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Local philanthropist has ‘desire to inspire’

No doubt about it No-Bu resident Haley Kilpatrick is a looker. With honey blond hair and stunning, soulful eyes it’s hard to imagine the attractive 21-one-year old ever could have been concerned about fitting in with peers, but she wants young girls to know she relates to issues of self esteem.

“I’ve been there and chose to become better not bitter,” says Kilpatrick who once ate lunch in the bathroom to avoid social tensions. “Plug yourself into something bigger. For me that was community service.”

Through giving back to her community Kilpatrick found the approval of others who appreciated her unique traits, ultimately also finding a new philosophy of self worth.

Kilpatrick watched her peers suffer and inherently knew the verbal abuse could lead to a generation of confused, distrustful girls, but when her younger sister was affected, a spark ignited and the first structured curriculum, peer-to-peer mentoring program in the country began to take shape.

“Sometime it’s painful to process what happened in school but I healed the bruises on my heart by mentoring younger girls, and that helps me even today.”

Kilpatrick was just15-years-old when she launched the first Girl Talk chapter at her school.

“I planted a seed. It’s rooted itself and is inspiring others to be a change in their communities,” Kilpatrick says. “That gives me peace of mind.”

What began as a club with the simple mission to let girls know they weren’t alone has since grown into a non-profit in need of a fulltime staff to keep things rolling. Girl Talk soon will launch its first capital campaign Fuel for Inspiration to expand its scholarship programs and mentoring initiatives, as well as hire staffers.

Girl Talk recently celebrated its 5-year anniversary and today reaches more than 30,000 girls in 413 active chapters each week. Groups have sprung up in 24 states, as well as Canada, Columbia, The Virgin Islands and Africa, putting Kilpatrick well on her way to achieving her goal of 50-state expansion by 2010.

Despite the organization’s growth, which Kilpatrick spearheaded while tackling communication studies at Kennesaw State University, things still are pretty simple.

The beauty of Girl Talk is that it is so simple,” Kilpatrick says. “Each week revolves around one positive core issue.”

The current curriculum offers 40 lessons but Kilpatrick encourages chapter leaders to create their own topics and take recommendations from fellow members. Chapter leaders download materials for the prepared lessons from the Girl Talk Web site, making the program cost efficient by headquartering virtually.

Today Girl Talk has evolved into more than simply a mentoring program for middle school girls. It also is a leadership program for high school girls where participants can essentially run a small business without the financial stress.

National Advisory Board member and 2007 Girl Talk National Leader of the Year Meredith Head said Girl Talk changed her life and made her a better person but also points out that Kilpatrick herself is the best friend anyone could have.

“Haley is understanding and accepting no matter what,” Head says. “It’s an honor for me to be her friend and to have taught other girls to be strong and see themselves as beautiful.”

It is that sentiment that causes 83 percent of middle school girls to return as high school chapter leaders, according to Girl Talk statistics. Kilpatrick says the growth of the program truly humbles her.

“It’s easy to forget that Girl Talk has such a life,” Kilpatrick says.” I hope the middle schoolers have a place they can go each week and feel accepted and validated.”

Kilpatrick also hopes the girls begin to share her love of community service, learning the world doesn’t revolve around them.

The world may not revolve around Kilpatrick, but it is taking notice. Girl Talk recently was awarded a $20,000 Voices: One Woman’s Voice Can Change the World grant on the Montel Williams Show, and although Montel may have been her first national appearance, Kilpatrick also has appeared on CNN’s Young People Who Rock and Naomi Judd’s talk show Naomi’s New Morning. She was the recipient of CosmoGIRL! Magazine’s Born to Lead award, going on to become CosmoGIRL! of the Year and was selected as American Eagle Outfitters’ Live Your Life campaign spokesperson.

But the lights and cameras don’t tempt Kilpatrick who says the greatest lesson she’s learned on her journey is that people are innately good.

“The meetings are a blur,” Kilpatrick says. “But I remember the individual girls whose lives have been changed by the programs. There are tens of thousands and most of them have a name and a face for me.”

It is that contagious enthusiasm that drives hundreds of people from all walks of life and all over the world to email Kilpatrick every day to volunteer – a good sign for the 5.6 million girls who need a mentor to change their lives.