Hosted by Angelique Hechavarria

Editor’s Note: This is a transcription of Latinitas Magazine’s SoundCloud podcast “20 Questions With,” where we invite bold and creative individuals to discuss their experiences and background. Listen along by clicking the link!

Hola Chicas! Welcome to 20 Questions With. A podcast in conjunction with Latinitas Magazine. Latinitas Magazine is a strong voice for Latina and POC youth, which is why the hosts of 20 Questions With are all young Latinas who are looking to gain experience in innovative and creative fields just like you. In each episode, you’ll hear from striking individuals who are inspiring today’s youth with their passion, motivation and grit. Today, join me as I sit down and ask 20 Questions With Sherry Eklund.

Before we get started here’s what you should know:

Sherry Eklund is the founder of I Am Teen Strong, an organization with a mission of bringing education and resources to young girls and teenagers. During her college career, she earned a bachelor’s degree in child development. Where she used her skills to work with special ed students in schools. She and her husband later established Desert View Aerial Photography. A construction photography company, where they worked for 14 years. After she founded the I AM Teen Strong organization, where she has been working with her local communities and beyond in providing resources and services to the youth. Let’s go ahead and see what Sherry has to say.

ANGELIQUE: Hey, everyone. Thanks for joining us on this episode of 20 Questions With. I’m Angelique Hechavarria. And I’m here with today’s guest, Sherry Eklund. Thank you for joining us today! 

SHERRY: Thank you for having me. I’m so excited to visit with you.

ANGELIQUE: Yes, me too! Let’s get started with the questions! Growing up did you feel there was a lack of health services and resources for teenagers?

SHERRY: I was pretty naive growing up. I didn’t really notice, I didn’t feel, and I didn’t see it in my community. I’m guessing, though, that it probably was just for the fact that we don’t have the information and the connection to the teens in the youth that we do in today’s culture. There probably was, but I didn’t personally feel that.

ANGELIQUE: Oh, ok. And did you experience any struggles that you faced growing up as a teenager?

SHERRY: Nothing dramatic, just your normal teenage age, trying to fit in, find your place. Be an adult, but still, do kid things. So, just normal things of everyday teenage life. The biggest thing was just trying to fit in.

ANGELIQUE: Yes. And when you were younger, did you envision yourself having a leadership position and being involved with younger generations?

SHERRY: You know, when I was growing up, I really wanted to be a special ed teacher. So I always thought I would be involved with youth in some way. The funny part is if you call it the funny part- when I was growing up, I wanted to be a special ed teacher. So when I went to get my bachelor’s degree in child development, we had to do our practicum. I would be out in the schools working with the special ed kids. And then I’m like, oh, my goodness, this is really hard. And I internalized every child’s story. And so I realized I was not going to be able to do that as your career because I’m just too much of a sensitive person to be able to really handle all of that. But I did always want to have something related to the youth. And kid causes. I did kind of take a break from that for a good part of my career, but that really has always been my passion to work with the youth in some fashion.

ANGELIQUE: Yes. And I’m the same way. I would also consider myself a hyper-sensitive person. Like I internalized things way too much. I’m too much of an emotional person if you will. 

SHERRY: Yes, I cry so easily!. Yeah, I love that. I think that’s a good characteristic for both of us to have. Good caring, feeling people. 

ANGELIQUE: Yes. And what inspired you to establish the I Am Teen Strong website?

