By Ashley Brazzel
When most teens were gushing about crushes and agonizing over zits, Haley Kilpatrick was dreaming of ways to create change. That change came in the form of Girl Talk, Inc., a non-profit organization where high school girls mentor their middle school counterparts.
Still, this was not just some idea that popped into her head. It was close to her heart, as Kilpatrick experienced the same pre-teen angst that most other girls do. At one point, she would eat lunch in the bathroom stall just to avoid uncomfortable scenarios in the cafeteria. And when her younger sister Kelly entered middle school and experienced similar situations, she was moved to action. Her motive was simple – help to relieve the social anxiety of other young girls.
In 2002, the first Girl Talk chapter started in an Albany, GA school when Kilpatrick was just 16. When she first presented her idea to the Deerfield-Windsor school, she was quickly turned down. Determined to not be discouraged she revamped her proposal and went at it again. This time, school administrators were all ears and invited her to start the group.
Now at 21, Kilpatrick and her mission have become forces to be reckoned with.
“I’ve been able to witness what one person can do,” Kilpatrick said. “And it is my only hope that my story will inspire others. You don’t have to have a diploma to create change. Change starts now and it starts with you.”
Currently, Girl Talk is in 22 U.S. states, Canada, the Virgin Islands and Zambia, with talks of going global in the near future. However, Kilpatrick’s immediate goals are to expand into all 50 states and to become a multilingual organization, specifically Spanish. In the fall, there will be Girl Talk chapters in all 16 Cobb County high schools, the second largest school district in Georgia.
“It’s been a very humbling process,” Kilpatrick said of her role as Executive Director. “I’ve had to learn that I’m not in control of Girl Talk.”
While that may be true to some extent, Kilpatrick’s wit and motivation to help others is what has helped this five-year old organization become what it is today. In fact, when a major corporation came calling some time ago, she pitched them in her dorm room. And even sold her current sponsor, Brown Bag Marketing, on her vision and won their interest indefinitely at age 18.
“I basically told them that I knew that I was on the brink of something huge,” Kilpatrick said. “I was young, but I convinced them that if they believed in me, I would put them on the map.”
In return, Brown Bag designed the website, donated thousands of dollars, built a plan of attack for attracting other corporate sponsors, and even put Kilpatrick up in her own cozy office in their building.
Keeping in step with the group’s mission to help young girls come into their own and grasp their dreams, Kilpatrick is serious about selflessness.
“I realized at a young age that life isn’t about me,” she said. “It truly is about giving back. The more you give, the more you receive.”
That wisdom about life is possibly the reason that has garnered her so much attention. In 2004, she was honored by CosmoGirl! magazine as their CosmoGirl! of the Year and recognized among celebrities at the annual Born to Lead Awards. She has been featured in numerous publications and even served as the official spokesperson for American Eagle Outfitters “Live Your Life” campaign.
Above all, Kilpatrick said her fulfillment comes when she’s actually interacting with the girls and hearing their stories. She recounted an experience where a member, who had a friend who was cutting herself, came to the leaders for help. The friend was able to get help and eventually became a Girl Talk leader herself.
“Going to local Girl Talk chapters, and watching young girls grow from insecure middle schoolers into confident, philanthropic high school Girl Talk leaders…is the most fun,” she said.
Despite the high-rise office in Buckhead and enviable press coverage, she’s just a regular college student. A very popular college student – Kennesaw State University even has billboards and magazine ads with her face on them – but a normal one nonetheless.
And when she’s not traveling cross-country on speaking tours, she’s doing regular people things… spending time with her family, counting down the days to her Cabo San Lucas vacation with her best friend, even crushing on Justin Timberlake.
“I love going to the movies, and I’m a big fan of Top Gun,” she laughed. “I probably shouldn’t have said that though.”
In addition, the junior communications major said she enjoys writing and plans to one day pen a book about the many Girl Talk experiences, as well as venture into other areas.
“I might also go into politics,” she said.
But for now, the fifth-generation Albany native is content being a “daughter, sister and friend,” and nanny to two young children. But at the end of the day, what keeps this “West Coast girl at heart” going?
“People inspire me,” she said. “People that know the value of community service, soldiers who are fighting for our freedom, Girl Talk girls across the country, my family, my friends, people who defy the odds and live to tell their story…people keep me going each and everyday.”