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Young Social Impact Heroes: Why and How Sophia R Tyler Is Helping To Change Our World

An Interview With Penny Bauder

I think in order to create a kinder world, people in higher up positions have to set that example and live it out. I look at so many people in power and just see corruption, selfishness, and ignorance. And I imagine if they were showing kindness to each other, the kind of kindness that is genuine and real, and not just for the cameras…what a difference that would make.

As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sophia R. Tyler.

Sophia R. Tyler hopes to reintroduce the timeless message of the Golden Rule to young children. Currently a senior at Hope College, she will begin the Master of Social Work program at University of Denver in Fall 2023. Sophia also interns for Ready for Life, a nonprofit organization which fosters an inclusive community and provides creative and engaging opportunities for college students with disabilities. Her children’s picture book, The Friendly Mouse, launched March 21.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I grew up on the east side of Michigan in a small town called Fenton. Fenton was a “farmers market, restaurant filled, laketown in the summer and dead in the winter” type of town. I remember most winters all my friends and I would do is either go to the movies or go to a random restaurant. There wasn’t a whole lot to do. However, in the summer, it felt like a whole different town. There are a couple small lakes nearby which allowed for my friends, sister, and I to go on the boat, get ice cream, get breakfast in the morning, go to yoga, go shopping in our tiny downtown area, etc.

I grew up with six siblings, me being the middle child. I believe my family shaped my personality a lot because of all the different personalities I grew up with. I’m super close with my family and have a different kind of relationship with each sibling, which I believe has influenced how I socialize today. My parents, growing up, led mission trips to Guatemala, so I got to grow up going there every summer. I was super blessed to have grown up with parents that encouraged me to get outside my own cultural bubble. It has now influenced the way I view the world because it popped my own cultural bubble at a young age as well as influenced a lot of my relationship with Jesus. I saw Jesus in a different light because of how universal His love is. I remember in Guatemala, we would meet these beautiful people who were living in such poverty but filled with life, situations that would give me such anxiety and fear. But the way some of them talked about Jesus was so passionate and sincere. They would so confidently talk about how much God has provided for them and their prayers would be so powerful that they would cry and have so much to say.

You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

Yes! I am not leading the organization, unfortunately, I cannot take credit for that (🤣), I am just apart of its impact. I am an intern at Ready for Life which is a post secondary educational program for students diagnosed with intellectual disabilities. This particular experience has already taught me so much about what it’s like to be a population that often goes ignored. It goes hand in hand with how much I have learned about the importance of using your voice to advocate in a way that brings attention to the specific population. Right now at my internship, I am in a position of power where I can use my status as a student to advocate for fellow students that are on my same campus.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

My passion for individuals with disabilities started with my best friend’s little sister, who is just an exquisite individual with a great sense of humor, great hugging skills, and an incredible laugh. When I first met her I was very intimidated by her because I didn’t understand her. I think it’s easy to shy away from people we don’t understand because it scares us. However, the more I was around her, the more I just fell in love with her spirit. There was just something about her that made me so happy, whether that be her total disinterest in caring what people think of her or her ability to make everyone feel comfortable with her big hugs and her funny sense of humor. She inspired and empowered me to then volunteer at Camp Sunshine, where I was partnered up with a 32-year-old woman who had Down syndrome (who also gave the best and warmest hugs). From there, I volunteered at other places that allowed me to get a better understanding of people with disabilities and how misunderstood a lot of them are. And not only that but also how much I want to be like a lot of the individuals I have met — not caring what people think of me, living freely without an agenda, or simply saying “no” to things that simply wouldn’t make me happy or flourish — these are all qualities that I have witnessed in so many individuals with disabilities, and I admire them so much.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

I’m not going to lie, there have been a lot of ideas, dreams, and passions that I have been too afraid or too insecure to follow through and manifest. However, I strongly believe that having Jesus in my heart has opened doors to opportunities that make an impact in the world. Jesus has empowered me when I have felt small or insignificant to have the confidence to “step up and do it.” Also growing up, my mom was always holding us to a high standard of kindness, like taking initiative and not making life about ourselves. I remember when my mom would drop us off at school she would always say, “Find somebody that’s lonely!” When people would come to our house she would always “instruct” us to greet people at the door and use people’s names. She always instilled in our minds that “it’s not always about you” and that we’re here to love other people and not just serve ourselves. My siblings and I always joke around about how, if we told my mom one sad story about someone in our class, she would always use our name and say, “Sophie!!! Are you nice to them?!” My mom is the best, and lives out what she “preaches” to her kids, which inspires us to do the same.

Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

It’s kinda crazy because this project started out as a grade in high school. My teacher assigned us to write a story that centered around a Bible verse. I chose The Golden Rule stated in Matthew and Luke, “Treat others as you would want to be treated.” My project has just been something that God has opened doors for. He allowed my mom and dad to see the future of the story, which then empowered me, and God opened the doors to an illustrator, editor, publicist, etc. The fact that it started out as a small homework assignment and is now a published book, is crazy!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

The most interesting thing/story that has happened to me has been the spread of The Friendly Mouse around my friends, peers, old friends, distant family members, etc. It’s just crazy the people who have reached out to me since The Friendly Mouse started. People who I haven’t talked to in years have reached out to me and have given me such kind words of encouragement, which then transitioned to conversations about their lives. It’s been fun because The Friendly Mouse has allowed me to connect with so many people and hear about people’s lives!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

Honestly, it has just been funny to work with my dad throughout this whole process. It has brought a whole new dynamic to our relationship. It has been funny joining zoom calls and just seeing his face in a professional setting. We’d be talking professionally, talking about the future of the book and logistics, and my dad would break the “tension” with a classic “dad joke” that sometimes only I would laugh at (😂). Highly recommend working professionally with someone who will make you laugh, whether that be your dad, friend, sister, cousin, etc.!

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

Oh, yes! So many! My dad, my mom, Monica Austin, Matthew Sample, Erin Conti, and so many more… Monica, our designer and editor, has been so consistent and helpful. I have appreciated her advice and her insight so much, and I could not have done this without her. Matthew Sample is our illustrator. He’s incredible! And Erin has just been great! She has put in so much effort and work, and I have appreciated it so much.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Definitely my family, specifically my parents! Without my parents I would have not had the confidence or have believed in myself enough to publish a book.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

I think in order to create a kinder world, people in higher up positions have to set that example and live it out. I look at so many people in power and just see corruption, selfishness, and ignorance. And I imagine if they were showing kindness to each other, the kind of kindness that is genuine and real, and not just for the cameras…what a difference that would make.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. It’s a commitment! But in the best way possible.
  2. Make it your own, and make sure it’s your message and your style.
  3. Don’t compare your book with other projects. That causes insecurity.
  4. Create a team that is supportive because that makes the process way more fun.
  5. Channel in your inner child and put yourself in a child’s shoes so it is a book that gets through to kids.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

I would say, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” (Dr. Seuss). I love that quote, and I think it says so much in one sentence. I couldn’t be more true! The world will only get better one person at a time, we can’t sit back and expect the world to get better if we don’t do anything about it. It’s true that one person’s goodness and kindness can change the world.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Hmm… that’s a really hard one because there’s so many people I’d like to do this with. I’m going to say three people: Steve Carell, C.S. Lewis, or Mr. Rogers. Steve would make me laugh so hard, and I think he is just a genuinely good person. I would like to hear C.S. Lewis’s wisdom, a lunch or breakfast with him would be so lifegiving, and I feel like I would learn so much. And lastly, Mr. Rogers just seems like the most precious man in the world. He made people feel so heard, seen, loved, and encouraged. He was such an exquisite individual that only brought love into the world.

How can our readers follow you online?

  • Instagram: @thefriendlymousebook
  • Facebook: @The-Friendly-Mouse
  • www.thefriendlymousebook

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Young Social Impact Heroes: Why and How Sophia R Tyler Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.