This post is part of our month-long series featuring Greatest Women of the Day, in recognition of Women's History Month.
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Haley Kilpatrick started Girl Talk after emerging from the "mean girl" culture of her middle school.
She decided she didn't want her little sister or other girls suffering the awkward agony of wondering why they weren't invited to sleepovers and not knowing how to deal with cruel, anonymous phone calls.
Haley, 24, said she realized her idea had grown beyond herself when it touched the life of a girl who was severely depressed. She was self-harming by cutting herself and didn't know who to turn to. She told her best friend, who in turn, told her Girl Talk mentor, who went straight to a guidance counselor.
That's the value of Girl Talk, said Haley. At a time when parents, teachers and coaches seem especially hard to talk to, and even an immature slight can be hard to get over, girls in their early teens have someone to talk to. Someone who's been through it before, and someone who knows what to do about it.
Haley launched Girl Talk while she was in 10th grade in 2002. It was a simple idea: high school girls spending an hour a week with middle school girls just talking, with the help of a guidance counselor. But it it took off. By the time she had graduated, there were already eight other chapters in schools around Georgia and Florida. "It was a magical combination, it cost no money, the high school girls build leadership skills and the middle school girls realize they're not alone," said Haley, who is now based in Atlanta, Ga.
Haley said she's still surprised that administrators at her school, the Deerfield Windsor School in Albany, Ga., let her do it. "They had no idea what they were inspiring," she adds.
And the organization took on a life of its own, with mentors going out of their way and outside their designated hour-per-week to talk about a bad day or to discuss a problem. "It's really amazing when you give high school girls leadership opportunities; they are radiant."
There are now 500 chapters in schools and Boys & Girls Clubs chapters around the country. 32,000 girls have been involved with the program since it was started in September 2002.
Chapters have popped up in Canada, Australia and as far afield as Kenya in East Africa. Haley said the international appeal underscores the fact that the issues many teenage girls face cross social and national barriers. "It's not just about low-income girls or at-risk girls or middle class girls," she said. "The issues are universal."