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Sonali Perera Bridges is Helping Sheroes Rise

Sonali Perera Bridges is an award-winning, dynamic, innovative leader with over 20 years of progressive experience in a wide breadth of educational settings. A lifelong mentor and advocate, particularly for young women, she's the mother of two vibrant young girls and the driving force behind Shero's Rise. The non-profit organization is dedicated to providing young girls and women from underserved communities with the essential skills, experiences, tools and support needed to become empowered agents of change in their world.

Listen to our complete interview here.


[00:00:57] The one thing she’s most passionate about

[00:02:08] Her childhood and growing up wanting to be of service to other people

[00:04:34] Bridges Educational Consulting and why she started the business

[00:11:53] What inspired Shero's Rise

[00:23:15] How her daughters and their friends contributed to the creation of Shero's Rise

[00:29:34] Who Shero's Rise serves

[00:35:00] Her dream for the girls who go through the program




Passionistas: Hi, and welcome to the Passionistas Project Podcast, where we talk with women who are following their passions to inspire you to do the same.

We're Amy and Nancy Harrington. And today we're talking with Sonali Perera Bridges, an award-winning , dynamic, innovative leader with over 20 years of progressive experience in a wide breadth of educational settings. A lifelong mentor and advocate, particularly for young women, she's the mother of two vibrant young girls and the driving force behind Shero's Rise. The non-profit organization is dedicated to providing young girls and women from underserved communities with the essential skills, experiences, tools and support needed to become empowered agents of change in their world.

So please welcome to the show. Sonali Perera Bridges.

Sonali: Thank you. Thank you for having me and what a great introduction. I wasn't expecting all of that. Goodness, you started my morning off great. I appreciate it.

Passionistas: Well, we're so excited to have you here. We others fascinated by Shero's Rise and by your story. So we can't wait to share it with everyone. What is the one thing you're most passionate about?

Sonali: Gosh, that's a lot, but I think what I'm most passionate about is being a service to us. I felt that way even as a young girl. I was like, I'm going to be a psychology major because I want to help one person. Psychology wasn't for me, because I'm not a science and math person in any regard, but I have always been given the opportunity to be of service.

That's what was modeled for me when I was growing up is always being helpful and, um, servicing. To me, the rent you pay on this planet. I'm also passionate about girls and girls education. I'm a product of a woman's college. I worked at girls schools. I've worked at women's colleges and I'm a teacher at heart that's who I am.

The words counselor and teacher are what I hold nearest, dearest to my heart and working with youth is really what I care about.

Passionistas: Let's talk about that for a second. What do you think it was about your childhood and the way you grew up that inspired you at such an early age to want to be of service to other people?

Sonali: To go backwards a little bit. I'm an immigrant, right? So I am the low income first generation student of color. Um, that's me. That's the background that I come from. We came to this country when we were five years old. I'm originally from Sri Lanka. We lived in a one bedroom apartment and it was the four of us. And we didn't have very much, but one of the things that I watched my parents do is to be a service to others, whether it was dropping off a casserole or visiting a sick friend r volunteering at church. It was something that was always a part of our lives.

Even to this day, my parents host college students at their house. If they need a place to go for Thanksgiving, it, our house has always been a place where. Um, you open up the doors and let others come in. And even as I grew up and I, I was lucky, I went to Mount St. Mary's University. That service is again, a part of, of who we are. You give back and you serve the community. And in all of the work that I've done, um, I've been in the route of college admissions. That's that? That's my background. I've taught. Um, I've done a lot of different things, but I've always chosen institution that provide for low income underrepresented students, because that's me, even as I grew in, in the field of education and the higher up I went, I always made sure that I came back to the San Fernando valley and recruited students and showed up at events. Because again, I'm serving the people that supported me. It was this community that supported me.

