AIT Spotlight: Abby Kilkelly

“It [AIT Legacy Summit] showed me what’s important and it showed me how everyone is going through things, and to be respectful of people. It also showed me…that everyone has a reason for doing things which has allowed me to be more understanding of situations. It’s kind of like a domino effect, one thing leads to another, and that leads to another thing.”

When Abby Kilkelly, an 8th grade student at Sycamore Canyon Middle School, learned she would be attending the All It Takes’ Legacy Leadership Summit, she expected it to be similar to the many other leadership retreats she’d been to. She never imagined that it would shift her perspective on herself, her peers, and her planet so drastically. 

Working as a counselor for the school, AIT CEO and co-founder Lori Woodley, asked school staff to share names of students that had a significant influence on their school campus to participate in an AIT leadership summit. Recognizing the stellar student and peer Abby was, one
of her teachers added her name to the list. Abby was excited to expand her leadership skills, then she realized that she would be attending with a group of students she barely knew. Suddenly, the opportunity looked much less exciting.

When she arrived at Legacy for the first time, she was hesitant and completely out of her comfort zone. Looking around, she felt alone and vulnerable. It didn’t take long to realize that most of the other campers were feeling the same way. This began the difficult learning process for one of Abby’s major lessons, just because it is uncomfortable does not mean it is impossible.

On her first day, Abby found herself acting more quiet and reserved than she was used to being. Then, during the evening’s last activity, Abby experienced the catalyst that broke her out of her comfort zone. Initially partnered with a stranger, Abby would find a forever friend, while participating in an activity that brought out their goofy side. Without realizing it, their discomfort and protective walls evaporated. They were in an environment that allowed them to enjoy pure, unadulterated silliness; offering a glance back to a time, not-too-long ago, where the careless joy of childhood existed before the worries of grades, social status, and the future took hold.

The evening didn’t end there. Abby and her new friend had been assigned to the same cabin and spent the rest of the night reflecting on the activity, talking about their 1st day camp experiences and getting to know one another. In fact, the entire cabin joined in on the conversation. The activity not only gave them something to talk about, but it opened doors to deeper and more meaningful conversations. 

Abby quickly formed connections that were positive and supportive. This helped tremendously on night two when an activity inspired her peers to safely share emotional stories and own up to regrets. It was not sharing her own experiences that made a lasting impact, but witnessing others having the courage to do so.  

“I know things that I have gone through have probably helped others but it made me realize that other people have been through way harder times than I have and that I need to understand and respect that.”

As Abby reflects back, she is reminded that Legacy was one of the most impactful weekends of her life.

Even with her reputation of being a good student, she learned she could do more, and she attributes All It Takes with equipping her with the skills to do so. She became more confident in
dealing with life’s trials and tribulations, as well as approaching difficult situations with a more positive attitude. 

This camp rekindled a childhood friendship between Abby and a classmate named Claudia. Together they decided to pass on what they learned at Legacy; teaching lessons and activities to their school’s Builder’s Club, whose mission was to demonstrate leadership through service projects. 

“Everyone [Legacy participants] wanted to share what we learned with other people. By everyone stepping up and doing that, it showed others that they could also step up”

All It Takes, recognizing Abby’s leadership abilities, invited her to become a mentor in 9th grade. Abby, being the natural leader she is jumped at the chance. Remembering her first day, she was able to bring patience and compassion to new participants who she was struggling to connect with. She challenged herself to take a step back so that her students could learn their own lessons and develop relationships in their own time. This earned her enormous respect from her group.

Her favorite memories as a mentor came from watching her students’ reactions to the ropes course. Abby was able to support and encourage students who refused to climb, to take one step further than they thought they could. The most rewarding part for her was seeing faces of fear transition into huge prideful smiles when a student mustered the courage to take that extra step.

 “It’s not about them getting to the top, it’s about them feeling supported by me and our team to try.”

After volunteering over 300 hours, Abby’s most significant and lasting lesson is that, growing as a leader never stops, and we must learn to continuously embrace challenges. 

Abby’s desire and ability to speak up for good, and practice compassion for others, influenced the decision to make her an, All It Takes Youth Ambassador. Her passion for advocacy pushed her to get involved with several other volunteer positions beyond All It Takes. As an avid member of her local church’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes and her high school’s Key Club, she embraced every possible volunteer position, including Relay for Life and creating care packages supporting the homeless with James Storehouse and Casa Pacifica

After numerous college admissions and merit grants, Abby plans on taking her positive and influential energy to Virginia Tech in the Fall to pursue a Bachelors degree in Biochemistry.

As she heads to the next chapter in her life, Abby credits All It Takes with teaching her that life is full of opportunity, people have much more to them than their looks, and that giving everything and everyone a chance builds meaningful moments and relationships.  
We know that Abby will continue to be a radiant change-maker for all who are around her and we look forward to celebrating her journey. Congratulations Virginia Tech, you are getting an amazing freshman!

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All it Takes