Natalie Flanders has always had a heart for service.
That’s why during her sophomore year, when she took a break from volunteering—she noticed something was off.
“When I wasn’t volunteering, I felt purposeless,” Flanders, a Peachtree Corners native said. “I just wasn’t myself when I’m not giving back.”
That’s when the graduating senior had an idea.
She wanted to take her volunteer experience in high school with the nonprofit Girl Talk, a student-to-student mentoring program where high school girls mentor middle school girls, and make it relevant for the collegiate level.
“For high school girls, they can be dealing with so much like pressure at school, people not being nice, body image issues and problems at home,” said Flanders, a psychology major. “And some students are too embarrassed to talk to school administrators. So Girls Grow gives these girls a space to talk and be heard.”
Flanders founded Girls Grow, which offers college women an opportunity to be a mentor to local high school women on topics ranging from self-esteem, leadership and community service. The program is a developmental process for both parties, according to Flanders.
“I’ve seen friendships grow out of the program, where Georgia College students invite their mentees to lunch at the MAX or something as simple as waving and acknowledging Early College students on campus to make them feel more welcomed,” Flanders said.
Flanders also said the program is a chance for GC mentors to evaluate their own paths in life. She’s seen mentors change their majors and even a biology major who wants to now go on to advocate for more women in STEM fields. Flanders also completed an independent study with Psychology Professor Dr. Tsu-Ming Chiang, where she evaluated the impact the program made on the mentees. Flanders’ study found that 98 percent of Girls Grow participants felt the program helped them gain more self-respect and develop leadership skills. Ninety-five percent felt they made better decision, felt happier and more prepared for their future.
Along with creating Girls Grow—Flanders has kept busy during her four years. She’s been the president of the Nonprofit Leadership Student Association, served on the Community Engagement Student Advisory Board and was a Student ENGAGE Fellow.
“It really does seem like everything I’ve done in my life has perfectly prepared me for this,” she said. “It was really right in front of my face the whole time.”
What began as an epiphany has now turned into an organization with 40 volunteers, three local school partners and its second chapter set to open at the University of Georgia this fall. For all her contributions, Flanders also recently garnered the Giving Tree Award, awarded by the GIVE Center to a senior who has left a legacy of service.
After graduating, Flanders plans to work on Girls Grow fulltime, as she begins fundraising, creating a board of directors and officially establishing it as a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization.
“It’s a beautiful thing when what you want and what you’re meant to do also helps and gives back to people too,” said Flanders.