SHERRY: So I actually found myself in a position a few years ago to reinvent myself, my husband and I, for the last 15 years, had an aerial photography company. And he was the pilot and I was the photographer. And we loved it. It was something that we were able to do together, but the business format changed. And so I found myself in a position to once again, reinvent myself. And again, kids and youth being my passion and my cause. I wanted to do something youth-related. I had been looking at an option for an online magazine because that was really intriguing to me. And then as I was trying to come up with something that I wanted To do for, you know, act three of my life. I started hearing and reading stories and information on how teens, especially girls, did not know what resources were available to them, let alone how to access them. So as I did my research, I realized, yeah, there really wasn’t one place for the girls to go to get resources, information, and encouragement. So I thought maybe this could be something that I could do. And if I may say, humbly, I was able to create something that is unique. So, what I’ve done is I’ve taken an online magazine format, where we have the different articles, the departments, if you will, for the website, so we have body positivity and self-empowerment and mindfulness. So those are the different categories that we talk about in the articles. But what I added was for Arizona, that’s where I’m based, a statewide directory of local and national hotlines and helplines, plus resources for behavioral health, eating disorders, substance abuse, pregnancy, and sexual health, education, leadership, things like that. So I was able to create the directory and for the article, so it really was something that came that I saw a need in our community that maybe I could help fill. And so that really was my inspiration, saying, I want to be able to make a difference. I want to be able to get out there with the youth. So that was really what inspired me to be able to do that. Because I saw the girl struggling and I thought, OK, how do I help with that?

ANGELIQUE: And how do you think the skills that you have learned from being the owner and photographer of the desert view, aerial photography has contributed to your skills in being a founder of I Am Teen Strong?

SHERRY: I think being a business owner, and realizing that, it’s about being in charge and taking that responsibility for the business and taking it to the next level. So if I want to be successful, then I need to make sure that I am personally growing, and professionally growing. And it was just really good for me to have that ownership experience, and work with other organizations, getting out in the community, and making those connections. So I think that was really important for me, and it really worked. And it started with being the owner of the Aerial photography business and saying, OK, these are the skills that I need. And so this is what’s going to be able to help me go to the next level. I think it’s about really taking that leadership role and knowing what needs to be done and when, and being very organized. And so forth. When we were working in the Aerial Photography business. We had multiple clients that needed things on a regular basis. So you had to be very organized and very structured. And so that was very helpful.

ANGELIQUE: Yes, and out of curiosity, how did you get involved or learn about photography for listeners who are interested?

SHERRY: Well, you know, that’s kind of funny because I didn’t know anything about photography, let alone Areal Photography, which is a completely different animal. But my husband and I wanted to start a business together, and he was a private pilot, and we bought an airplane and I’m thinking, Okay, we can do this. And so I took an online photography course at the New York Institute of Photography, and I learned what I needed to learn for the business. Photography was not a skill I had previously. There was a need out there. For the commercial construction world and commercial real estate communities. Again, we thought that was a need that we could fill. And I just thought, you know, I can learn this, I wasn’t afraid to take on that challenge. And so I just said, I’m gonna go for it. I did the online course. And it worked out really, really well. So I mean, it’s just, we had the idea, and we went for it.

ANGELIQUE: Oh, my gosh, that’s amazing. Yes. I love how it was just an idea, and you made it happen. So it’s sort of like a dream come true. Because you imagined it. And then it just happens. 

SHERRY: We just have to have confidence in ourselves and just go out there and do it and make it happen. 

ANGELIQUE: And switching gears a little bit, will you be able to describe your typical day with us?

SHERRY: Sure. COVID really changed the game. But typically, I am out in the community. Although my organization Teen strong LLC, is a for-profit organization, I partner with a lot of nonprofit organizations, I partner with a lot of behavioral health facilities, different community programs, schools, and so forth. So I am out in the community quite a bit, just to talk to them about IAmTeenStrong.com, and how we can help them when they’re in a situation with a chain, particularly a girl, what our website has to offer, how we can help them, but also how I can help them. And so it’s really about for me, spending the day making connections in the community so that it’s not always all about me, but how we can partner together to help me but also to help them and so it’s, I spent a good part of my day doing that. I have partnered with several psychologists, social workers, and counselors. They write the majority of the articles for the website. And so I’m in constant communication with them, posting things on social media. And so it continues to be, you know, just all about getting the word out and connecting with partners in the community. That’s pretty much my day, reaching out to others.

ANGELIQUE: Oh, but that’s so amazing. I love how you use professionals in their field to write these articles.

