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Heather Weller distributes handmade cards at the vet-erans home in Fergus Falls.

To D.C. and beyond

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For one week in October, New York Mills seventh grader Heather Weller was more than just a middle school student -- she was a national leader.

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Weller went to Washington, D.C. for the Junior National Young Leaders Conference (JrNYLC).

JrNYLC helps high achieving students develop leadership skills by exploring leaders of the past and bringing that knowledge into their everyday lives.

Weller was nominated by sixth grade teacher Laurine Braukmann.

Braukmann said Weller has outstanding leadership abilities and a truly caring and independent lifestyle.

"Heather always puts others before herself. Whether it's at school or in the community, she is always seeing how she can help others," Braukmann said.

When Weller found out she was nominated, she had to raise $2,400 for the trip. She took odd jobs, applied for scholarships and asked many area businesses and citizens for sponsorship.

With all the money raised, Weller headed to D.C. with a specific goal in mind: To learn leadership techniques to help expand the 'Think Veterans Project' she started three years ago.

In Washington, D.C.

Weller visited many historical monuments in the nation's capital, taking a closer look at national leaders, including Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr.

At Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Weller took part in a reenactment ceremony of John Brown's Raid to better understand what life may have been like around the mid-19th century. Weller played the part of a civilian who had to find a new home for her family after their old house was bombed.

Also at the conference, Weller listened to a variety of educational speakers and took part in hands-on learning programs.

In one such program, Weller and a team of other young leaders had to come up with a plan to deal with teen homelessness.

Her team developed the Anti-Teen Homeless Organization (ATHO). The team had to come up with a plan, a logo and a song explaining their purpose.

Weller's group wanted to provide food, clothing, water and transportation to all teens in need.

Other highlights of Weller's trip were the National Zoo, the Vietnam Wall, and the Smithsonian Museum. She touched a piece of the Berlin Wall, saw a piece of the World Trade Center and saw the flag that inspired the Star Spangled Banner.

Thinking of these pieces of history, Weller said, "I thought back to those times and wondered what it would have been like to be there. It inspires me because these things really did happen. It's a part of history, and I got to see it."

Back in NY Mills

After she returned home, Weller's leadership skills were put in full swing as she motivated others to help her make and deliver cards in time for the fast-approaching Veterans Day.

The idea for her 'Think Veterans Project' came to her when she was at her great uncles' 80th birthday party at the Fergus Falls Veterans Home three years ago.

Weller noticed that the other veterans seemed to really appreciate it when she talked to them.

"I noticed the smiles on their faces," she said.

Weller wanted to send each of the 85 veterans a handmade card to thank them for their service.

Knowing this was too much for her to conquer alone, Weller came back to school and led other elementary students in the project.

She now has big expansion plans for her 'Think Veterans Project.'

She would like to see students from the high school participate in making cards and letters. She would also like to expand into care packages.

Currently she sends cards to the Fergus Falls Veterans Home, but she would like to expand to other veteran's homes in the state.

Eventually, Weller would also like to send cards, letters, and packages to soldiers actively serving.

For more information on Weller's 'Think Veterans Project,' email her at veteranthankyou@gmail.com

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