How One Night of Girl Talk Turned Into an Organization That Hosts Over 200 Women

As published on BlackEnterprise.com by Chanel Martin on

How One Night of Girl Talk Turned Into an Organization That Hosts Over 200 Women

Natalie Dean discusses what inspired her to start the nonprofit, Whine & Cheese, Inc.

Natalie Dean

(Image source: Natalie Dean)

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.

You can learn more about Whine & Cheese, Inc. by visiting its website and by following @foreverywhine on Instagram and Twitter.

Eight questions with Natalie Dean, Founder of Whine & Cheese Inc.

March 11, 2016 
By Monica Peters

headshotWhat inspired this concept?

In February of 2011, I was in the midst of some life-altering events. I was trying to define my role in a new position at work, adjust to living in a new city, excel in my Masters courses, and purchase my first home. These were all blessings, but I was stressed out to say the least! I wanted to vent, cry and pull my hair out all at the same time and I confided in my closest girlfriends to reel me back in.  I had several different circles of friends, but most of them were scattered in different cities and multiple time zones. I knew I needed a local group of like-minded women that could not only empathize with me, but encourage me as well; a group of women that could hug me and hold my hand. This is what spawned Whine & Cheese, Inc.

I developed the concept for Whine & Cheese with a mission to bring together like-minded women in an intimate setting where they can whine about the stresses of life and cheese (smile) about their blessings. This is not a pity party or your typical girls’ night in, but an opportunity to acknowledge the good even in bad situations. 

In five years, we’ve established 20 branches of women in more than 10 cities across the country, including seven branches in the Philadelphia area. In addition to women being able to congregate in small local groups, there’s also an option for general membership, where women can connect with us through our online platforms and scheduled teleconferences.

And then, once every year, we all meet up for a weekend gathering known as Relax. Relate. Retreat. The event features building workshops and bonding activities that are both insightful and impacting.

Why did you think it was necessary to start this type of organization?

It seems women have been conditioned to mask the truths of their lives, even to their closest friends, because for some reason we feel it is too risky to be authentic and honest with one another. We don’t want to reveal our problems because that signals we are weak and vulnerable. During my individual conversations with girlfriends, I discovered I wasn’t alone and while the situations may not have been identical, the emotions were and they provided the foundation for us to open up with each other and support one another.

How would you describe the demographic you cater to i.e. single or married women, professional/ women, blue collar or anyone who enjoys Whine & Cheese? (smile)

Membership in Whine & Cheese is available to all women of diverse ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds between the ages of 25 and 65. Our members are open-minded, supportive and non-judgmental and they understand the importance of confidentiality. Whine & Cheese is for women who are strong enough to say, “Things may not be perfect, but I still have reasons to be happy and fulfilled.”

Can you give us a sneak peek into Fall 2016 Relax. Relate. Retreat.?

Absolutely! Any woman who registers as a member of Whine & Cheese will get a sneak peek of “Relax. Relate. Retreat. 2016” delivered to their email address this Spring. They will also get to take advantage of early-bird and discounted registration. This year’s retreat will be our third and best one yet! Visit foreverywhine.org/retreat to see recaps of our first two retreats held in Northern Virginia and Philadelphia.

Do you have other events, gatherings lined up this far?

As a non-profit organization, we are planning to host two fundraising events this year, in addition to the annual retreat, that will be open to the public. Anyone interested in helping us expand this concept nationally as a safe haven, sounding board and support system for  women can donate any amount by visiting foreverywhine.org/donations. We will also begin offering virtual prayer partners this Summer. Details will be available on our site.

Tell us a little about yourself. Are you from Philadelphia?

I am a proud Philadelphia native, having earned a degree from the 261st graduating class at Central High School before moving to Atlanta, GA to get my undergraduate degree in Public Relations at Clark Atlanta University. After graduation, I moved back to Philadelphia to practice corporate and multicultural public relations before relocating to the Washington, D.C. area — the place I’ve called home for the last eight years and where I earned my masters’ degree in Corporate & Crisis Communications at Georgetown University. Without a doubt, I proudly sport my Eagles, Phillies and 76ers paraphernalia every chance I get, even in enemy territory!

What are some of your favorite things?

I guess it’s no wonder I founded Whine & Cheese because I really do enjoy entertaining friends at my home. I also love to travel. I’m confident that my vacations are just a preview of the life I’m really supposed to be living (smile).

