As the founder of the Tyler Project, Valinda Valcich is a very active community member who is more than deserving of the title “Hero of the Hamptons.” Knowing too well the pain of losing a child to suicide, Valcich stated, “It’s hard to talk about, but we have to help these kids out here. There have been way too many suicides in our communities. So many, that we’re considered a cluster watch, a high-risk zone.”
An advocate of mental health for students, young adults, and their families, Valcich started the Tyler Projectt named after her son, to raise awareness about the needs of East End youth. Through private funding and two fundraisers, The Walk for Awareness and The Gears and Grease Car Show, Valcich funded programs in schools that provide assistance for teens, young adults, and their families. The funding also is used to pay for additional therapy when needed.
The Tyler Project provides information on suicide prevention and strives to “increase, improve, and coordinate services to the youth of the East End.”
A year after Valcich’s son’s death, she said, “We all got together and asked the young adults, ‘What is the best way we can help you?’ They said they would never want to meet with a doctor or talk to a parent. So, I said, ‘What about a bonfire on the beach?’ That’s how we came up with the East End Chat and Chill Group. We have a therapist who sits in the background and the kids select whatever they want to do. Maybe they want to do a bonfire on the beach, maybe they want to go out for dinner, go to an art show, or attend an art program, go for a boat ride. Whatever they want to do, we let them decide. The Chat and Chill group has been a huge success.”
Although the East End Chat and Chill Group was originally created for ages 15 to 22, Valcich stated that older, more mature individuals have also wanted to become part of the group and have sought help from the organization. “When someone is in crisis, they need immediate help. They can’t wait for an appointment. We’ve provided immediate sessions and helped out countless kids and young adults out here, even on the North Fork,” she noted.
The Tyler Project also hosts Facebook and Instagram pages for people to get started with the program. “It’s all about social media,” Valcich said. “It’s good, but really not good either. In so many of the cases, the young people we see are the victims of bullying and through social media, people can bully without any repercussions. We need to raise awareness. Kids are not going to leave their classroom and go to a therapy session. It’s going to stigmatize them even more. We have to take bullying seriously. We have to listen and take it seriously.”
Valcich emphasized, “Awareness is key. It takes $30,000 to run one school program for a year, and that’s for only one school.” While the funds raised through the Tyler Project’s fundraisers go directly towards these programs, Valcich admits that she has personally funded some of the programs.
“There needs to be more support out there. It’s lacking right now. We’re trying to establish ourselves. We have a site in Sag Harbor for the East End Chat and Chill Group and we are working on trying to establish ourselves on the North Fork. We’re working with many different organizations to establish a network,” she said.
She has partnered with several organizations including fire departments, school districts, and women’s shelter The Retreat to get her message out. “I can’t let this happen again. They need to know that there’s always another way, a better solution,” said Valcich.
If you would like to learn more about the Tyler Project, you can visit its website, Instagram, and Facebook pages.