Natalie Whitten Irwin ’87

natalie-irwin_large.jpgIn 2010, Natalie Whitten Irwin ’87 and her family had the unique opportunity to live in South Africa, and it wasn’t long before the family of sports fans found Alexandra Baseball, a baseball club located in a township of Johannesburg. A bustling urban area with approximately 650,000 people living in 2.5 square miles, Alexandra suffers from decades of poor infrastructure, and amenities like running water, electricity, and waste removal are hard to come by. Natalie’s children played for the team while her husband coached, and Natalie quickly found herself the club’s social media promoter and fundraiser, a role she embraced head-on, raising money to cover the cost of player transportation to games as well as funds to provide the athletes with a meal every week. She also worked with their former Little League in Charlotte, North Carolina to organize equipment drives for Alexandra’s players, most of whom had never seen a real baseball game before.

For many players, Alexandra Baseball serves as a temporary refuge from their difficult living conditions, allowing them to leave the township on Sundays to play games in new places. Players can even make it on a provincial team and travel to larger cities like Cape Town or Durban – places they would probably never visit otherwise. When Natalie and her family returned to the United States, they made the decision to continue helping the baseball program.

In March 2017, they established a non-profit called Africa on Deck, Inc. As president of Africa on Deck, Inc., Natalie continues to raise money to ship equipment to the players so baseball can continue to be played in “one of the most unlikely places in the world.” Her long-term goal is to establish an academy for the players where they can learn real skills to help their families and further their education to eventually find strong jobs.

"I am proud to say I graduated from Agnes Scott, and an honor to wear my Black Ring.”

Natalie’s unusual path to leading her own non-profit began at Agnes Scott College. “I remember someone telling me to major in the subject where the professors challenged and excited me the most, not necessarily the subject that I did the best in. That could have been so many areas at Agnes Scott, but I found my home in the economics department.” Natalie is grateful to Dr. Rosemary Cunningham, who guided her to a bank training program with Sovran (now Bank of America) and to Bradie Barr ’85 who mentored her. Although SUMMIT did not exist when she attended Agnes Scott, Natalie feels it gives a name to what the college has been teaching for years: global leadership.

Alexandra Baseball, which now has multiple teams in several age groups, has seen success on the field, developing into a competitive program and even winning several championships. But to Natalie, the biggest reward is the relationships built with the players. “Over the last 30 years, my success and happiness has taken shape in many forms – from a young banker to a stay-at-home mom, to volunteering at school and church, and most recently to trying to help a group of baseball players who I care very deeply for that live 8,000 miles away from me.”

Natalie recently returned to campus for Alumnae Weekend and was reminded of the opportunities she and other Scotties have because of Agnes Scott. “At Alumnae Convocation, President Kiss spoke of institutions that were thick and thin and that thick ones stick with you. Agnes Scott College is such a place. President Kiss and the faculty at Agnes Scott College continue to inspire me and give women an opportunity unlike any university today. I am proud to say I graduated from Agnes Scott, and it is an honor to wear my Black Ring.”