I've been blessed to have mentors in my life. Who've invested in me and parents. Who've shown me the importance of service and being kind. I can't tell you the amount of lectures I've had in my life about the importance of that. And it's also what I pass along to my children as well. You can be great at something, but if you're not kind to people and you can't help someone, you're not doing good in this world, you know, that's how I measure success.

Passionistas: Tell us about Bridges Educational Consulting and why you started that business.

Sonali: When I started with Bridges, I was still working at colleges and I kept going up and up and up the food chain. Right. So I went from being an admission counselor to the director of admission. Then I went and was the Dean of Students for 36,000 students at a large university. Became up the enrollment channel that the higher I went, the more time I was spending in meetings, making decisions about students, then I was actually meeting with students.

And so Bridges started literally because I wanted and I was doing it for free. You know, I was trying to find ways to connect with students and understand where they were coming from, because I couldn't make good decisions. Um, uh, the, the chain of, of higher education without getting to know the students.

And I couldn't spend all of my time in meetings. And so I did this on the side, on Saturday afternoons. I would, I would see students and I would do it for free. And then I started charging $25 because someone was like, you should charge somebody. I'm like who, who charges for college admissions? It's a big business now.

Right. But back in the day, um, it was literally the reason and intention behind it was so I could get to know what students were dealing with so I could make good decisions for them. I've always been, um, had a student centered model inside of me. And so it's whatever is in the best interest of students is what I care about pushing forth. And I can't make good policy decisions for a university if I'm not in touch with students. And so that's how bridge has started was literally because of that. And, um, a few years ago, as I became a mom, it was taking up a lot of my time working in education, especially when I was a Dean of students.

And over 36,000 students, I left my house at six in the morning, and sometimes I would walk in the door at eight o'clock at night and still be responding to phone calls and. It was just part of the job, but it was unfair to my kids and I didn't get to spend time with them and be a part of that in the way that I really wanted to, I could spend time doing things for other people's children and, and students, but it couldn't do it for my own and it just didn't feel right.

And so I happened to be married to the most gracious, wonderful partner on the planet, this wonderful, amazing man who I give most of his credit to, because. I wanted to do this full time. And I really believe that if you're going to do something, you can't have one foot in one place and one foot in another, but it was a really big chance.

So we sold our house. We are renting a townhouse that what you see as my own. Which is at the top of my staircase. Um, it's enough Carter. This is where she rolls her eyes. And Bridges happens is in this neck, in my house. And he said, you know, if this is really what you want to do, then spend the time doing it.

Um, and we'll live within our means in order to make that happen. And it was an adventure. It was hard. It was really, really hard to make that sacrifice, but we talked to our kids about it and we were like, this is what we want to do. Do you want to choose this or do you want to choose this? Right? Like we left the option to.

And, um, they decided that they would rather share a room and be able to help other people. And they made that decision when they were like five and eight years old. And so that in itself makes me proud, get me teary-eyed because, you know, clearly I did something good, um, in, in helping them understand that at an early age.

And so. Sheros is really, uh, the subset of Bridges because when I was able to focus on doing what I love, which is meeting one-on-one with students and helping them in their transition in the most chaotic college admissions process. There can be, especially now, especially after COVID and especially after the college admission scandal, there was a need for good ethical people who were doing the right work.

And I'll never forget the day that the college admission scandal. Everyone went to our national associations website. And I was the first recipient of the national association for college admission counseling. We call it NAC act. Um, I was the first recipient of their Rising Star Award many, many years ago.

So I had been featured on the bottom of the page as the independent counsel. The college and high school side rotates, but I've always been there for years now. Um, I don't ever want them to change it, but I'm grateful for it. And so when the admission scandal hit, everybody started calling me and my phone started ringing at 5: 30 in the morning and didn't stop for like two weeks straight.

And people were like, we want to know what you do. Is it. I have an ethical process. I don't put undue influence. I work in partnership with high school counselors. My families have to tell their school that they're working with me because I work in collaboration. That was unheard of. Right. It's still unheard of where it's like, you know, college counselors are dirty little secret.

