The Challenge: Bullying affects students all over the world and can be traumatizing.
The Solution: The Validation Project.
The Teen Who’s Making A Brighter Future: Valerie Weisler of New York, NY.
Valerie Weisler knew what it was like to be shy. As a high school freshman, she was so quiet, she was accused of being mute. But when she saw a fellow student being bullied, she spoke up and said, “You matter.”
His response, that her words “validated” him, in turn inspired her.
Thus, The Validation Project was born.
The Validation Project has evolved from a website about the impact of standing up for someone else to a global organization with chapters in 105 countries. Teenagers who come through the program get to partner with a mentor, identify their passions, and design community campaigns to offer validation to those who need it. Valerie has also created a “kindness curriculum” to replace government-led anti-bullying courses in nearly 1,000 schools across the globe. Valerie has involved thousands of teens in her movement to spread kindness and validation, and she’s been recognized by the White House, the UN, and the State Department, not to mention a much-deserved Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award.
We caught up with Valerie in between classes at her first year of college!
What’s your favorite song?
“Message From Your Heart” by Kina Grannis! My mom and I always used to listen to it on car rides.
Your favorite thing to do with your “free” time?
Going on adventures with my friends! We’ll drive around until we find a new restaurant or bake cookies and watch “Parks and Rec.” I’m really lucky to have a hardcore good group of friends at school.
How did you experience bullying as a kid?
I was bullied pretty brutally my freshman year of high school for being so shy, nearly mute. Girls would put notes in my locker telling me to leave and made up rumors that I didn’t have the physical ability to speak.
What did it feel like when you stood up for your classmate freshman year of high school?
It was this moment of total rejuvenation, like waking up from a really long nap. I felt alive for the first time in a long time.
And how did that inspire the Validation Project?
The student said I validated him, and it made me think about the power—both negative and positive—that words can have. I started thinking, how cool would it be if there was a space for all teenagers to not only share their struggles but also be shown their worth? So I went home and started a website.
How has this expanded so rapidly? 105 countries in four years??
Actually, my Jewish community! In high school, I was very active in USY and I am a former Ramah Nyack camper (now a counselor!). When I started this, my rabbi immediately had me speak at my synagogue and my youth group sent out an announcement. I had no idea it would become an international movement, but I truly wake up every day so excited to do what I do.
What is the hardest part about running The Validation Project?
As clichéd as it sounds, probably balancing being both “Val” and “Val, the CEO.” I have a tough time talking about it with people because I don’t want anybody to ever see me as just that—I want them to know the Val that loves dancing even though she sucks and freaks out every time she sees a dog. It’s getting better though—my group at my school, Muhlenberg, is incredible and also all have their own amazing things they do, so I’ve started making goals of talking about it more.
The most rewarding part?
I love when I get to do hands-on work with the kids. Seeing a 7th grader transform from a shy kid to a grinning entrepreneur in an hour proves to me that what I do is worth it. It’s all about proving to my generation that we can solve the problems we face—and we don’t have to wait until we’re a certain age to do that. Also, getting to travel to different countries is incredible. I’m lucky to have been to eight of the countries The Validation Project is active in—from Vietnam to Australia. Getting to meet kids I work with from behind a computer screen brings the whole movement to life.
What was it like to get all these awards and to give a TED Talk?
Giving a TED Talk was SCARY. Definitely out of my comfort zone, but forcing myself to do it has helped me get over so many other fears. Getting awards is definitely rewarding, but my favorite part of it is getting to meet people and further my project through who I may be sitting with at the table.
What’s next for The Validation Project?
We are in the process of launching a Celebrity Ambassador Program which has some exciting things behind it! We also just re-did our website, so check it out! It’s www.thevalidationproject.org.
How about you? Any plans?
I’m a freshman at Muhlenberg College now. I’m majoring in international studies on the pre-law track. I’m thinking I want to work for the U.S. State Department, but who knows!
Anything else you’d like to say about The Validation Project or your Tikkun Olam Award?
Just how thankful I am to have Diller in my corner! Along with the incredible financial support, having so many incredible teenagers and members of the Jewish world on my side gives me so much strength.
This post is sponsored by the Helen Diller Family Foundation. To learn more about the foundation’s $36,000 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards, visit www.dillerteenawards.or. Nominations are open for the 2016 awards, now through Dec. 1.