Valerie Weisler, Validation Project Founder and CEO
This month’s Hudson Valley Hero is a local teen who founded a community service group that spans six continents
Fresh into her junior year at West Nyack’s Clarkstown South High School, Valerie Weisler appears to be an average 16-year-old. Yet the precocious teen is anything but ordinary. This year, she was the recipient of both a Hudson Valley Leadership Award from GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network) and the coveted national Jefferson Award for Peace and Justice, all because of her efforts as founder and CEO of the Validation Project.
Launched in January 2013, this global movement matches teens with a mentor to teach them a set of specific skills; the young people then engage in local community service and become a “Validator,” working with others in the project’s network to spread their positive message. For example, a teen eager for a culinary career might be paired with a restaurant to hone cooking skills before volunteering to help in a soup kitchen. Afterwards, the new “Validator” could join forces with like-minded peers to tackle issues like homelessness, perhaps teaching people how to use social media to find healthy meals for less money. “There’s no other place where a teenager can find a group of 5,000 others just like them and, with a click of a button, start finding a way to achieve their dreams,” says Weisler.
The barrage of bullying Weisler has faced in school (she came out just this year) is what inspired her to start the Validation Project. “I was usually the odd one out. I would be making friends with the custodian while kids were on swings,” she remembers.
Never did she envision the Validation Project skyrocketing and essentially becoming a full-time job when her school day ends. “I’m fully committed,” says Weisler, whose love for community service was first nurtured through projects with United Synagogue Youth. And how could she not be, when there are more than 5,550 teenagers involved across 905 Validation Project chapters on six continents? More than 2,000 mentors have signed on, and $25,000 has been raised in goods and services for people in need. The organization even spawned an HIV clinic in Uganda. “I didn’t know a kid like me could have that kind of impact,” she reflects. But she does try to stay “normal” by designating specific hours to spend on school, work, family, and friends.
In January, the Validation Project will debut an app geared specifically towards young women, pairing them with mentors from organizations like the NFL and Seventeen magazine. “This generation has incredible dreams, but as soon as they start to pursue them, people push them down,” Weisler explains. “I want to give them a chance.”
Meet more of our local heroes here or nominate your own below.