No, I don't work that way. I work from a very ethical perspective of helping a student and I believe in really building that partnership with the school so we can best help this. And so all of my clients are referrals and most of them are referrals from high schools, themselves, high school counselors themselves, because they know I work in partnership and we collaborate about a student.

And so Bridges has grown. And, um, in the past year we've added five extra counselors to our team. Um, and that's, that's certainly because we are at capacity and again, we don't advertise. We literally. It's been word of mouth of clients who really value the work that I do and believe that I can help their child.

And it's really understanding their story and the core of, of who they are. And I, I love that my, it doesn't feel like work to me when I'm working with a student it's just organic and natural. And then as we started to grow, what I found is that when students are working on their personal stuff, One of the most important things is understanding yourself and sharing that story about you.

A lot of these girls and gentlemen too, didn't know their story, they didn't know their history. They didn't know their background. They didn't understand their worth and value to sit down and even write about. So I had to do what you're doing. I had to interview them. I had to kind of get things out of them, go through a journaling process, like really kind of dig deep for them to find their story and their worth in their value.

And I was like, there's something wrong with this system. If we're not teaching our kids, you know, what their worth and value is that kind of sparked that in my head. Um, there needs to be something done about this. I'm doing this work individually, but there's more. To it than that.

Passionistas: So how did that help inspire Shero's Rise?

Sonali: Well, one it's always been in the back of my head that, um, you know, kids need to know who they are. They need to know who they are before they are applying to college. Number one, and then understanding girls' education because I've worked at girls, schools and colleges and having two girls of my own.

When I looked around as to what was around, everyone has programs for leadership and community service and civic engagement. Nobody has ever focused on the internal discovery of a girl, at least not intentionally. They may have social, emotional curriculums at schools and they do some schools have it.

They certainly don't have it at public institutions, public school districts. They don't have that. Um, and even some private schools have it, but not to this extent. It's, it's what is encompassing for you to understand? Certain ways of going about the world, right? Um, with respect and kindness towards one another, but it was never about who they are on the inside and the way that I was raised and the way I raise my children is it's great that you do well in school, but if you're unkind to somebody and you don't know who you are, that's not something that is okay with me.

And. For me in my culture, my voice was not valued. I may have learned the value of service and things, but it was always a girl's places to be quiet and sit down and listen and follow the rules. And don't say anything else. And I did learn the importance of my voice or that I had won, or that I, I could give my opinion on things until I went to college.

And that all changed for me. And as I became a mom, I realized what was important that I wanted my children to learn. I had to set up their self-esteem and then sort of doing some research and some digging and realize girls' self-esteem peaks at the age of eight. And by nine, it, it rapidly decline. That doesn't make any sense to me.

Right. And especially today, um, it's a world that I'm grateful. I didn't grow up in there's social media, there's information coming at them 24/ 7. It is a lot of noise and a lot of things to filter through. And how do you, how do you even know what you think when everybody's telling you what to think in various different mediums and forms?

And so. I sat down. Um, it was my friend's Margaret and in her backyard, we're watching our kids play. Her girls are best friends with my girls and, um, we're having some tea and just kind of chatting about what we want. And it's like, this is what we want to build in our, in our kids. And it was COVID and grateful.

A lot of people had a lot of time, you know? And so just started reaching out to people that we know and that we care about and ask, you know, Hey, let's, let's brainstorm together. And there's nothing more powerful than a couple of women in a room together because we can solve all the world's problems.

Right. Um, that in a bottle of wine and you're good to go. Um, and we came up with the pillars of what was, what do we want it to have ourselves? And what do we want girls to have? So our 12 pillars is everything from self-esteem to self-confidence, to self-reliance, um, to how do you find your joy all the way up to love and gratitude.

It builds upon itself. Okay. Let's try it. Let's try this. Let's see if there's a need for it. We have this great idea, but even if we do it for nobody, other than our kids, let's try to instill this in them. Maybe we can do it for our friends and maybe we can, um, and a couple of their friends and maybe we'll have like a group of 12 girls.

