of the fear that they will not be accepted for who they are. Can you imagine the feeling of constantly wondering if it is okay to be yourself around another person or if you have to be someone else? In 2018 it is sad that LGBTQ youth still have to ask themselves this question almost every single day and as an adult and an ally, it is our job to make sure that they know they can always be themselves around us.

  1. Take action & advocate for the LGBTQ youth.

Work with LGBTQ youth to make their lives better. Help them write letters to senators, plan and lead youth-focused events and be the rock they need. Our job as adults is to give them the tools, resources, and support they need to have their voices heard. Today’s youth are fully capable of advocating for themselves when given the chance to do so. They may need assistance along the way and we need to be willing to do the work alongside them and not just do the job for them.

  1. Stay informed and get involved.

Take it upon yourself to educate yourself about the greater LGBTQ community, attend LGBTQ events and be present in times of need. Thank you for taking the first steps to becoming an ally for LGBTQ youth. The more people on the side of love and justice the better.

My hope is if we join together in support, one day we will be able to say that we live in a nation and hopefully a world where we are all treated with the love, dignity, and respect we deserve. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, “Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.” So let us all work together hand in hand and make it so.

We invited you to join us and support our LGBTQ youth empowerment initiatives. Together we can change lives.

Contributed by Free2Luv Advocate and LGBTQ Activist, Roddy Biggs @roddybiggs.official

5 Ways to Become an Ally for LGBTQ Youth 2018-06-20T19:07:40+00:00

WE STAND FOR ALL

Suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States among youth and young adults according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and over 20% of high school students report seriously considering ending their lives. These stats are both staggering and heartbreaking and motivate us daily in our commitment to supporting and uplifting youth.

We invite you to take a stand with us and let our youth know you care. Your generosity will help us continue our outreach enhancing the lives of at-risk youth free of charge!

We’re already making a big impact in 2018 and we’re just getting started! We launched UNSTOPPABLE in L.A., reached over 6,000 youth through our East Coast UNSTOPPABLE tour with The Change, been named a 2018 Top-Rated nonprofit and our Co-Founder, Tonya Sandis has been honored with a lifetime humanitarian award for her selfless service.

With your continued support, we are able to continue to change lives and we THANK YOU!

WE STAND FOR ALL 2018-05-10T23:36:00+00:00

BE BOLD. BE FIERCE. BE YOU. BE UNSTOPPABLE!

Free2Luv®’s day of empowerment, UNSTOPPABLE was a memorable and moving day filled with powerful storytelling through music, dance, film, and spoken word.

Festivities kicked off at The Regent DTLA as the red carpet was rolled out for celebrity and influencer guests along with teens and young women from The Teen Project and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles walked the red carpet.

Attendees creatively expressed themselves as they wrote and drew what being UNSTOPPABLE meant to them on banners that adorned the hall offering a moment of thought-provoking conversation.

Free2Luv’s Co-Founder, Tonya Sandis, was honored with The Goody Awards top honor, a lifetime achievement humanitarian award, for her selfless service and commitment to empowering and supporting youth who at times feel helpless, alone, and suicidal.

Sandis was presented the award with heartfelt words by Goody Awards Founder, Liz Kelly, and pop-rock artist, GabrieLa. In her acceptance speech, Sandis emphasized: “I am honored and humbled on behalf of the sheroes and the heroes that we hold hands with every year to uplift and empower young people, who sometimes are struggling with their sexuality or are being bullied.”

Five diverse vocal powerhouses, thought-provoking spoken word poetry, beautiful dance interpretative and a powerful short film wove a beautiful story taking the audience on a journey of self-discovery. From self-doubt to self-love, artists shared their hearts and stories from coming out to rising up to be free to love who they choose. The diverse styles and talent brought to the stage uplifted and engaged the audience with powerful numbers.

Spoken word artist, LoveSea shared her heart with impactful and relatable poetry:  I’m ready for the bullets that are gonna be shot at us, plus much more … And if we can’t get it right for this generation, we can lead by example for the next.”

NBC’s The Voice, Stephanie Rice, shared her story and journey of coming out and dedicated her beautiful and moving song ‘Cold Water’ to anyone going through a rough time who may feel they need to be rescued.

Pop-rock artist, GabrieLa had the audience on their feet singing and dancing along to the Free2Luv anthem with lyrics inviting everyone to ‘break the chains of hate’ and allow love to save the day.

Actress Bianca Kajlich brought the audience on a visual journey as she invited the audience to close their eyes and envision a world where we are all one. She shared a profound, personal poem titled ‘All of Me’ “What would it feel like to bare it all and stand in the center of my most cringe-worthy truths but instead of apologizing, I loved them more than I loved anything remotely resembling approval.”

Free2Luv also unveiled UNSTOPPABLE, the short film, a collaboration with actress and filmmaker Ella Lentini and team.

This short featured 50 diverse women from many walks of life reciting empowering verses sharing what makes them strong, unique, and unstoppable. Here’s an excerpt: “We don’t need to look far to find a “they” / they are the voices of doubt that hit us like a rolling fog / the voices that have drowned out our own, making us feel / less than / nonexistent / The you’ll never be this or that your too skinny, too fat / The you’ll never fit in’s / The voice that reminds you, you’re dreaming too big / for a girl living in a world / that was long ago rigged / against you. /

UNSTOPPABLE was hosted by Stephanie Gonzalez (Reporter and “Houston Life TV” Producer) and included powerful performances by actress Laya DeLeon Hayes (voice of Disney’s Doc McStuffins), Britten Healey (“Teens Wanna Know”), Actress/Singer/Songwriter Serena Laurel (pictured below), and dancers from Dance Creations (pictured above).

