Muhlenberg College student Valerie Weisler of New City is one of the 10 recipients of L’Oreal Paris’ 2017 Women of Worth awards. The college sophomore will receive $10,000 to support her teen-empowerment organization, The Validation Project.
Weisler says The Validation Project is focused on “showing teens that they have worth.” That’s been her focus since the first act of kindness that inspired her to start the organization. In Val’s first year of high school, kids bullied her for being shy.
“People would come up to me and ask if I was physically able to talk,” Weisler said. She used her voice to empathize to another student she saw being bullied, stating: “You matter.” He then confided in her that he’d been planning to commit suicide that night, but that her kind words had “really validated him.”
Val built a website that addressed her school’s bullying problem and shared it on Facebook. Classmates chimed in with their stories of victimization, and they started a lunchtime meetup group. This website and group grew into The Validation Project.
At first, the goal was to reduce bullying through what Val calls “two-part validation:” the group would pair a student with a mentor who would teach them more about something they were interested in, and then the student would “pay it forward” by using those skills for good in their community. “Bullies see they can feel big not by hurting someone else but by helping someone else,” Weisler said.
It’s a pro-kindness, entrepreneurship curriculum meant to replace the anti-bullying curriculum that proved ineffective at Val’s school. The group’s reach has grown to include 105 countries and 1,000 schools.
“Now, we don’t just focus on bullying, but whatever issues teenagers are going through, whether that’s a lack of education for female students in a developing country or the experience of coming out as gay in Oklahoma,” Weisler said.
At Muhlenberg, she has organized campaigns on campus and brought on board fellow sophomore Olivia Gaynor, a media & communication major, to help spread the word about The Validation Project. Olivia created the Project’s celebrity ambassador program, which includes Jazz Jennings (of TLC’s “I Am Jazz”) and Nia Frazier (of Lifetime’s “Dance Moms”), and helps manage the group’s social media presence.
“It’s all about inspiring young people to be themselves and do whatever they want to do in life, which is something everyone can benefit from,” Gaynor said. “I thought Val’s message should be projected out to more people because she was doing such great work.”
The $10,000 award will help Val build an app to help users learn what action they can take in their communities at any given time, and to host a Validation Project conference. “It’d be great to have all the chapters and teens meet each other face to face,” Weisler said. “Some of them have been communicating online for the past five years.”
Education professor John Ramsay, whom Val counts as one of her mentors, has been particularly supportive of Val’s efforts.
“Val brings an intense intellectual curiosity about difficult human problems, the honesty to confront inconvenient facts, an eagerness to explore the gaps between academic models and real world behaviors and a hunger for feedback about what she’s misreading or not entirely grasping,” Ramsay says. “She’s building this Validation Project, growing it, making it resilient and durable.”
“One of the reasons I love Muhlenberg is it’s a small college and the professors care about you,” Weisler said. “You’re not just a name on a sheet; you’re a student with a personality.”
Submitted by Muhlenberg College