It'd be great, but it turned into something. And I gotta be honest. I am overwhelmed with how big it has gotten so fast. And I think it's because there's such a need. The things that we're talking about are lifelong lessons that we as women have to work through. It is not an everyday quick fix. So when I talk to the girls, I always share with them, we're providing you with.

That you need to keep in your toolbox and use. This is not the beginning or the end. This is just your foundation. And talking to you about some of these things. These are things that you're going to have to literally pull out of your toolbox and use at various times of your life. I still struggle with my self-esteem or my self-confidence or how do I, you know, with me being so busy, how am I taking care of myself?

Am I drinking enough water or, you know, walking outside? How do I replenish myself after, after doing so much, when we started doing that and talking to people, it just sort of grew. We went from having 40 women who volunteered their time. Um, to now almost over a hundred volunteers that are made of women from every different walk of life, various different professions, various everything to being mentors to these girls, because that was the other part that was important.

Wasn't just our curriculum. And our curriculum is based on science, as well as research, you know, we've had pediatricians be a part of it. Um, we've had child psychologists be a part of it. We've had educators be a part of it and developing this curriculum and it's been a journey. It's been a journey and we didn't know if it was going to hit.

Right. And so we did a pilot. Um, with about 53 girls and we partnered with a local public school. That is the only public girls school in the greater Los Angeles area. And we said, you know, can we do this 12 week pilot, one pillar a week? And we can teach your girls. But we'd love their feedback. And so every week we tweaked it, we listened to them.

We heard got their feedback and was like, okay, what worked? What didn't work? What did you need more of? What questions do you still have? Um, and it turned into this beautiful reciprocal relationship. With the girls because they were invested in it and they wanted more, there were like 12 weeks is not enough.

And like, I hear you get me a minute. Let me work on that. You know? Um, and so hopefully in January, we'll launch with a full-fledged program where it can be more than, than that. And we did a summer program as well. So it was like over 80 kids that we served and we have volunteers that are waiting to do more.

And if we're going to serve 250 girls, which is our. We need a lot more volunteers and we need a lot more donations because the only issue that I have right now is not the curriculum. It's not the need. It is literally how do I financially support these girls and be able to put on quality programming that is meaningful to them?

Who can I reach out to? Who can be corporate sponsors? You know, I want this to be free for girls from underserved communities. I don't want them to have to pay for one penny of it. That's also not sustainable in a business model, um, because you have to be able to bring in some revenue to pay for it. Um, so that's the challenge I'm having right now is getting, getting people to not just invest their time, which is very, very important.

But even making small monthly contributions, you know, even $25 a month will go a long way in keeping us sustained and giving us income coming in. So we're working on that aspect of it as well. You know, running a business is one thing running a nev, a nonprofit is a whole other thing. So I'm learning as I'm going.

I'm constantly learning. That's the fun part for me. I'm learning from these girls as much as they're learning from us. It's heartwarming. I feel like I'm doing my heart work, you know, and really fulfilling my purpose, um, which is to. Be a service to others and, um, be able to offer these girls things that I didn't personally have myself as I was growing up.

And if I had those tools, I would have probably made different decisions to land here. Um, but I also share with them that you have to trust that process because no matter which path you go on, you're still going to end up exactly where you're supposed to be. And that's the joy and beauty of life. And that's also the joy and beauty age, I think because you can kind of see the little moments that, oh, that's why that happened. And this happened because it led me to this. Right. You can see that in perspective. Um, that's the wisdom that comes as you grow.

Many have told me, I'll be honest, many have told me we need to, we need to stop. We need to, we need to hold it capacity and it can't do that.

Um, Something in me is telling me I can't do that. I can't cap it at a hundred girls or 250 girls, because it's bigger than me. It's bigger than me. This, this may be something that I founded, but this is a responsibility for everyone. And, um, we all need to participate in it and grow it in every way that we can, you know, that's, that's really important and I can't.

