A New Year of Opportunity: A Guest Blog from the Mary Black Foundation

At this time of year, I try to spend some time reflecting on significant moments in the past year and areas of focus for the upcoming year. Sometimes a single word comes to mind, and I take it on as my “theme” for the year. Currently, this word is opportunity.

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Natalia Swanson of the Mary Black Foundation


This coming month of March will mark my second year working at the Mary Black Foundation. My time at the Foundation has truly been an incredible gift – an opportunity to continue serving the community of Spartanburg, which I have come to love. Specifically, I get to support the community in efforts that create greater opportunities for all people to be physically active and to access healthy foods.

The path to where I am now is a long one; briefly, I was born in Ecuador, moved to Kenya when I was six years old (I was a Brownie and Girl Scout in Kenya!), moved to Mexico when I was 12, moved back to Ecuador when I was 14, and moved to the United States when I was 18. I have been living in the United States since then and have been working in Spartanburg for a couple of years, after completing my master’s degree at Clemson University. Go Tigers! These were some of the opportunities that built my character, courage, confidence, and ambition: being able to travel and go to international schools all over the world, to live in different cultures and learn to appreciate the beauty in differences, to go to college on a generous full ride scholarship, to obtain a master’s degree, to work at a local foundation whose mission is to invest in the community for improved health and, most recently, to mentor a young girl.Natalia w girl.jpg

Many of us have been given incredible opportunities. These opportunities, along with our families, friends and other supporters around us help us develop our character and help us take advantage of and grow with these opportunities. However, not everyone has that support system and encouragement. This is where I think that the Girl Scouts play a significant role in the lives of young girls. The Girl Scouts believe in girls. The Girl Scouts strive to build girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place. Girls need to hear that someone believes in them; they need to believe that they are valuable. Will we take the time to communicate these truths to the girls around us? You can do that through your support to the Girl Scouts, mentoring a girl/young lady, supporting your own child at home, and so many other ways. My hope is that we will be generous with our time and our resources so that other girls can also have an opportunity to live a healthy and confident life.


Are you ready to explore new opportunities this New Year? Join Girl Scouts and help your daughter become the leader she was meant to be!

Maybe it IS Rocket Science: An Interview with NASA’s Michelle Thaller

Some of Michelle Thaller’s earliest memories consist of gazing at the night sky in her backyard. Just a child in the early 1970s, Michelle felt something strangely magnetic pulling her to explore the worlds beyond our own. This intense curiosity sparked her passion for science and ignited her mind.

“I always wanted to go out and look at the stars. It’s something that runs deep inside me.” -Michelle Thaller, NASA


Michelle Thaller (right) in her Space Camp suit

Over time her curiosity only intensified. Michelle loved to study math and science in school. And sure, those subjects weren’t popular for women. While no one particularly discouraged her to pursue her interest in science, no one really encouraged her passion either. That didn’t stop her. Michelle refused to settle for what was average or comfortable. She refused to give up on her dream just because others couldn’t see it.

Michelle dedicated herself to school and the pursuit of knowledge. By the time she graduated from her small rural high school, Michelle Thaller had been accepted to Harvard University. She decided to major in astrophysics.

In her small high school, Michelle had been a big fish in a small pond. But Harvard was more like the ocean. Michelle found herself struggling in her classes. She felt ill-prepared for the challenges she faced. Family and friends all encouraged her to consider changing tracks. They asked why she wouldn’t choose something a little easier.

“Anything worth doing hardly ever comes easy.” -Michelle Thaller, NASAmichelle-thaller-nasa-1

Michelle decided they would have to kick her out before she would leave. She would study relentlessly. She would defy expectations. She would boldly take the necessary risks in order to achieve her dream.

“Just because something isn’t easy, doesn’t mean that you aren’t meant to do it.” -Michelle Thaller, NASA

Michelle Thaller is now a graduate of Harvard. She holds a masters from Georgia State University. She narrates the show, How the Universe Works. She is the Director of Science Communication for NASA. She is living proof that your dreams can become your reality. michelle-thaller-nasa-hat

“The bias is that scientists aren’t warm and emotional people. But people might be surprised to know that I love shopping and dancing. I am silly and enthusiastic. I put a lot of effort into my personal life and my family. If you love something, do it. You don’t have to fit into a certain type.” -Michelle Thaller, NASA

Do you have big dreams of your own? Do you have even bigger dreams for your girl? Then the Girl Scout Leadership Experience is exactly what you need. Teach your girl to be a Go-Getter, Innovator, Risk-Taker, and Leader. In other words; a Girl Scout.