By Kate Atwood

I was 23 years old when I started Kate’s Club. Today, eight years later, I look back and reflect upon just how young I was to be taking on such a task. But when a fire is ignited in our soul to give, it’s up to us to acknowledge it and do something with it. For Haley Kilpatrick, that fire was lit at the age of 15.

Her story emphasizes the understanding that age is just a number when it comes to the capacity for each of us to find joy and purpose by reaching out to help others, especially those we relate to most.

Haley shares with Living by Giving about her passion to help young girls, and the growth of her organization, Girl Talk, over the past nine years.

Tell us about Girl Talk and share a little about how it has grown from a grassroots group to a global movement helping girls around the world.

Girl Talk is a nonprofit peer-to-peer mentoring program for middle school girls. The mission is simple: through weekly meetings, high school girls help middle school girls build self-esteem, develop leadership skills and learn how to give back. We work hard to ensure that there are no costs associated with the program. Any high school girl seeking an incredible leadership opportunity can start a chapter in her school. Girl Talk has grown from one chapter in my hometown, to more than 440 programs in 43 states, three countries and reaching 32,000 girls. The support from local businesses and individuals has been the greatest gift to me and to Girl Talk. Businesses like Brown Bag Marketing & Pivot Strategic Marketing have been invaluable to Girl Talk’s growth and success. Our goal is to ultimately reach millions of girls.

Can you tell us about the experience in your own life that lead you to start the organization?

I was 15 years old when I started Girl Talk and that was the same year my younger sister, Kelly, started middle school. Middle school was a very hard time for me. I felt left out, alone and very misunderstood. I would often eat lunch in the bathroom to try to avoid the “battle zone” of the cafeteria. Girls can be mean! I remember feeling like the only one going through it.  No one was talking about it. I knew that there had to be a way to prevent my sister from going through the same things I did. I told my favorite teacher that I was frustrated by the way girls were treating each other in middle school and that I had this idea for a program that could help. The idea was to have high school girls be there for middle school girls and tell them that they are not alone, they are understood and most of all that they went through it, too.  At our first meeting I expected five or six girls to show up and to my surprise, 80 percent of the middle school girls came. It was obvious that there was a need.

Creating a nonprofit is tough stuff. What has been the most rewarding part?

There have been, and continue to be, tough times when I am not sure how we are going to make it financially, but thanks to Facebook there are daily reminders of why we do what we do. Parents, teachers and girls will post on our wall or send a message to say thank you. Knowing that Girl Talk is positively impacting lives makes any hardship bearable. When you receive a letter from a mom of one our participants that says Girl Talk saved her daughter’s life, you are recharged to make it all work. Knowing that Girl Talk is really helping girls only reaffirms that I am doing exactly what I was put on Earth to do.

Do you have a particular memory that you hold close to you heart where you saw first-hand the impact of Girl Talk?

One of my favorite memories was at our Project Inside Out camp a couple of years ago. The first day I noticed a very shy girl who sat by herself at lunch and was too nervous to talk to the other girls. I found out later that afternoon from her mom that she was often ostracized at school, and this camp was an attempt to help her feel loved and build up her broken self-esteem. The next day, I saw three girls introduce themselves to her and sit with her at lunch. By the end of the week, this shy girl was in the midst of all the fun – singing, dancing and opening up about her experiences. She is now giving back by volunteering as a counselor this summer.

What is your biggest dream for Girl Talk?

I’m always dreaming for Girl Talk and my mission will be complete when every middle school girl has access to a Girl Talk chapter in her school or community. We will be launching a $5 million campaign in celebration of our 10th anniversary next year. I remember just how hard it was to get started early on – funding was by far the hardest. Beyond that, I hope to change the way a generation of young girls behave. Behavior is that hardest thing to change, but by teaching the girls the importance of leadership, being kind and giving back, I believe we can change the way they treat each other. The real fruits of our labor will be when these middle school girls become mothers and model great behavior to their daughters.

For more about Girl Talk, visit www.desiretoinspire.org.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.