I can't cap it. I need to be able to have these girls and be able to find, um, sponsors and donors and others to make this free and available to girls and have volunteers that will help support our organization. Um, but there's a need, there is a clear cut need and the girls are very specific on what they want as well.

And to them an hour and a half was not. And doing it virtually was not okay. They want to do it in person. They want to do it longer. They want to build community. They don't want to just hear from speakers and break out into small groups. They want to spend a lot of time in their small groups. They want to be able to ask questions.

They want to put our pillars in action and try them out. Um, they want to have lunch together and learn from each other. And I think there's a beauty in that and a sisterhood in that. I think we have so many different ways in which we can grow and expand. And if we've accomplished all of this in one year, there's nothing that will stop us from growing and helping more girls in the future.

And we'll just do it one step at a time for as long as we can. And this Hillary Clinton says, you know, you do the best you can for the most you can, with all the resources you can or something to that effect. This is me. Um, and then, you know, we're gonna, we're going to move forward in the best way that we can with people who really believe in the bigger picture and the bigger dream.

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Now here’s more of our interview with Sonali.

So speaking of people who believe in the dream, I want to back up a little bit to talk about how your daughter and their friends contributed to the creation of the organization.

Sonali: They're awesome. First of all, there's four of them. Um, and I have two girls and the others are two girls. You know, they spent a lot of time together in COVID because they were our COVID family.

Um, so that was the only, that was the only outside bubble that we saw. And it was just the bubble of our two families together, their mom and I had chatted and, um, I had the four girls one night. It was my, it was my night to have them. Um, and I was in the car and I'll never forget it because I was like, ladies, I'm thinking about doing.

This kind of work and programming. What do you think about it? Do you think that that would be something cool to do? Or do you think it's silly and hokey? You know, because this is like, this is my idea. It they're the age group. And one of, one of my daughter's friends who was 10 at the time literally said to me, Sonali, I love that you're doing exactly what you're supposed to be doing and what you're passionate about.

Who says these things? And I turned around and looked at her because I was like at a stop sign and I turned around and looked at that. Well, thank you for saying that, you know, I appreciate it. I was like, maybe you guys can help me think about some things. So it turned into a pizza party, um, that night.

And I was like, if you could draw what would be the names? So they helped come up with the names and then we all voted on it. There was all sorts of names. Um, and then we decided upon she rose rise, they came up with that name. I said, okay, well, what does a Shero's Rise look like? What does a Shero look like?

And so they drew these beautiful pictures, you know, some up, they were so cute and they're on our website. If you want to see it under, you know, her story. Um, but they drew the pictures. One of them was like, perfect. It was a girl standing on shul on her mom's shoulders and she had a cape on and she was looking at, and she had.

The fist, uh, it has like, this is brilliant, but it was a rainbow flag and it was like, that's even more brilliant. So. My daughter will tell you that I scared the crap out of her. I got a cape. I ordered a cape on Amazon and I took her to the top of Mulholland. Cause we couldn't figure out a logo. Right.

Couldn't figure out a logo of like, it can't be a kids design, but I could do something else with it. And I had this image in my head of what she had. And so I took my daughter and um, I literally put a cape on her and took her to the top of Mulholland and it was a beautiful day and I had her stand right on the edge of the mountain.

She was like, mommy, I'm gonna fall. I said, I don't need you to smile. I just need you to pose for one second and took a picture of her, you know, with her fist up and the coupon and animated her. She's like, this is crazy. I was like, I know, but you got to do some crazy things to make these happen. Like you can do this, like you're a Shero.

And it was like, yes, I'm a Shero. You know, like they were, they were powerful about. And then when we were coming up with the pillars and talking about what we would want, they, they kept giving us input. I realized at that moment, I couldn't just have a board of directors with adults. Right. Um, and I do have an amazing board, which ranged from college students, to women who are in their seventies and eighties.

