Girls talk. But who listens, encourages and leads?

Girls talk. But who listens, encourages and leads?

Six female students from Worthington Kilbourne High School are ready to do all of that and more when school begins this month.

They recently returned from a leadership camp in Washington, D.C., where they learned about themselves, the challenges facing women and how to reach out and help a group of younger, more vulnerable girls -- those who are in middle school.

They are ready to launch a local chapter of a program called Girl Talk, a peer-to-peer mentoring initiative that matches high school and middle school girls.

The Kilbourne girls are ready to present the program to the girls at McCord Middle School. The Kilbourne students -- a sophomore, juniors and seniors -- were in the McCord students' places not long ago and remember how discouraging and confusing the middle school experience could be.

"We all know the middle school experience can be rough," said Veronica Dahn, a Girl Talk member.

Girls can be mean, she said.

She is only a sophomore herself, so she can relate to the middle school girls as they try to navigate those transition years between the innocence of elementary school and the high expectations of high school, she said.

Dahn and the other Girl Talk leaders will offer their support through one-on-one relationships and through weekly meetings. Such issues as body image, self-esteem and bullying will be discussed, but the topics could go wherever the girls need help and support.

"It is mainly just 'I'm here to be your friend and role model,' " Dahn said.

Girl Talk is a national program that has reached 40,000 girls in 43 states and continues to expand. It was founded by Haley Kilpatrick, a 25-year-old woman who used her college savings to develop a program to help young girls facing the "drama years" of middle school.

She had experienced her own difficult time in middle school and did not realize until high school that most girls were having the same trying experiences and that it would get better in high school.

The program reached Kilbourne through principal Angie Adrean, who was contacted by a mother she knew at her former job at a middle school in Gahanna. The mother is associated with Thirty-one Gifts, which is a major sponsor of Girl Talk and offered Adrean an opportunity to get involved.

They met with Kilpatrick, who explained the mission, and they were sold.

Adrean and guidance counselor Ariel Schwartz then reached out to a group of girls they though would benefit and would represent the school well.

The girls were offered an opportunity to attend the three-day leadership program at American University in Washington. After their parents met with Kilpatrick through Skype, they were impressed, and the girls were on their ways.

Besides Dahn, the girls who attended the camp were seniors Lauren Spangler and Emma Gascon, juniors Margaret Link and Scarlett Morse and sophomore Abby Souder.

The girls went on a bus filled with girls from Ohio. They stayed in dorms at American University and had the opportunity to meet successful women, hear inspiring speakers and learn valuable lessons about life and about how to develop a successful Girl Talk program.

The girls were inspired in part by a group of women who had spoken to them at the Capitol building on the third day. They represented the administration, politics, the arts and journalism.

Congress was in recess, but a group of female senators and congresswomen made a video for them.

"They showed us you can be a leader in whatever you do," Gascon said.

The next step is to decide how to present the program at McCord, Schwartz said.

She said she's sure the girls are up to the task.

"They've been amazing," she said.