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Finding Her Light

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Bradshaw earns national award, scholarship through Girl Talk, Inc.

Wendy Bradshaw has a hard time connecting the Maddie Bradshaw (WC ‘24), who addressed the LeadHER Luncheon on Oct. 5 in Atlanta, with the shy, quiet sixth grader she sent off to a Girl Talk, Inc. camp six years ago.

The Worthington Christian senior shared the Girl Talk, Inc.’s National Leader of the Year honor with Hannah Joseph.

“I can’t tell you what it was like to see her speak on that stage,” Wendy said. “She was so poised. It was like she found her light.”

Girl Talk is a girl empowerment and mentorship program with over 375 chapters in 48 states as well as the Virgin Islands and Zambia. The organization aims to “inspire middle and high school girls to be confident leaders through peer-to-peer mentoring.” Maddie, who serves as the head of the Lux House at the Upper School with Rachel Hooley and Jon Miles, said she left for the camp one person but came home a completely changed individual.

“The Girl Talk camp is the biggest factor in making me willing to take risks and become a more confident person,” she said. “I’m not the most outgoing person, but I’ve been able to take on more leadership positions. I’m able to do things and feel confident doing them.

“This organization has been a huge part of my life since sixth grade. I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to meet so many great people and to be recognized for the time I put into it.”

Over the last six years, Maddie has gone from being a camper to being a counselor to being the lead counselor last June at the Girl Talk camp outside of Atlanta. She also serves as an ambassador for the group, conducting virtual meetings once a month to discuss the direction of Girl Talk. Additionally, she contributes to the group’s podcasts and blog, as well as interviews speakers for the program.

Maddie was sitting on her couch at home when she received a phone call from Emily Laney, the executive director of Girl Talk, to tell her she had won the award. Maddie also received a $2,500 scholarship as part of the honor.

“When she told me the news, I was super excited,” Maddie said. “I had worked so hard for this organization. I was involved with Girl Talk in any way possible since sixth grade.

“(When I found out I was going to be honored) I reflected on the fact I didn’t want to be a part of this organization at first.”

Anxiety often hamstrung Maddie when she was growing up. Her mother, Wendy, researched different groups to help her daughter break out of her shell.

Wendy had read Girl Talk founder Haley Kilpatrick’s book, The Drama Years: Real Girls Talk About Surviving Middle School — Bullies, Brands, Body Image, and More and learned there was a camp based on the book’s principles.

It took Wendy a while to convince her daughter to give the camp a try.

“Maddie has always had leadership skills. It was just through Girl Talk she discovered them,” Wendy said. “The analogy I used with her was she was at the end of a diving board, but she wasn’t ready to dive. I just gave her a little nudge.”

Convincing Maddie to try the camp was difficult; getting her on the plane was a test of nerves.

“I wasn’t happy about it at first,” Maddie laughed. “I am not necessarily a risk taker. I like to stay in my comfort zone. This was a big growth opportunity, and I am so grateful I did it.”

“I had a bit of a mom panic moment, but I knew this would be life-altering if she ran after it,” Wendy added. “I smiled and told her it would be a great experience. As soon as she got on the plane, I turned around and started crying.”

The phone calls home during the first three days of the camp didn’t alleviate Wendy’s fears much. Maddie would call home and express her reservations about the camp.

However, on Day 3 of the camp, Wendy sensed a change in her daughter.

“Maddie was closed off and quiet, even around family,” she said. “When she would call home earlier in the week, there was this hesitation in her voice. She would say, ‘I am not sure about this. This is really hard for me.’

“When she called back on the third day, she became much more vulnerable. I saw a little change from when she came home that first year. Then, every year after, I’d see more and more growth.”

Maddie leaned on her faith as a life preserver during the first camp.

“I trusted in the Lord and prayed constantly. This experience has brought me closer to God. I just had to trust the Lord put me there for a reason.”

These days, Maddie refers to the annual week at camp as “the best week of the year.” The LeadHER luncheon reunited Maddie with former campers who had flown into Atlanta for the ceremony. Many told her about the impact she and Girl Talk had on them.

Maddie says Girl Talk was not an overall cure for her anxiety.

“It’s still a daily struggle,” she said. “Through this program, I’ve seen how God has worked through different situations, and I have become more confident in myself.”

Maddie’s mission now is to help others find confidence in themselves. She remembers seeing a sixth grader struggling through her first time at camp two years ago. Maddie reconnected with the camper last summer and marveled at how the girl’s confidence had grown. At the end of the camp last summer, that camper received the Spirit of Girl Talk award as someone who embodies the spirit and positivity of the week.

“She reminded me so much of myself,” she said. “I got to watch her grow. She gave me this note thanking me for helping her. It was a meaningful moment for me because I was in her position (when I first came to the camp).”

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