You know, there's a broad range of ages and ethnicities and backgrounds and everything else. But I was like, I need girls who are between the ages of eight and 18 to be able to be a part of a young sheroes board. And. I take, yes, my board sets policy and helps me make fiscal decisions. And we have a leadership team and an advisory board that specializes in things, but the four girls and others.

Now, I think there's a group of, 12 of them are part of my young sheroes board. And my young sheroes board provides the direction in which we move. So if we come up with these pillars, it goes past. What does this mean to you? Does this look right? What are we missing? If we're going to put on a curriculum, what does that look like?

How does that work? Cause we said to them, okay, we got to do this in. I don't know how to do zoom. I'd never this whole computer thing. That was a whole new world for me, that I work face-to-face with students. And they're the ones that told us, well, you need to be able to have zoom, but we get tired on zoom.

So you have to have us break out into groups. And like in my head, I'm going, how do you break out into groups on zoom? They taught me how to do that. You know? Um, this is how you break them out. These, I would want to do these kinds of activities. Okay, great. Were gonna put this stuff up on social media.

What do you think about this? Well, I'd like to see this. I'd like to see this. I'd like to see this. This is what engages me. And so all of our input that you see outside is literally coming from the girls. We had. I have ideas, but we take our direction and make sure that what we're delivering is because of the girls.

And so, again, I I'm, I'm not that age group, but I want to know what they're thinking about, um, what their friends are thinking about. And they are powerful beyond belief and they, you know, even my eight year olds on the board are giving me input. I think this would be. I don't like that, you know, they're really honest.

And so we take that feedback from them. And I think that's the beauty of, uh, Shero's Rise is not only are we serving girls, but we're, we're getting direction and input from the grow from girls that age themselves, so that we're delivering it and meeting the mark. Um, cause that's important. Us adults can, may have the wisdom and the knowledge and the degrees and everything else to come up with them but how it lands. I don't know unless I'm literally, you know, talking to my young Sheros.

Passionistas: So on the flip side, um, who, who does Shero's Rise serve? What are kind of the target girls and how important is inclusivity?

Sonali: We serve anyone who identifies as a girl. So that, that is very clear. And we best serve girls from underserved communities.

And those that may be of mixed heritage may be BIPOC. Um, that may be, um, from foster care, maybe from on free and reduced lunch, they may be, um, biracial, they, any kind of thing. And underserved is hard to define because. A lot of people think it's socioeconomics. It's not, um, it's not just socioeconomics. It is those who've been marginalized.

And we as women just for the fact that we are, women are marginally. Number one. So that's one thing that they already have, but you know, who are these girls that are not getting this kind of support? And they may even be from a independent school, um, but may not have families that can support their social, emotional development, or they may be part of the LGBTQ community.

And they're not getting the support that they need to be up then typically who they are. And when I say we tell our girls to show up as they are, I really mean that, you know, we want to meet them exactly where they are and help them to discover who they are. This is work that they have to do and they have got to want to do.

And it's not an easy thing. It's not an easy process. It's not easy for me to do my work. Um, it's just not. And so asking, uh, a 12 year old to do this work is challenging, but it's important. And. The girls themselves, the feedback that we've gotten is, well, this is the first time someone's asked me my opinions and really put it into action.

Or we talk about the, I am statements for self-confidence. I am this. I am. One of the girls that spoke at our anniversary, said every single morning, that's what she does. She does her. I am statements and her affirmations in order for her to even get out of bed because it's difficult because she deals with anxiety or depression.

And that's the other thing is kids are dealing with anxiety. At such young ages because it's so difficult being a kid right now in today's world. My biggest worry was going down the street after dark. Like that was my biggest concern and worry. And now that's, that's not the case. So we, we really are making that impact.

