Debra Penzone, president of Charles Penzone Salons, was speaking to a group of middle school students at a mother-daughter event a few years ago.

Debra Penzone, president of Charles Penzone Salons, was speaking to a group of middle school students at a mother-daughter event a few years ago.

Naturally she was offering tips about fashion and beauty and hair.

And she might still be giving that same talk on those same topics to groups of young girls, but for one face she spotted in the audience that day.

It was the face of a girl who "looked very lonely," Penzone said last week.

"I just connected with her," she recalled.

It all came rushing back to Penzone, how growing up Debbie Miller back in Springfield she was once one of the popular girls, a "mean girl" who had her own club, Debbie's Club, and who invited others to join and kicked some of them out.

She recalled how when she was in the sixth grade she developed eczema and one day one of the popular boys made fun of her skin condition.

Almost all of the rest of her so-called friends soon piled on.

"They instantly turned on me and kicked me out of my own club," Penzone said.

"Some of the stuff I went through was very hard."

But the girls looking up at her in the mother-daughter audience at the school that day didn't see any of that.

They saw Debra Penzone, a confident woman who is president of her own business.

"They didn't see the girl I was when I was their age, Debbie Miller," Penzone said.

That epiphany, that girl's lonely face, led Penzone to create a new Debbie's Club, not one where girls got kicked out but one that "combats some of the core issues and can help teens deal with peer pressure, including self-respect, self-confidence and being comfortable with and proud of personal uniqueness," according to the website for the program.

Penzone wrote a book, Debbie's Club: Discovering My True Beauty for Girls,with chapters that encourage more mother-daughter conversations about the issues teen girls face today.

Penzone gave a presentation to a group of Ridgeview Middle School students last week.

"I think the girls got a lot out of it," she said.

In her talks, Penzone said she explains that throughout the sixth, seventh and eighth grades, which became a sort of personal ordeal for her, one friend stuck by her: a freckle-faced red-hair girl named Ellen Bailey.

"She stood by my side," Penzone said. "She was a true friend. I wanted the girls to understand what true friendship was."

Ellen Bailey encouraged her friend to speak with her parents about what she was going through at school.

Penzone said her father told her he developed eczema when he was younger but got better.

"Instantly I felt like I wasn't alone," Penzone said.

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book go to Earth Angels Foundation, which seeks to empower girls and was founded by Penzone, who also has an inspirational speaking operation titled Debra Penzone LLC.

"I just feel blessed to be able to give back to those girls," the salon chain president said.

"If there is one girl in the audience I can touch and inspire, to help her see that she is uniquely beautiful ... to me that is all that matters.

"I feel like it's so needed nowadays."