What advice would you give women single, married, entrepreneur or in the workforce on how to balance it all without losing themselves?

Listen to me, ladies. You must put yourself first. There is a reason, when on a plane, the flight attendant instructs you to secure your oxygen mask before assisting others in the event of an emergency. You cannot be the best wife, sister, friend, daughter, employee or entrepreneur if you are not first the best YOU. If you are continually pouring into other people, and not allowing yourself to replenish, eventually, you will find yourself trying to pour from an empty cup and that is impossible. Incorporate a daily, weekly or monthly ritual that focuses on you and you alone. Within Whine & Cheese, we celebrate “Me Monday.” A day most of us typically dread, we set aside to spend as much time as necessary replenishing our minds, bodies and spirits. Self-care is NOT selfish, but necessary. 

“Rewind” with Patty Jackson

On August 28, 2015, Natalie was invited by the Patty Jackson of Philadelphia’s 105.3 WDAS-FM  to talk about Whine & Cheese, Inc. and its upcoming Relax.Relate.Retreat. Below you can hear the interview.

Flood the Block Radio Show

On March 19, 2015, Natalie was invited by the Flood the Block Radio Show team to talk about Whine & Cheese, Inc. Below you can hear the interview.

Part 1 (ffwd to 3:45)

Part 2

#BoldBeautifulMuse: Natalie Dean

Published March 16, 2015
By AKelectiveMuse.com

In 2010, public relations guru Natalie Dean found herself working in a dead-end career. As a graduate of Clark Atlanta University with a Master’s from Georgetown University, Natalie knew that her talents were worth more. In the midst of dealing with the stress of her job, daily complaining became the norm. Every evening, the man she was dating would patiently listen to her complaints. Afterward, he would sweetly ask, “Do you have any cheese to go with that whine?”  This opened Natalie’s eyes. Something had to change and it would have to start with her.

Incorporating a positive new energy, Natalie gave herself a six month deadline to “figure things out.” During her time of reflection, something clicked. Knowing that she could not possibly be the only woman who needed an emotional outlet, she decided to turn her struggle into Whine & Cheese. Her mission would gather like-minded women in an intimate setting where they were supported as they whined about the stresses of life and cheese (smile) in acknowledgement of their blessings. She envisioned her concept serving nationally as a safe haven, sounding-board and support system for women across the country and from all walks of life.

Whine & Cheese is now a 501(c) 3 charity, with 10 branches across the country. Founder and CEO Natalie shares her thoughts with us…

What inspired you to boldly move into your career?

I didn’t consider it a bold move at the time, but it was a move I was forced to make. I was incredibly unfulfilled. I was no longer passionate about the work I was doing. My unhappiness at work started to spill into my personal life and began to affect my well-being. At some point, I realized that I couldn’t blame anyone because I was the one in control.

As women, we are programmed to keep it moving no matter the circumstances. No matter the amount of internal chaos, we have to keep it together on the outside. Well, trying to hold it all together will make you lose your grip unless you have a support system for help. I realized that other women might need an outlet, too. That’s when I thought of the Whine & Cheese concept. And after talking to a friend, she agreed that this organization needed to be made available for women everywhere.

Face-to-face interaction is something of a lost art these days, with social media and other technology, so I reached out to girlfriends locally to establish the first branch. It was important to form a group where women could hug each other and even hold hands in prayer—something you can’t get via a phone call, text or even Skype.

What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome to make your bold career move?

I was my greatest obstacle. It’s easy to play the victim, but you have the power to change your circumstances. You can relinquish, or step up and hold yourself accountable. Things aren’t always perfect, but I try not to let those issues take precedence, and neither should you.

Personal Motto

“The only thing you can give and still keep is your word.”

What constitutes success?

Success is accomplishing things that even you didn’t think were possible. When I can push through and go above and beyond, it’s a great feeling. Not only do I prove my success to others; more importantly I prove it to myself.

How do you feel you have evolved during your career?

Since establishing Whine & Cheese, it has become second nature now to look for the silver lining in every seemingly bad situation. Whereas before, when challenged, complaining was the easy option now, I immediately count my blessings.

What’s your favorite book?

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

What song do you listen to when you need inspiration?

“Go Get It,” by Mary Mary

For details and more information, or to attend the annual retreat, visit foreverywhine.org.

#BoldBeautifulMuse is a series developed by fashion and lifestyle blogger Kelly Connally. The series highlights dynamic women making bold and beautiful impacts on their community and in their career.