And some, some girls are saying, you know, I'm every night before I'm going to bed, I'm now grateful for the little. I used to just be like, I'm grateful for my house and my parents amiss, but now it's, I'm grateful that I had a good day or there was the sun that was shining or, you know, I have. Really good dessert because that made my day.

Um, that was the one good thing about my day and getting those, those daily habits in, um, when we talked about financial literacy, the little ones were like, what do you mean? I can't spend all my allowance. I have to save, spend and give, what does that mean? I can only have like a dollar to spend and I have to save and give to the rest.

Yes, because that's what your responsibility is. And what do you mean? I have to save this. I have to make this much money and do this. When I go off to college, what does that mean? You know, so we're giving them practical tools, but we're also giving them everyday tools that they can count on for themselves.

And it's been a beautiful journey thus far. I got to tell you and. When they're done with the program, they not just get a certificate of accomplishments, but they also get kind of like a transcript of these are the hardwired skills that they've learned. People call them soft skills. I don't call them soft skills.

I call them hard wired skills that you need to have and develop in order for you to survive on this planet as a woman. Um, we need to have that, right. Um, so they get that and they also get to. Their cape and the end of it, we did a cape ceremony and each person got a Shero's Rise cape. And they had earned that.

And I was, it was so upset because it was COVID and I couldn't put it on them myself. I was just so sad about it, but we mailed it to them and we're like, please don't open anything. And we had our final ceremony and they got to a farm for themselves and put the cape on or have somebody put it on for them.

And recognize that they were a Shero and, you know, people are in their bedrooms, they're in their homes. Uh, the first few times they didn't even want to be on camera. And at the end of it, all, everyone was in their capes, in their rooms showing up exactly as who they were, that in itself was really powerful, but the expressions on their face and the pride that they took in that.

It's indescribable to me about how that meant and what that cape means to them. And, um, the reason we chose a cape is because. And it's like, Wonder Woman, you know, you need that cape sometimes to like cover yourself up in moments of strife and pause and reflect and be, or you, you flip that cape around and you use it to fly high and soar above anything that, that you are capable of.

And when you know your worth and value, you can do anything. You can absolutely do anything. Um, so when people tell me, you know what, we gotta, we gotta pause you as rise. So it could be this. And like, no, we don't know if, um, first thing, if somebody tells me no, I'm gonna find a way to find a way to get it and figure it out and look at it and realize that not everything needs an immediate response.

It requires pause and moments. And, you know, we model that for the. We have to model that for the girls. And it's hard. It's hard to model that for the girls because we, ourselves, we need our village. Um, women have a very strong village where it's like, okay, you can do this. I tell them once a, she wrote always this year out, um, because it's important that they know that this is a place that they will always have.

The one thing I'm proud of is may have been in education for, um, 25 years and all of the people that I've come in contact with all these girls I still have in my life. They are kids that I still mentor. They are mommies of their own. I've been at their weddings they're professionals. They, you know, I take my kids to children's hospital and some of the doctors and nurses are kids that I admitted to college.

And that's something that I take pride in. And every single one of these girls also has a mentor. And it's a one-on-one mentorship relationship because. If you invest in a girl and it's not just about, Hey, let me, let me mentor you by you calling me every once in a while. Or we connect every once in a blue moon, the commitment is one hour a month, at least one hour a month.

You're making the intention to check in on this group. See what she needs, how does she need to grow? How can you assist her? And hopefully that's a lifelong relationship that you're building with someone, but for an eight year old, even if you spend that time playing a game or reading a book, you are spending an entire hour just devoted to that.

Think about how that would be impactful for just an eight year old or a 13 year old who was constantly arguing with their mom or I'm struggling with their self-esteem and going through puberty, just that conversation to know, you know what you're going to be. Okay. I've been there too, and it's going to be okay.

Or, um, you know, a college senior who's going off to college. He doesn't know. I don't know if I can do this. Yes, you can. You're going to end up exactly where you're supposed to be, and I'm here to support you. What do you need? Just those little affirmations. I still need them in my life every day. You probably do as well.

