ALBANY, Ga. -- Even though she now lives in Atlanta, she has not forgotten the people in Albany who helped get her to where she is today.
Haley Kilpatrick founded the Girl Talk organization as a 15-year-old student at Deerfield-Windsor School. Now in its 10th year, the mentoring program that caters to middle school girls has established a presence in 43 states and at least six countries.
The goal of the 2004 Deerfield graduate is to see Girl Talk reach all 50 states, but she's not stopping there.
Kilpatrick, now working as the organization's executive director, is currently in the middle of a nationwide tour to promote her book, "The Drama Years," which was released on April 3.
The tour's launch coincided with the book's release. It has so far been in New York City; Louisville, Ky.; St. Louis, and Atlanta. There are also plans to visit Raleigh, N.C.; Denver, Seattle; Frisco, Texas, and Phoenix before it wraps on Memorial Day weekend in Seaside, Fla.
The next planned visit to Albany will be 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. April 23 at Deerfield's campus, 2500 Nottingham Way.
There, in the W.T. Henry Gymnasium, Kilpatrick said she would be doing what has been planned for all the stops on the tour -- a book signing as well as a parent-daughter workshop, something she said has so far yielded positive results when it comes to opening up the lines of communication.
"It's been amazing to go to these cities that I've never been to and spend some one-on-one time with those that see the quality of Girl Talk," Kilpatrick said. "It feels like we are investing into the community. It's not about me, it's about these girls and giving them a voice.
"For people that can't afford the book, it gives (parents) a chance to listen to what (their daughters) have to say."
For the Albany trip specifically, Kilpatrick said she is looking forward to touching base again with some of the people who helped establish the organization's roots.
"It's so humbling, so exciting," she said. "I can't wait to say thank you to Albany."
From the perspective of Sarah Orgel, a retired school counselor who was at Deerfield when Girl Talk was established, Albany is grateful to Kilpatrick as well.
"At the time, it (Girl Talk) was very much needed," she said. "She was the first to come up with the notion. She had had problems with the typical 'middle school syndrome,' and it's the same everywhere. It's not like that just at Deerfield.
"It gave the girls some older role models, and Haley was one of those girls. (The younger girls) wanted to be like her; they looked up to her. She had determination to follow through with the program."
Kilpatrick was featured Tuesday in a national news story in USA Today titled "Girls' middle school years don't have to be drama years." She has also had her share of national TV appearances, including NBC Nightly News, CNN, HLN and TBS. Most recently, she was on NBC's "Today Show" to get the word out about the book. There, she was greeted by the guest host, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, co-anchor Ann Curry and Dr. Janet Taylor.
"I knew it would be a huge opportunity for the book," Kilpatrick said. "It was an incredible experience. It was wonderful to talk back with each other."
"The Drama Years," meant to serve as a guidebook for parents and teachers struggling to help girls navigate the often-difficult transition into adolescence, is the culmination of 2,000 hours worth of interviews over three years with girls from across the country.
In the course of the research process, there were some answers being sought -- such as why a 12-year-old girl would send out 5,000 text messages over the course of a month, or why would she be happy one minute, and angry the next -- and what parents could do to help.
Kilpatrick was surprised at what she found.
"It was fascinating to learn things I assumed I would have figured out," she said.
One surprising element in particular was the results that came out of asking the girls to define self-esteem.
"Many defined it as how others perceive them (instead of how they see themselves)," Kilpatrick said. "It's like their peers assess their self worth. It's no wonder they are self-conscious at this age.
"We asked how parents can help, and they said to 'model a good, healthy body image to us ... acknowledge how wonderful you are from the inside out.'"
Kilpatrick also said the research uncovered what a girl's desire is in regards to the relationship they wish to have with their parents.
"They said: 'We want parents to have the tough conversations with us. We want parents to initiate these conversations early,'" she said.
The ultimate goal behind all of this is to break the "mean girl" cycles by helping parents raise confident, healthy girls who respect each other as adults. This is done by not only opening up the lines of communication between tweens and their parents, but to also give them the opportunity to be mentored by high school girls -- the ones that have been through the emotional turmoils of middle school most recently.
"The past 10 years have been the greatest honor, and I say that humbly," Kilpatrick said. "It's been a pleasure to get to know people that continue to give Girl Talk wings.
"It's hard for me to say thank you. I feel like it's my job to keep talking and keep it going."
Considering the resources available at the beginning, it would seem the evolution of Girl Talk is what Kilpatrick referred to as "turning straw into gold."
At the same time, she acknowledges the help she has had along the way.
"I've learned that it's not just about me. God had bigger visions for Girl Talk than I did," she said. "I have to credit my faith. I feel blessed to see where (the program) is going.
"My mom heard the idea first, and she just said it was a great idea -- and she encouraged me to be independent."
She also credits the seventh-grade teacher who helped support it, as well as the librarian who would just sit and listen to her -- all while they had jobs and families of their own to support.
"It's not just one person, it's a team," Kilpatrick said.
By the time she graduated from Deerfield, Kilpatrick was able to see eight Girl Talk programs in place. The one she established at Deerfield remains active, officials at the school say.
All it took for Kilpatrick to recognize the need was to reflect on her middle school experience.
"Each year there was a unique set of issues, and not having an older sister (to talk to)," she recalled. "I felt like I was the only one not included in things. I remember just feeling that something was wrong with me. When I exited middle school, I was a diminished version of the girl I once knew. I went into the dance team in high school, and a senior took me under her wing.
"In reality, we are all going through it. We don't just talk about it. I knew my sister and friends were about to go through this, and then there was a light bulb that went off -- and I thought maybe I could make a difference."
In commemoration of the organization's 10th anniversary, there will be a gala taking place this fall in Atlanta. At that time, a capital fundraising campaign will kick off to help with the expansion of Girl Talk, its founder said.
In the meantime, the organization will continue with its summer camps. This year, Project Inside Out -- week-long day camps -- will take place from June 4-7 in Sandy Springs and July 23-27 in Brookhaven.
"Being involved (in Girl Talk) has changed my life in almost every way," Kilpatrick said. "It inspired me to wake up every day. I wanted to continue to feel that way every day.
"Many girls are writing me letters and emails saying thank you for giving them the opportunity to help people."
Kilpatrick's parents, Tonya Kilpatrick and Bert Kilpatrick, split their time between Albany and Florida. They have two other children, a son, Will, and a daughter, Kelly.
"The Drama Years" is currently available at Books-A-Million at the Albany Mall, as well as the U-Save-It Pharmacy on Meredyth Drive.
Those interested in setting up a Girl Talk chapter in their area can do so at no cost. For more information on the organization, visit www.desiretoinspire.org.