Natalie Dean is a communications professional with over 10 years of experience. She has a successful career in corporate crisis, multicultural, and educational public relations working with national and global entities. In her current role, Dean travels to promote national programs and trains local affiliates within the teachers’ union.
Dean’s nine-to-five affords her the flexibility and energy to focus on her five-to-nine passion, as well. With strong entrepreneurial spirit and drive to serve others, she felt compelled to establish a nonprofit organization, Whine & Cheese. This organization is designed to help women achieve the level of peace that comes with consciously choosing optimism.
In this interview with BLACK ENTERPRISE, Dean discusses her nonprofit Whine & Cheese. Through introspection, self-preservation, and vocalizing her life experiences, Dean has been able to help others on similar journeys, while learning from other women, as well.
BLACK ENTERPRISE: What inspired Whine & Cheese? What made you start it?
NATALIE DEAN: In February of 2011, life happened. I was under a lot of self-imposed and external stress. I was in a new position at a top PR agency, trying to make my mark in a new city. I was also in the process of purchasing my first home, all while pursuing an advanced degree. I was overwhelmed. In public, I was on, but at home, I was a total mess.
I eventually confided in my closest girlfriends, [in spite of] most of them being scattered in different cities and time zones. They helped reel me in. Once I was honest about my situation, I learned that I was not alone. While the situations may not have been identical, the emotions were, yet we all felt the need to disguise our misgivings and doubts.
My girlfriends were an amazing support group, but I needed the in-person presence of compatible women that would empathize with me, encourage me, and—most importantly—hug me and hold my hand. I started to think about what other women I’d had casual interactions with at work, at the hair salon, or at church were dealing with, too. These experiences are what ultimately inspired Whine & Cheese, Inc.
BE: What do women gain as members of Whine & Cheese?
DEAN: Members of Whine & Cheese obtain a safe space, an unbreakable bond, and circle of support in their area, when they choose to join a local branch. They are afforded an opportunity women don’t usually find; the opportunity to remove masks without being judged. In other words, they have the chance to engage in conversations of depth and substance, and be supported by other women who harbor their best interests.
BE: What types of programs are offered?
DEAN: The program that yields the greatest return on investment is the Branch Membership Program. In this program, women come together, at least every other month, to support one another as they whine about life’s challenges and cheese—or smile—about the blessings that life offers.
For the last three years, I’ve also hosted the Relax Relate Retreat: a two-day respite where attendees refresh themselves emotionally, physically, and spiritually, so they can better love themselves. Also, this past February, I launched the “Uncorked Speaker” series. The series allows me to connect via teleconference with even more women across the country, who may or may not be members of Whine & Cheese. On the second Wednesday of each month, a featured speaker shares timely tips on topics of interest, during a high-impact, 30-minute discussion.
BE: What has been your biggest challenge?
DEAN: My biggest challenge has been convincing women to make themselves the priority. This is particularly challenging for women who have historically put others before themselves. I stress the importance of self-care, a concept many of us associate with a pamper day at the spa, which is a luxury activity that takes both time and money away from other urgencies. But, as we constantly give our time and energy to other people and projects, we empty our tank at a faster rate than we can fill it.
BE: What has been your biggest accomplishment?
DEAN: My biggest accomplishment has been growing this concept beyond the intimate group of women who met in my living room six years ago, to having launched 25 branches of women across the country.