SHERRY: That really works well. When I launched this month, three years ago that the website went live. And so when I first started, I was working with a team of incredible freelance writers, all women, some young in their 20s, some in their late 40s, early 50s, being moms of teens. And as I developed and got out into the community, I was able to partner as I said, with the different psychologists, social workers and so forth. And as I built relationships with them, it just really seemed like a natural fit for them to write the articles, because they’re the ones that are telling me what they’re seeing every day. What are the hot topics? What are the kids coming in and talking to them about? What are the biggest issues that teens girls are struggling with, because that’s what we need to be able to address, on the website, the website, if I use the online magazine, as a model, we don’t talk about fashion and makeup, just like your magazine doesn’t do that? We’re in a different category, we’re taking the girls in a different direction. And so it’s been really nice for me to work with the professionals in the field, to have them tell me what’s going on and so forth. So that’s been a big change for me. So we continue to evolve.

ANGELIQUE: Yes, that’s amazing. And in relation to that, what would you recommend to girls who are struggling with depression, eating disorders or addiction?

SHERRY: Don’t be afraid to reach out. So often, the young girls feel like they’re alone. And they’re going through this by themselves. And they don’t need to, there are other girls that have gone through that there are people out there that want to help them and be supportive of them. So if it’s not a family member that they can reach out to, they need to reach out to another trusted adult. But don’t go through anything by themselves. Make sure that you reach out because there are people out there that care about you and want to help you. And so that’s the biggest thing, don’t ever struggle by yourself. Reach out.

ANGELIQUE: Yes, I agree with that. Because when it’s by yourself, I think it can be a bit dangerous.

SHERRY: Absolutely, and that’s the biggest thing on why there are so many suicides and attempts of suicide is that feeling of being alone and not having the skills to be able to cope. So if you reach out, you’ll be able to do that. And one thing that I really want to do with the website is empower girls, to build them up from the inside out. So that they never consider suicide as a solution to any situation that they may be in. So if we build them up, and we give them that empowerment and that inspiration in that confidence, they’re not going to go down that path, or they’re gonna know how to reach out if they do.

ANGELIQUE: Yes, thank you so much for that. And switching gears again. Were there any challenges in your way when they came to pursuing a career?

SHERRY: Not knowing what I don’t know, you know? Wait, that didn’t sound right at all. But I think because this was a new business venture. I wasn’t sure exactly the exact path to go and the best way to approach things, so I’ve had to learn things along the way. I wasn’t afraid to go out there and do it. It’s just a matter of learning, and getting it right, and making sure that I’m reaching out to the appropriate people to help me get there. So I think that’s gonna be the biggest challenge. But it can also be considered, you know, a plus as well that it makes me grow and stretch as a person. 

ANGELIQUE: Yes, I agree. And what is your favorite part of your career? 

SHERRY: I will say that we know that we have helped save lives. And we have helped change lives, we’ve had a huge impact. When I launched the website, the goal was to make a difference. And we have. So, that has just been incredible to me. So we talked and shared that we cry easily. So when I have heard of the stories of how we have helped save a life, or impacted life, I do cry. And I mean, it doesn’t get any better than that for me. And so that’s the most incredible thing that we’ve been able to do what we’ve set out to do with the website. And so it’s very rewarding. And it just makes me keep growing every day and want to get up and keep moving and growing. I’m constantly looking at the website, what can I do differently, to be more engaged and so forth. So it’s been very exciting. 

ANGELIQUE: Yes, that’s amazing. And sort of the opposite question now. What is the difficult part of your career? 

SHERRY: The difficult part is, let’s say, I’m kind of going back to not knowing what I don’t know. So there are challenges that pop up. And sometimes I’m not aware of how to conquer that challenge, but I’ve just got to work through it. I’m not the most technical, savvy person. And I have technology as my product. So that’s been interesting. But yeah, just not always knowing where I need to go and how to get there. 

ANGELIQUE: Yeah, and I can imagine because if you’re like me, we feel like things a lot. When things pop up out of nowhere, like a challenge. It can be really nerve-racking, and very stressful. 

SHERRY: Yeah, exactly. And especially if you’re if things are time-sensitive then the pressure adds.

