Nathalie Santa Maria is a pro at persevering.
She developed an acute anxiety disorder after being orphaned just shy of her 24th birthday. Her father died in 2008 and her mother in 2010. Her anxiety wasn’t helped by entering the workforce during the worst recession in history, but it didn’t stop her commitment to doing creative work.
Difficult, but not impossible. She persevered.
At the end of 2019, Santa Maria believed that 2020 would kick start a successful decade in her career in communications. So, she quit her full-time job last January and founded Leaves from Stella, a nonprofit that provides scholarships and a pen-pal program to young adults who have lost a parent or sibling. [See below for more information on the story behind Leaves from Stella’s name.]
It’s an understatement to say that 2020 was a difficult year to begin anything, but Santa Maria is built for a challenge.
With the first quarter of 2021 behind us, we checked in with her. To start the month, Santa Maria got a $1,000 “Bear HUG” microgrant to aid Leaves for Stella. But, there are still plenty of obstacles to overcome.
We asked her to share the three biggest challenges facing her and her organizations today. And, Santa Maria wasn’t shy about it.
Nathalie Santa Maria’s Three Biggest Challenges on April 14, 2021
Asking for money is hard.
I admire people who work in business development and fundraising.
It’s a necessary skill that I am actively working on for the success of Leaves from Stella, and the young people whose lives it will impact. The worst thing that can happen is that someone says “no.” But, the more “no’s” you hear, the harder it becomes to share vulnerable information about myself and the importance of our mission.
That said, visit www.leavesfromstella.org/donate if you want to support.
Let’s talk about death. Squirming is encouraged.
By talk, I don’t mean responding with societal platitudes like, “It was their time,” or “they’re in a better place” when I tell you my parents died. We all need to learn how to have honest conversations about death and the adverse childhood experience that ripples through families when someone dies.
One in 13 children and adolescents in North Carolina will lose a parent or sibling by the time they turn 18.
I knew I wasn’t the only young adult lumped into a club of forever grievers, and it’s why I founded Leaves from Stella. Losing my parents was the worst experience of my life. But, not talking about it because it made other people uncomfortable just made the entire experience even more isolating.
Juggling elements of our identity in stride and with pride.
I wear a lot of hats — nonprofit director, public relations consultant, mentor, wife and dog mom.
Every single role I play is influenced by a multitude of experiences:
- My ethnicity as a Cuban American
- My mental health diagnosis
- My gender
- Growing up one paycheck away from potentially losing my home
- Being a first-generation scholar
- Being orphaned in my early 20s.
The pandemic was a reckoning for introspection and admittedly, I’m still figuring out how all the different aspects of my identity, talent and passions intersect, can complement each other and more importantly … help others.
What’s In A Name?
Leaves from Stella is named after Santa Maria’s mother, who died of pulmonary complications from acute ataxia/multiple system atrophy in 2010.
“The symbolism of the color green and how plants grow and evolve even after trimming leaves off, repotting and the like, is something I always found comforting throughout my grief journey. I believe humans can grow and evolve in the same ways after the death of a loved one,” says Santa Maria.
Learn more about Nathalie Santa Maria and Her Work
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