BOOST turns 15 – celebrate with us!
As we near our 15-year anniversary, we are reminded of how much we value and appreciate our TEAMBOOST partners and want you to meet them. Learn more about our team members and their journeys through the in and out-of-school time field, their goals and aspirations, a few fun things about them, and some of the amazing things they are doing in their communities.
We will be featuring our BOOST Bloggers, Ambassadors, Leadership Team members, and Partners weekly through the end of the year to thank our wonderful team members for their contributions to our incredible community!
Meet BOOST Ambassador Dr. Sonia Toledo
Sonia is the Founder & CEO of Dignity of Children in Bronx, NY. She has been a BOOST Ambassador since 2019!
How did you enter the OST, expanded learning, and/or educational field?
When I was 14, I worked for the YMCA during the summer. I remember it so clearly. We took the kids to the pool, and I was just standing around looking at the chaos around me. I had no clue what I was doing. I didn’t know how to engage in anything or how to interact with kids. I just saw kids running and kids in the water and kids everywhere. And at some point, a little boy of about five fell into the pool. And he was really shaken up because he was pushed and I went in the pool, took him out, and sat him next to me on the side of the pool. And there we remained for the rest of the pool time. Now remember, back then there were no regulations, so, I sat there with him for a long time, I calmed him down and we talked and played and he got really calm. He got really attached to me, and I found my comfort zone by connecting with him. Later that day my supervisor came up to me and said that she was proud of what I had done, that I made a difference in that boy’s life, and that I was a natural. And something sparked inside me, something told me this was what I was born to do. I’ve never loved anything more than this.
What motivates you to do this work?
I consider myself an empath. I am just so connected to other people’s emotions. And all I’m thinking about is how our young people are navigating today’s world with so much adversity and suffering. So, what motivates me is knowing that through training educators and youth professionals, I can help young people cope with their pain and become their best selves by turning adversity into action. That’s what gets me up in the morning!
What are you currently reading or watching?
“Finding Me” by Viola Davis. A great storyteller, she talks about her triumph in overcoming poverty. It is just an amazing story – hilarious, heartfelt, nerve-wracking, and at times hard to believe.
“Coaching for Equity” by Elena Aguilar. This book helps us understand why we need to have conversations around Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at our schools and organizations. She speaks deeply about understanding our own biases in order to even get close to making a difference with our young people and begin transforming our schools.
Another amazing book that I’m reading is “The Myth of Normal” by Daniel and Gabor Maté. This is a must-read for those who want to understand the underlying mechanisms of trauma and why we have normalized people experiencing trauma in their childhood.
Oh, and I am currently watching Ted Lasso. I’ve heard so much about it, and I finally got to watch it and now I know why it’s being talked about – it covers so many important life issues with humor while revealing the truth.
Share some of your greatest accomplishments.
Personally, I have two amazing sons. They are both in their 30s and they are everything I have imagined them to be. Jovan, my oldest is a leader, a brilliant businessman, an amazing husband, and a world traveler. And Christopher, my youngest, is an artist, extremely caring and empathetic like his mother it is such a pleasure to be around him, and he is out there working to reduce the impact of climate change. He is also a compassionate and loving father of a baby girl Nora!
And professionally, first of all, I am a Doctor, I got my Ph.D. last year and it is a huge accomplishment for someone like me – a person with a learning disability. And second, I am proud to say that after years of hard work, I have officially launched a professional learning community platform for forward-thinking educators with the purpose of supporting them in creating a culture of 21st-century learning. I would love for you to check out our website and join our community at www.dignityofchildren.com.
What are some big goals you are working toward?
Professionally, I am working towards creating a global company and bringing partners, thought leaders, and experts from all over the world to contribute to our community. I want educators to have a place where they can get everything they need to inspire their youth to thrive. My goal is to transform education into one classroom, one educator at a time. And personally, I want to travel the world and have deep meaningful relationships with the people I love.
What are your top three leadership qualities?
First, constant self-reflection, striving towards an understanding of who I am in the face of adversity. Second, my ability to work collaboratively and provide continuous support to my team, showing them that we are in this together and it is not about me being the boss. We unite forces to make a difference and create a product we believe in, together. And third, authenticity. I know I am always being myself, especially with my employees. I let them see my mistakes and show that I am only human, far from perfect, like all of us.
Name a leader that you admire and why?
This may sound very cliché, but I’ll say it anyway – Oprah Winfrey. I love how she walks on this earth. It doesn’t matter what her accomplishments are, even though they are great. I just love how she presents herself – always here and very connected to spiritual living. I also have to name Brene Brown here because I absolutely love her work and I am 100% in that same direction. I love how she is designing her company and presenting her authentic self to the world through the work she does on emotional intelligence. I have so many, to be honest. I will give you one more here. Eleanor Roosevelt, I just love her story and the legacy she left behind, especially in youth development and women’s movement.
Share an inspirational quote that resonates with you.
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Eleonor Roosevelt.
This quote stayed with me ever since I first read it. It keeps reminding me that no one has the right to make me feel less than who I actually am. And I need to always remember that I get to choose my brilliance. No one else will choose it for me.
As a child, what were your career aspirations?
As a child, I always knew I would be a businesswoman. I don’t know how, but I knew I would have my own business even though I had no idea how I would do it. I also knew I would be a teacher. I always wanted to help people, to know that me being here made a difference.
What causes are you passionate about?
Developing our children holistically and giving them opportunities to express their brilliance. I believe that we are going to transform this world through our children. I can’t help but be passionate about this. I know, it sounds cliche but, I truly believe that our young people can change the future. I am also passionate about solving the issue of world hunger and poverty. I just don’t understand how much injustice there is in the world! And I am passionate about equality for women, of course. Basically, I am passionate about everything that has to do with humanity.
What is one of the highlights of your career?
Launching our virtual platform and creating IDEAS Empowered by Youth – a comprehensive educator training and youth development program that helps young people bring their ideas to life and present them to professionals and experts. I am proud to say that my team and I are creating an environment in which young people feel empowered and validated for their ideas. And I am planning to start working on my book, which will be my next highlight.
How do you show kindness to others and/or share ways others have shown kindness to you?
I am a good listener, and I am fully present when I’m with others. I allow people to express themselves when they’re with me. And through this, I build meaningful connections. I just love meeting people and hearing their stories.
What career legacy do you want to leave?
I hope that many educators around the world change their classrooms by using our platform. And I hope thousands of young people are inspired to make a difference in their communities and the world. I also hope to travel the world and talk about transforming education to inspire others to make a change!
What’s the biggest mistake you made on the job and what did you learn from it?
I made a whole lot of mistakes, especially in my business. I am still learning how to manage money and allocate resources. Every day I learn more and every day we’ve overcoming problems, but we are always coming out good on the other side, no matter what.
Tell us what you had for breakfast!
Coffee, some yogurt with fruit, and a slice of bread with avocado.
From all of us here at TEAMBOOST, thank you, Dr. Toledo, for being part of the BOOST Ambassador team and for sharing your story with us!