A perfect pairing of ‘whine’ and ‘cheese’ in Upper Marlboro

As posted in The Gazette
By Kirsten Petersen
October 2, 2014

(From left) Camille Dean, Deanna Griffin and Ashley Jackson, members of the Prince George’s County branch of Whine & Cheese, share their stress and reasons to celebrate during a 2013 gathering.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.

 

Women Making Moves: Interview with Natalie Dean

Posted November 19, 2013
By Nicole Clark Consulting

NatalieDean“… I believe that women of color in particular have been conditioned to mask the truths of their lives, even to their closest friends, because for some reason we feel we’re in competition with one another. We don’t want to reveal our problems because that somehow correlates to us being weak and vulnerable. Whine & Cheese is for women who are strong enough to say, ‘Things may not be perfect, but I still have reasons to be happy and fulfilled.’ “ ~ Natalie Dean

Women Making Moves highlights how women and girls of color are raising their voices to improve the health and lives of many in the areas of sexual/reproductive health, holistic wellness, activism, education, business, entrepreneurship, the arts and sciences, and more.

Meet Natalie Deanpublic relations manager and entrepreneur. Natalie is the founder of Whine & Cheese. What began as a girls-day-in gathering of empathy and encouragement at her home has branched out into 8 Whine & Cheese locations nationwide at the time of this interview (Read posts from the branch members and the branch leaders (affectionately known as “Vines”) here). Whine & Cheese is a great example of collective self care as well as the perfect example of how to create an affirming space for women and girls. You can follow Whine & Cheese on Twitter, read about Natalie’s first Whine & Cheese gathering, and contact Natalie to discuss how to start a Whine & Cheese branch in your area.

I first met Natalie when she and I were college student volunteers for a organization in Atlanta called The Cool Girls. Throughout the years, Natalie’s sophistication, pleasant demeanor and encouraging attitude has always provided me with comfort. She’s been a shoulder to cry on and a sounding board for ideas, and I’m so happy to have the opportunity to share Whine & Cheese with you all to expand Natalie’s vision of what encouragement and support can look like for women and girls of color.

Read more about Natalie, her experiences as a woman of color and entrepreneur, how she encourages women and of color to raise their voices, and how she takes care of herself.

What was a defining moment that propelled you onto the journey you’re on now, personally or professionally?
For about three years, I was somewhat obsessed with discovering my purpose. Having felt unfulfilled in my PR corporate job, I knew there was something more that I was meant to do with my life, but couldn’t identify what that was exactly. One day, I stumbled upon a sermon series online by Pastor Keith Battle titled “Journey to Your Dreams” and things started to click almost instantly. From that moment on, I made a list of things that I was not only good at doing, but was passionate about and then began drafting a plan.

You’re a woman who wears many hats, and most are tied into your professional and educational background in public relations. Can you share more about your how you chose public relations as a career, as well as any resources (websites, books, networks) that you’ve found useful as you were starting out?
I always knew I wanted to work in communications. In high school, I was the co-editor of the school’s broadcasting network. But, what I learned was that I enjoyed crafting the story more than I did reporting on it. As a sophomore in college, I excelled in a very challenging News Writing course, but didn’t have as many opportunities to write creatively. It was my mother who helped me recognize how a career in public relations could be the solution. The book that helped confirmed that was The Personal Touch: What You Really Need to Succeed in Today’s Fast Paced Business World by public relations expert and activist Terrie Williams. I learned that an important facet of public relations was about building and maintaining positive and mutually beneficial relationships with various audiences and Terrie’s book laid out a perfect strategy for how to do so successfully. I then chose to join networking and social organizations to begin practicing what I learned and found it came quite naturally for me.

Along with your career commitments, you’re also the founder of Whine & Cheese. Can you share the concept behind Whine & Cheese, your vision for Whine & Cheese prior to starting, and where you see Whine & Cheese in the next 5 years?
In February of 2011, I was in the midst of some life-altering events. I was still trying to define my role in a new position at work, in the thick of my Masters courses and in the process of purchasing my first home. I was stressed out to say the least! I wanted to vent, cry and pull my hair out all at the same time and I confided in my closest girlfriends to reel me back in.  I had several different circles of friends I could talk to, yet most of them were scattered in different cities and time zones. I needed a local group of like-minded women that could not only empathize with me, but encourage me through the process; a group that could hug me and hold my hand. During my individual conversations, I learned I wasn’t alone and while the situations may not have been identical, the emotions were. That’s how I developed the concept for “Whine & Cheese.” It was meant to just be a spin on girls’ night in for me and 12 other women, but two years later, my friend in New York asked to start a Whine & Cheese in Harlem and to date we’ve branched out to eight cities across the country!

