She was bullied relentlessly in school. Now she's helping teens change the world.

Like so many kids, Val Weisler experienced her fair share of bullying when she was in high school.

It left her feeling ostracized and alone, that is until she realized she was far from the only one being bullied.

"I thought I was the only person dealing with it, and then I saw another student being bullied," admits Val. "I went up to him and I just said the two words I was hoping that someone would tell me: 'You matter.'"


The boy told her that her coming up to him and expressing what she did made him feel validated.  

That interaction sparked an idea in Val — if all kids who are bullied were told that they matter, maybe bullying could become a thing of the past?  

So she started an organization dedicated to doing just that, which she appropriately named The Validation Project.

Photo via Weisler/The Validation Project.

But teaching kids that they have worth is just part of its mission. Ultimately, the project endeavors to give kids the resources they need to take their newfound confidence and become social good activists.

They also teach kids that there's no reason to wait until they grow up to make an impact.

"Remember in elementary school, everyone would ask you what you want to do when you grow up? Well, here at The Validation Project, we ask you what you want to do NOW because there's no reason to wait to change the world," their site notes.

So far, The Validation Project has reached 6,000 teens and over 1,000 schools in 105 countries, but that doesn't mean Val's stopped connecting with individual kids.

In fact, she recently visited Camp Scuffy, which is near where she grew up in Ramapo, New York, to share what she's learned with the kids there.

Photo via Upworthy.

Not only does she teach her kindness curriculum, which has helped reduce bullying significantly in the 1,000 schools that implement it, she helps kids hone in on a social justice issue that they're passionate about so they can start doing something to support it.

"My favorite thing is watching how quickly a kid can come up with an idea when you give them a marker a poster board and you ask them what they care about," says Val.

She also acts as a cheerleader for them if they're feeling defeated for whatever reason, and constantly reminds them that they're worth it. Those moments are as equally validating for her as they seem to be for the teen she's connecting with.

Photo via Upworthy.

It's no surprise that the Validation Project has received accolades for its work. Thanks to that attention, Val is looking towards the future and how she can reach even more kids who need a boost.

For example, she was recently a recipient of the L'Oreal Paris Women of Worth Award, which acknowledges women who are giving back to their communities in extraordinary ways, and it's opened up so many possibilities for her.

"It's elevated the Validation Project so I can reach the communities that really need to hear my message," explains Val.

But most importantly, it's reminded her why her mission is so important, especially in the face of the many social challenges kids face today.

"Knowing you’re worth it is the foundation of anybody’s sense of confidence, anybody’s sense of self-worth, sense of caring for themselves and caring for the world," she says. "That’s why I do what I do."

Learn more about Val and The Validation Project here:

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In many ways, 18-year-old Idaho native, Hank Cazier, is like any other teenager you've met. He loves chocolate, pop music, and playing games with his family. He has lofty dreams of modeling for a major clothing company one day. But one thing that sets him apart may also jeopardize his future is his recent battle against a brain tumor.

Cazier was diagnosed in 2015. When he had surgery to remove the tumor, he received trauma to his brain and lost some of his motor functionality. He's been in physical, occupational, and speech therapy ever since. The experience impacted Cazier's confidence and self-esteem, so he's been looking for a way to build himself back up again.

"I wanted to do something that helped me look forward to the future," he says.

Enter Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes for children battling critical illnesses, providing them a chance to make the impossible possible. The organization partnered with Macy's to raise awareness and help make those wishes a reality. The hope is that the "wish effect" will improve their quality of life and empower them with the strength they need to overcome these illnesses and look towards the future. That was a particularly big deal for Cazier, who had been feeling like so many of his wishes weren't going to be possible because of his critical illness.

"In the beginning, it was hard to accept that it would be improbable for me to accomplish my previous goals because my illness took away so many of my physical abilities," says Cazier. His wish of becoming a model also seemed out of reach.

But Macy's and Make-A-Wish didn't see it like that. Once they learned about Cazier's wish, they knew he had to make it come true by inviting him to be part of the magical Macy's holiday shoot in New York.

Courtesy of Macy's

Make-A-Wish can't fulfill children's wishes without the generosity of donors and partners like Macy's. In fact, since 2003, Macy's has given more than $122 million to Make-A-Wish and impacted the lives of more than 2.9 million people.

Cazier's wish experience was beyond what he could've imagined, and it filled him with so much joy and confidence. "It is like waking up and discovering that you have super powers. It feels amazing!" he exclaims.

One of the best parts about the day for him was the kindness everyone who helped make it happen showed him.

"The employees of Macy's and Make-A-Wish made me feel welcome, warm, and cared for," he says. "I am truly grateful that even though they were busy doing their jobs, they were able to show kindness and compassion towards me in all of the little details."

He also got to spend part of the shoot outdoors, which, as someone who loves climbing, hiking, and scuba-diving but has trouble doing those activities now, was very welcome.

Courtesy of Macy's

Overall, Cazier feels he grew a lot during his modeling wish and is now emboldened to work towards a better quality of life. "I want to acquire skills that help me continue to improve in these circumstances," he says.

You can change the lives of more kids like Cazier just by writing a letter to Santa and dropping it in the big red letterbox at Macy's (you can also write and submit one online). For every letter received before Dec. 24, 2019, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. By writing a letter to Santa, you can help a child replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope.

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