And for a young girl, just that one hour will probably change her whole world of somebody spending some undivided attention and. As a parent, I know it's difficult to do that even with your own children because you're busy. We're, we're busy moms, you know, they see us working, but I have to make time even once a week to spend at least an hour with each girl individually.

And that's hard. So when everything is going on and they're single moms in the picture or other things going on in that family, And you're able to make an impact and connect even for an hour. The impact that you're making is profound and it's got ripple effects. It's pretty powerful.

Passionistas: What's your dream for the girls who go through the program and for, for the future of girls in general?

Sonali: My dream is for every single girl and woman, but it's out there to know her worth and value. And that she has everything inside of herself to be able to get through anything that the world throws at them good or bad. You have it in you. It's, it's literally the Wizard of Oz. You know, you've always had the power and you've always had the power to go home.

You always have the power to look within yourself and to connect and to reshift and to move.

It doesn't mean that life's not going to throw things at your way, but you have it. You have the tools and everything else you need inside of you, and you just have to trust your, trust your gut and your women's intuition, basically, you know, um, to be able to know that you are worthy, you can always bet on yourself, you have value and you have value just as you are.

You don't need anybody else's affirmation or confirmation of who you are. You are enough. And it seems like a cliché term these days, because you see that in various different places, but what does that really mean? And how does it work inside of you?

And my bigger long-term goal is for this to go beyond Los Angeles. I want it to go national. I want it to be global. I want to join Michelle Obama's Opportunity for Girls to go do this across the globe. Because there, this curriculum that we created is very, very special. It's curated with science behind it, but it's also created. With love and intention for this to be able to serve every girl in some capacity.

And you know, my only issue is capacity at the moment of being able to move it bigger and broader. This is groundbreaking. And I didn't realize that because my husband even asked me that yesterday. Cause we had the, the interview that, that came out yesterday and he goes, do you realize what you're doing?

No, I'm just doing. And he said, I need you to pause and think about it. And I was like, I, I had an idea, the world needed this and now everybody needs this. And I am one person. My team are a team of volunteers. They have jobs, they have everything. Um, we, we need to move. We need to be able to maybe create a structure where we have actual staff that are doing this work.

Um, plus volunteers, um, we need schools to believe in us and share their students with us. You know, it, it's a whole ripple effect and we need major corporations and people who can sponsor us. To be able to invest in these girls because as you know, with the Passionistas Project, um, when you invest in a girl that changes everyone's lives around them. It doesn't just change that girl's life because girls always have the need to better their friends and better their families. And the more that you invest in their internal self comes back to you, tenfold in all the different areas.

That's why single-sex educations are so important because those are the doctors, lawyers, and CEOs of this world. They're not, they're not teaching anything groundbreaking. They're teaching them with an education of, of, of skills that they may need to have to be professionals. But it's what you learn about your own confidence that you're okay. Walking into a room and being perfectly comfortable with yourself or not being afraid to sit at the table and give your thought and opinion, not caring if it works or doesn't work, just throwing out your idea.

And those are the women that we see. Up and up and up. I mean, I'm one woman, I'm, I'm amazed at what we've been able to do with this team of volunteers. I can't do it alone. I have this team of volunteers and we're going to grow and we're going to expand. And, you know, even in five years, I hope that we can do more and more and more.

I'm proud of what we did in year one. It's astonishing to me and what we've done just year one. Um, but clearly there was a, there is a certain need. And I just want every girl to know their worth and value. And I know my worth and value because people invested in me. I've been mentored and blessed and all of this is because somebody put me on their shoulders and helped me to rise. And it's my responsibility to reach back and pull up. And every girl that goes through our program stands on our shoulders and it's their responsibility to reach back and pull up. That's what we women do for each other.

Passionistas: Thanks for listening to our interview with Sonali Perera Bridges. To learn more about her work, visit

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