ANGELIQUE: Yeah. And how do you see your organization growing in the next five years?

SHERRY: Oh, okay. I like that. So, just a couple months ago, we launched a directory. So earlier, I mentioned that we have a statewide directory for Arizona, a couple of months ago, we launched into Colorado. So on the website, now, if you need a hotline, or helpline or something for sexual health and pregnancy, you can click on either Arizona or Colorado and get those resources for that particular state. My goal in the next five years is to be able to create directories for the Southwest and then go beyond that. I have directories for Utah and Nevada, New Mexico. And I’m a Southern California girl. And I would love to have something for California. California though is such a huge state with so many resources. And that’s going to take a lot of help, I would not be able to do that by myself, but I definitely want to be able to grow our directory into other states. But because our articles are for everyone, they’re not just, you know, state-specific, they’re for girls all around the world, really. I want to be able to continue that. And I want to be able to grow and evolve to incorporate more for the LGBTQ community. So we support everyone on the website, but right now, we might have a little bit of a contradictory message because we say we support everyone but we’re very girl-like and so I want to evolve to be more LGBTQ appropriate if that’s the correct word. To be able to have that community feel appreciated and supported from the website. So that’s another big one for me. I would like for the website to be more interactive and engaging with our followers. So we’re working on some things for that and I want to have an online store So people can have a team strong water bottle or a plaque or a T-shirt or something. So lots of things to do over the next five years. I won’t be bored. 

ANGELIQUE: No, that sounds fun!

SHERRY: Yeah, it’s just, it’s who needs sleep, right? So I’m constantly thinking, you know, three o’clock in the morning, okay, what do I need to be doing and you know, all that kind of stuff. But I have lots of ideas on how to grow the website and just keep it evolving. I don’t ever want it just to stay the same. I want it to be able to grow along with our readers and evolve.

ANGELIQUE: Yes, that’s awesome. And this question is a bit difficult for me now, because I see how passionate you are about what you’re doing. And, you seem perfect for what you’re doing right now.

SHERRY: Thank you! Like I said, I’m trying. But you know, my husband says he’s never seen me so passionate about anything. I just really feel that I was born to do this. This is where I am supposed to be in life. 

ANGELIQUE: Wow. Oh, that’s beautiful! I have to ask the question it’s 20 Questions With! What would you do for a career, if you weren’t doing what you’re doing now?

SHERRY: If I didn’t do what I’m doing now, and working with the kids, and all of that. I actually, just last month, I’m doing a part-time job with the Mesa Chamber of Commerce. And I work on their events in the program, so I get to plan their programs for the chamber. And that’s really a cool position. And it also gets me out in the community and meeting new people and all of that. So some of the events are like planning a big party all the time. So that’s another thing that’s me Being engaged with the community. I really enjoy that.

 ANGELIQUE: Yes. And that’s amazing that you get to do something that you love, that you love to do every day.

SHERRY: It makes a difference. It really does. When you’re able to wake up, and you’ve got a smile on your face, and you’re so excited to get into the office. It makes a big difference. 

ANGELIQUE: Yes. And what does true leadership mean to you? 

SHERRY: I think that is about relationships, and building those relationships in a meaningful way. And it’s not being at the top and going down. It’s being part of the community at large, and making a difference. I think anybody in any position can be a leader. It’s how you present yourself. And I think that being engaged and how you communicate, that’s going to make you a leader.

ANGELIQUE: Yes, I agree. Elisa, she’s my editor for the magazine. So I’m always listening to her and asking her questions. And I tell her like, she’s like an older sister to me, so we definitely have that friendship. I do think that’s very important when working together. And how do you define success?

SHERRY: For me, personally, reaching my goals. Whether they be personal goals or professional goals. I think we all need to define what success is for ourselves. Somebody’s success to you might look completely different. But for me personally, if I can say I’ve accomplished these goals, again, whether they’re personal or professional, then then I’m successful.

ANGELIQUE: Yes. And what is the most prominent issue affecting teen girls today?

