VIA celebrates Sonya Tinsley-Hook, whose work with Character Strengths in community organizing is both original and just what the world needs. In this interview, we asked Sonya about her background, the context in which she fashioned the term Strengthskeeping and what it means to her. We also asked about her family and the type of impact she hopes to have in the world today.
Energizing Volunteers with Strengths
For Sonya, it all started with a leadership role in her local Parent Teacher Association (PTA). “Some of my most valuable lessons have come from being a PTA President,” Sonya says. “You rely on other people’s donated time to support your under-resourced school.”
Sonya discovered that she could energize her all-volunteer community through training in Character Strengths. One woman in the PTA later shared with Sonya that her volunteer work had been a source of vitality. “This woman realized that her work with the PTA wasn’t just about donating her time. Because we celebrated Character Strengths, she was able to express her creativity and to be nurtured and energized. She felt like she was part of a team in which everyone had something to offer,” explains Sonya.
But Sonya was disappointed to see that not long after a Character Strengths training session, people lost focus on their strengths and their energy drained away. That’s when she coined the term: Strengthskeeping. “It occurred to me that it’s going to have to be someone’s job to keep us coming back to our strengths,” Sonya explains. “We say they’re important, but we just give a single workshop and hope that people keep coming back to them.”
For Sonya, designing a formal role within her community for a Strenghskeeper simply reflected the other aspects of her organization. “We had a secretary to capture our discussions and decisions. We had a treasurer who maintained our financial information. I realized that it was going to have to be someone’s job to keep us coming back to our strengths.”
Sonya explains: “A Strengthskeeper is a person dedicated to keeping strengths alive in themselves and in their community. The Strenghtskeeper reminds everyone they can do it. There’s a yearning in all of us to express our strengths and we need people in our life who remind us that we have agency.”
Sonya also feels that a Strengthkeeper can be any one of us—at any given time. “People don’t need to be a coach or to have a title in order to leverage the good in themselves and other people.”
Igniting Youth Potential
Sonya is currently busy with another volunteer project related to her daughter’s present school. “We are about to kick off a program that will run for 6-7 weeks called Every Viking Has Strengths.” Sonya aims for every student in her daughter’s school to take the survey and then for the school to dedicate a specific day to celebrating student strengths.
“The parents are the Strengthskeepers,” she explains. “My goal is to have parents hold mini conferences with students about their strengths. Every student should have the opportunity to know their personal strengths.”
These days, Sonya is increasingly concerned about the lack of connection and belonging that is eroding people’s well-being and reducing their commitment to their community. “I have a community organizing background. I’ve always been connected to people trying to make change in a community.”
Sonya believes that her commitment to fostering healthy communities informs her efforts to spread the concept of a Strengthskeeper. She feels this role can activate positive change in individuals and in those around them. “We don’t just hope. We’re actively doing things to make it happen.”