Kelly reported, “Everyone left UNSTOPPABLE dedicated to spreading more love and kindness in the world. Free2Luv believes that if every girl felt supported, embraced, and empowered to rock her authentic self, we can change the world, together.”

One attendee shared her experience: “With great pleasure, I have to share… I had the best time ever, at the free2luv “Unstoppable Event!” The experience was very moving. I left feeling extremely moved, loved, and inspired. You couldn’t walk out of there and keep all of that to yourself. I want to continue to be a part of making a difference in the world, showing others that love is and should always be more contagious than hate. I want children as well as other adults to know, that they should feel great about being free to be who they are, without judgment or apology. We are all a masterpiece in our own unique way, and should continue to rise up together spreading the light of life & love to everyone surrounding us! Tonya Sandis, thanks for sharing your dream through this production, with all of us. Hopefully, you will get the opportunity to make it a traveling production to share with the rest of the world. It should not stop here.”

The UNSTOPPABLE event was produced as a benefit to support Free2Luv’s art and music outreach and programming they provide year-round free of charge to underserved youth nationally.

Photos by Celeste Holmes Photography and Paper Trail Photos

BE BOLD. BE FIERCE. BE YOU. BE UNSTOPPABLE! 2018-03-18T20:04:49+00:00

TEENPLICITY: BEHIND THE SCENES WITH UNSTOPPABLE TALENT

Teenplicity recently interviewed the talent behind Free2Luv’s UNSTOPPABLE empowerment event in a two part feature. Find out these talented, young women’s take on self-love, how they uplift themselves when they’re feeling down, the women who inspire them, what makes them UNSTOPPABLE and much more!

PART 1  features actress Laya DeLeon Hayes, reporter/producer and UNSTOPPABLE host, Stephanie Gonzalez and spoken word artist, LoveSea

PART 2 features vocalists GabrieLa, Serena Laurel, and Britten Healey

TEENPLICITY: BEHIND THE SCENES WITH UNSTOPPABLE TALENT 2018-03-22T16:31:03+00:00

UNSTOPPABLE: DAY OF EMPOWERMENT

Free2Luv’s Music Driven Production Raising Self-Esteem for Underserved Girls in DTLA

Award-winning youth empowerment nonprofit, Free2Luv® is bringing their girl-empowering music-driven production UNSTOPPABLE to Los Angeles on March 10th, 2018 to raise self-esteem and benefit underserved girls. Their thought-provoking show and red carpet event will unite artists in all genres as they ignite the stage sharing a story of growth and self-awareness through music, film, dance, and spoken word. UNSTOPPABLE will take youth on a full circle journey from the depths of low self-image to the celebration of self-love. Proceeds raised from UNSTOPPABLE will benefit Free2Luv’s music and art empowerment initiatives designed to create a kinder, braver, a more loving world for underserved youth. UNSTOPPABLE will be staged at The Regent DTLA, 448 S Main St. Los Angeles, CA 90013. Sponsor an underserved teen or reserve your space  today.

Research shows 47% of girls are being held back by low self-esteem. Girls, more often than boys, are the target of social, relational and cyberbullying, which has more damaging effects than physical bullying. Free2Luv believes that in a world where every girl feels supported, embraced, and empowered to rock her authentic self these percentages will change dramatically.

Highlights on this day of girl empowerment will be performances by NBC’s The Voice Stephanie Rice and Ddendyl Hoyt and pop-rock star GabrieLa, Rules of Engagement and Undateable recurring star Bianca Kajlich, the voice of Disney’s Doc McStuffins Laya DeLeon Hayes, and many more. Alaska Airlines is providing two round-trip tickets worldwide for auction, Studio Unbiased is creating designer fashion for bidding, and the red carpet will be rolled out for expected celebrities supporting UNSTOPPABLE.

“We are very excited to be producing UNSTOPPABLE with an amazing group of talented young women and look forward to creating a life-changing experience for underserved girls and teens. This event will be moving and inspirational, and we’ll be rolling out the red carpet for a VIP experience for youth who may seldom have an opportunity to experience this type of production. We view UNSTOPPABLE as more than an event – it’s a movement. Music and the arts offer a universal language that enables us to see the world and the human condition differently. They allow us to heal and to see a truth we might not have understood before. We know the transformational effect the arts have on children; it boosts their confidence and empowers them to communicate and express sensitive issues,” says Tonya Sandis, Co-Founder of Free2Luv.

Find Your Voice

Rice, a pop-rock singer-musician who recently found international acclaim on Season 12 of NBC’s The Voice, shares her compelling story of resilience through emotional and persuasive performances, offering listeners a source of inspiration and hope. “As a kid – I could never imagine a reality where my life could be lived out loud. I love giving visibility to young girls so they can see what their life could look like one day – full of love. Free to love. We all need someone at some point in our lives to speak for us when we cannot. I aim to empower the youth of today by giving them a voice,” says Rice.

“I’m excited to be taking a stand against hatred, and ignorance and join together to say that being yourself and being unique is perfectly ok, even when society says otherwise. It’s so important to let our kids and teens and young adults know that no one is alone, and whatever their journey might be, there are always people who understand what they are going through and that they are loved, accepted and beautiful souls,” says Hoyt.

Feel Empowered

“Women supporting each other is SO very important, and by doing so, we can empower each other. Standing together can make a huge impact in our fight for respect and equality. I feel it’s all of our jobs to be there for girls of all ages and to set that example while letting them know how much they rock and how awesome they truly are,” says GabrieLa.

UNSTOPPABLE is made possible by the generosity of Free2Luv sponsors including MRC Studios (Ozark and House of Cards) and Spaceland Presents (The Regent DTLA).

UNSTOPPABLE: DAY OF EMPOWERMENT 2018-03-12T21:37:40+00:00
Load More Posts