As posted in The Gazette
By Kirsten Petersen
October 2, 2014
Six days a year, 10 women from different walks of life gather at Natalie Dean’s Upper Marlboro home to share take-out and wine, release stress and find something to smile about.
Dean’s model for a girls’ gathering, “Whine & Cheese,” has spread to other women by word of mouth, she said. Her pairing has been replicated in nine cities nationwide since February 2011 and seven new Whine & Cheese branches will launch by the end of the year, Dean said.
“This was just an idea I said I was going to do with a small group of women here in Prince George’s County, and it has taken off and connected a group of women from across the country,” Dean said.
Dean, 30, said she had wanted to do more than text or talk on the phone when she needed advice — she wanted to converse with friends in-person.
During a Whine & Cheese gathering, women meet for four hours every other month to vent their stress, or “whine,” and share a source of joy, or “cheese.”
Nikkia Johnson, 31, of Largo is a member of Dean’s branch. She said the premise of Whine & Cheese reminds her to “see the balance in life.”
“If you drown yourself in the negatives you’ll be consumed by it,” Johnson said. “If you only look at the good and not the bad you won’t be addressing things you need to work on to get ahead.”
Dean’s branch had been meeting for a year when she told a friend in New York about its success, she said. The friend said she wanted to start her own branch, an idea that, at first, Dean rejected.
“My initial response was no, it was my thing,” Dean said. “Then I had a reality check and it was, ‘Really Natalie? This has been positively impacting this small group of 11 women for the last year and you should share this and allow other women to be impacted as well.’”
The New York branch started in September 2012 and eight more branches have launched since, Dean said. She was able to attend a few of the branch launches, Dean said, noting that no matter where the women met, there would always be “tears, laughter, encouragement and celebration, all at the same time.”
When Dean started her Whine & Cheese branch, she invited women of various ages and ethnicities who had not known each other previously, she said. Dean said it was important to her that members were diverse so they could offer unbiased and original perspectives.
Elizabeth Swan, 29, of Bowie, another member of Dean’s branch, called the women her support system and her “sister friends.”
“When you find a group you can depend on and they can give you genuine feedback and advice without you thinking it will come from a jealous place, it means a lot,” Swan said.
Dale Keshishian of Wayne, Pa., is a member of the Whine & Cheese board of directors and said “Whine & Cheese” is not just a social group or a book club.
“I think what differentiates Whine & Cheese is it’s intentionally developed to help one another,” Keshishian said. “It’s specifically created as a safe space for women to share difficult things they’re going through.”
Whine & Cheese members from different branches will come together for the first time during the “Relax. Relate. Retreat” from Oct. 18 to Oct. 19 in Alexandria, Va.
Non-members who want to learn more about Whine & Cheese or want to start their own branch may also attend, Dean said. Retreat fees are $75 per day and registration closes Saturday.
“It is amazing to me how open and transparent women are with one another, waiting for an avenue like this to really just release,” Dean said.