SHERRY: That would be the suicide issue. So there are many reasons why girls attempt suicide. But girls are currently attempting suicide three times more frequently, and then boys and they’re starting to become more aggressive. So we typically hear more about boys committing suicide or attempting suicide, but girls try it more often. And now they’re starting to be more aggressive in their method of attempting suicide. So their numbers are going to rise. And I think that’s the biggest issue right now is anxiety, depression, and stress. And how are we going to fix that? How are we going to meet them where they are and be supportive of them? But not being able to have the coping skills for these things that just stress and anxiety and depression. About 50% of young girls, starting at the age of six, are concerned about becoming too fat, and their body image. So when you’ve got six-year-olds and eight-year-olds and 10-year-olds worried about being fat, and how they’re looking in their clothes, that impacts them as they go into their teen years, where we’re already struggling to fit in, and so forth. So there are just so many issues, but we’ve got to step back and look at OK teen girls are attempting suicide at a higher rate than boys, what do we need to look at? How can we address them, and support them? To build them up to give them that confidence and that empowerment to become strong young women? But yeah, it’s really about countering those suicidal thoughts.

ANGELIQUE: Yes. And do you find that teen girls are more open to speaking to you? or other people outside their family or home?

SHERRY: That depends on the family dynamics. For some folks, it’s easier for them to go to a family member. For others, it’s not culturally accepted, or if they don’t have a comfortable relationship with the family. So they need to go out. But I will say that the number of young kids that are reaching out to the hotlines and helplines just to talk to somebody is growing. And the number of teens going to counseling is growing. So I think that there is an openness in today’s culture and society. It is okay to go outside of your family to get the help that you might need or just to have that conversation that you need. But I think it’s gonna depend really on the family relationship and the family dynamics.

ANGELIQUE: Yes. And what would you say to a teen girl who wants to speak up about her struggles, but is afraid to do so?

SHERRY: Be brave, go ahead and do it. It might be hard, it might be difficult, but it’s worth it. And depending on what the struggles are, people have already experienced that they’re not alone. So go ahead and speak up, talk to a trusted adult, talk to a friend. Get it out there because you’re going to learn that you’re not by yourself. Other people have gone through this. There are people out there that want to support you. So find the courage and go out and do it. talk to that person. And you’re going to just feel so much love and support, it’s going to be worth the scariness of reaching out to somebody, it’s definitely worth it. Go ahead and do it. It’s hard. But you can. You’re going to come out stronger and better on the other side, if you do.

ANGELIQUE: Thank you so much for that. And if you have an opportunity to speak to the president or vice president, what would you say to them?

SHERRY: That we need to make sure we get more help in the behavioral health community because our teens are struggling. So we need to make sure that we’re addressing mental health issues that we need to really Destigmatize mental health. And I think that would be a great opportunity for national intervention. It’s an opportunity as a nation to come together and address a particular issue that is impacting everyone.

ANGELIQUE: Yes, I think that’s very important. And ending on a more lighthearted note. What do you like to do in your free time?,

SHERRY: My husband, and I love jazz. And so we really enjoy going to jazz concerts, especially outside, I was beaten with COVID. We haven’t been able to do anything like that. But we’d love to be outside listening to the music. And being here in Arizona, we love to go up to Sedona and just enjoy the beauty of the red rocks and things like that. I’m not to be corny or anything. But if I’m with my husband, my life is good. And so whatever we’re doing is good. Those are what we really enjoy doing together. We’ve been married 23 years, and it’s just still fun today as it was back then.

ANGELIQUE: That’s so cute!

SHERRY: We’re laughing again!

ANGELIQUE: Oh, so beautiful. Yes, AND thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today. It was an absolute pleasure having you on this episode of 20 Questions With.

SHERRY: Thank you so much. I’m really excited about the opportunity to share and visit and get to know you, folks, more and all I love your magazine. I love what you’re doing for the community. And I’m just excited to be partnering with all of you. So thank you. I appreciate it. 

If you’re interested in pursuing a media career, make sure to visit us at latinitasmagazine.org for more information. Thank you guys so much for tuning in to this episode of 20 Questions With. We’ll see you next time.