Good Neighbor - February 2020
- by Lisa Monti
If you talk with Natalie Guess for even a short time, you’ll see that she’s passionate - about her family, her job, her community and even good food.
The Slidell native, who lives in Kiln with husband Eric and their eight-year-old son Kai, has a full calendar. She’s been director for the Magnolia Business Alliance in Diamondhead for six years, serves on the Mississippi Commission of Marine Resources and volunteers with CASA of Hancock County.
When her family moved from Louisiana to Mississippi 11 years ago, Natalie said they didn’t know what to expect. Now, she says, “I’m proud to call Mississippi home. We just love it. It’s all the good things you find in Louisiana – great food, great people, the scenery – but the little bit slower pace is not as stressful.”
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Natalie is a Southeastern Louisiana University graduate with a background in business and marketing, which fits perfectly with the organization she leads. The Magnolia Business Alliance is a 501(C)6 not-for-profit corporation that supports the advancement of small and medium businesses in the southeastern U.S.
MBA provides mentorship, training, logistics, and other support to facilitate the development of new companies and a better environment for existing companies. MBA also fosters community and national awareness of issues that affect small businesses.
In October 2018, Gov. Phil Bryant appointed Natalie to the Commission on Marine Resources, representing Hancock County as well as environmental interests and nonprofit organizations. As a commissioner she works with scientists to make educated decisions affecting the state’s marine environment.
“The governor asked me to take all the science and make decisions without an outside interest,” she says.
With the recent salt water intrusion from the Mississippi River and oil spills in recent years, Natalie says, “It feels like there are so many negative impacts on the Gulf now. If there is anything I can do to keep the Gulf healthy for the future and for my son, I will support those efforts. We want future generations to appreciate the Gulf and be able to enjoy it.”
Natalie has been deeply involved with CASA almost from the time she moved here.
“When we moved to Mississippi, I would see in the news about the number of foster care cases in Hancock County but I didn’t see how I could get involved,” she said.
CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocates, is a national association that supports and promotes court-appointed advocates for abused or neglected children and eventually gets the children into safe, permanent homes.
At the first meeting of the 2014 Class of Leadership Hancock County, Natalie met Cynthia Chauvin, CASA’s local executive director. The two spoke at a break in the meeting, and Cynthia invited Natalie to become a volunteer. Not long afterward she joined the CASA board, and from 2016 to 2018 she was board president.
“The people who work for CASA work so hard, day and night, and the advocates are such amazing volunteers, she said. “I would love to be an advocate someday – but for now, this is my way of serving and making sure the employees and advocates get what they need to keep going, to make a positive impact in the community.”
Natalie uses her marketing experience to highlight the work CASA does and the sponsors who support it. She recently posted sponsor information on the CASA website, thanking them for their contributions to the annual Krewe of CASA Mardi Gras Gala and arranged publicity for the fundraiser.
Natalie also served on the steering committee of Leadership Hancock County from 2015 to 2017 and was a board member of the Hancock County Tourism Bureau from 2017 to 2019.
She’s a member of the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain, the Arbor Day Foundation and this year joined the Coast Young Republican Women. She is among the volunteers with the PROP program, which gives individuals with disabilities the opportunity to experience aviation and aircraft at Stennis International Airport.
Aside from her job responsibilities and volunteer activities, Natalie is passionate about food. “I’m a big foodie and I love good food,” she says. But once she and her family started backing off eating chicken and red meat, she began researching plant-based eating as a healthy alternative.
“My husband and I enjoy cooking and finding new ways to make plant-based foods,” she says. “I love researching recipes and ideas for cooking with beans, chickpeas and tofu.”
Natalie sings the praises of her air fryer to prepare French fries and other foods in a healthier way. “We absolutely love it,” she says. “We use it daily.” The “fried fish” tofu, though, goes into hot peanut oil. Natalie swears you can’t tell the difference from the real thing.
Wanting to dig deeper into plant-based options, Natalie completed a yearlong online nutrition program and became a certified health and wellness coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She says she was able to help her first student turn her health “completely around” with a plant-based diet.
In everything that she does, Natalie puts her passion to work. As CASA’s Cynthia Chauvin says, “Natalie is an incredible leader, friend and parent. She works tirelessly for the things she cares about, and Hancock County is a better place with her in it.”