The purpose of Whine & Cheese is not meant to be a pity party. I believe that when you are faced with moments of distress, you should immediately begin to count your blessings. So for every complaint (whine) that is shared, a reason to smile (cheese) should always follow. In this way, we can remind ourselves to look on the bright side and be grateful in any situation.

The mission is to bring together like-minded women in an intimate setting where we can whine about the stresses of life and cheese about our blessings. The vision is to expand the concept as a safe haven, sounding board and support system for circles of women across the country and from all walks of life. I hope to be represented in each metropolitan area in the next five years.

What are some important benefits of women and girls of color creating supportive spaces, and how does Whine & Cheese add to this need?
Whine & Cheese is open to all women. However, I believe that women of color in particular have been conditioned to mask the truths of their lives, even to their closest friends, because for some reason we feel we’re in competition with one another. We don’t want to reveal our problems because that somehow correlates to us being weak and vulnerable. Whine & Cheese is for women who are strong enough to say, “Things may not be perfect, but I still have reasons to be happy and fulfilled.”

Studies have shown that spending quality time among girlfriends is actually good for our health. It helps create serotonin, a neurotransmitter that contributes to combating depression and creates a sense of wellbeing.

To date, there are Whine & Cheese branches in Philadelphia (PA), Dallas (TX), New York City, Charlotte (NC), DC/Maryland/Virginia, Delaware Valley, and Coral Springs (FL). Have you found any similarities among the branches, in respect to geography? Also, can you share what you believe makes each branch stand out?
Every month I host a conference call with the hostesses, known as Vines, of all the branches to update one another, ask questions and share suggestions on how to best contribute to the mission and vision of Whine & Cheese. Each branch is customized by its members. The flow for each gathering across the network is always the same.  For example, the Delaware Valley branch may serve a fancy spread of artisanal cheeses, while my DMV branch orders take out from our favorite wing spot. Each gathering starts with time to mingle over food and drinks before moving into the second phase when members go around the room and express their whines followed by their cheeses. It is imperative that we always end on a positive note; always looking on the bright side of negative situation.

It’s Career Day at a nearby school, and you’ve been invited to speak to a classroom of 13-year-old girls. How would you describe your career to them in a way that excites them and makes them want to learn more?
This is a funny question as I often times have to find creative ways to describe public relations to adults! In essence, I have Olivia Pope’s job, without the scandal.

How are you living your life on your own terms?
To be completely honest, I’m still defining my “own terms,” which is, in essence, probably the answer to your question. I no longer allow other people to dictate what decisions I make, what image I portray and what legacy I’ll leave when I’m gone. Granted, I may turn to those I trust for advice, but living on my own terms means that ultimately, what I do and don’t do is my decision. Therefore, the lessons I learn from my actions or inactions are even more impactful. There’s a lot of trial and error involved, but those lessons build character.

If you were not in the career path you’re currently in, what would you be doing? Would people be surprised?
I would be a travel writer so that could tour the hottest destinations, eat at five-star restaurants and get pampered at top-rated spas for free! I don’t think that would surprise anyone. Whenever I return from vacation, I’m convinced it is a preview for the life I’m supposed to live.

Given your busy schedule, how do you prioritize self-care (the practice of taking care of your physical/mental health to preventing burn-out) into your life?
This year, I did my research, saved my money and spent six days alone in Costa Rica. I learned to enjoy my own company. I had uninterrupted time with my thoughts. I challenged myself to venture without depending on someone else for security. I slept in, I ate well, I traveled up mountains via horseback and zip lined back to earth. I promised myself that I would take similar trips at least once a year.

Realistically, I can’t always afford to book a flight or have the time to take off, but getting lost in a good book on the train to and from work, leaving my desk to take a midday walk around the block and even watching a silly reality TV show can help me escape, if only for 30 minutes, from the chaos that everyday life can bring. I also make an effort to laugh out loud at least once a day. Laughter is good for the soul!

What advice would you give women and girls of color on using their passion and creativity to improve their lives and their communities?
Your passion for helping others must exceed your desire for money and/or fame. You should be motivated by the positive impact you can make and nothing else. If compensation and recognition come, consider it a bonus.