OCPS alumni who are making their communities a better place.
This installment of COMMUNITY BUILDERS highlights Dan Murwin, Operations Director at A Gift For Teaching and member of the Winter Park High School Class of 1976.
Dan Murwin serves as the Operations Director at A Gift For Teaching, a nonprofit organization serving Central Florida students and teachers since 1998 by providing them with much-needed school and classroom supplies. In this role, Dan drives the mission and strategy of the organization and provides operational leadership to ensure the success of this important resource for our community.
Dan shared his experiences as an OCPS student, the importance of “forks in the road,” and how mentors have played integral roles in his life.
Tell us about your OCPS history and experiences.
I started Kindergarten at Rock Lake Elementary in 1963 and then moved to Michigan for a few short years during elementary school. I returned to Orlando in 7th grade and attended what was then called Glenridge Junior High School. After that, I attended Winter Park High School, which is where I began to find my way as a young adult and make some decisions that would really impact the rest of my life.
In junior high and high school, I was never really part of a clique or a big group of friends. It was sometimes hard to know where I fit. I recall in junior high, my PE teacher and my track coach saw something in me and really pushed me to join the track team. The coach went so far as to call my parents and tell them that I really needed to try the sport. I did and I loved it! It not only gave me the opportunity to learn about the sport, but to form a group of friends and, most of all, it gave me a sense of belonging. My teacher and coach took an interest in me when I did not even know anyone was paying attention to me, and that made a difference in my life. I also played the trumpet and my band instructor was also a very positive influence at that young age.
I later moved on to Winter Park High School. I was feeling a bit lost again, being in such a big school where sometimes I could walk the halls and not even see one person I knew from earlier grades. It was easy to get lost in the shuffle. I was definitely at a fork in the road. Overall, my grades were OK but I really just did well enough to get by, except for math. I loved math! I enjoyed looking at problems and figuring out how to solve them. It came pretty naturally to me although at the time, I did not really think about how that could serve me well in life. And again, one day someone took an interest in me. A guidance counselor pulled me aside and told me about this program called DECA. Basically, you went to school for only the core classes and then instead of taking electives, you went to work for hands-on experience. My first job was at Long John Silver’s. I was a cook and I wore a pirate uniform. It was not the coolest attire, but that job turned out to be the beginning of a career built on hard work, dedication – and problem solving.
What stands out most about my time at OCPS is the impact that individuals had on my life by simply taking an interest in me at a critical point in my life. My PE teacher, my coach, my counselor, and other people along the way helped steer me in the right direction when I was at a fork in the road. They made all the difference.
How have mentors continued to influence your life?
The man who hired me at Long John Silver’s turned out to be the greatest mentor of my life. His name was Frank, and he empowered and inspired me to rise to the ranks of District Manager at that organization. I had a few jobs after that but we always stayed in touch and after a few years, he asked me to come to work with him at Second Harvest Food Bank. He was my mentor until the time of his passing; I’ll always be thankful for the times we had together. Another important mentor was my grandfather. My dad drove a truck so was away a lot and my mom also worked long hours. I spent summers with my grandparents, who would be up at sunrise picking citrus. My grandfather instilled in me the importance of hard work and I’ve never forgotten that.
Tell us about your current role and how your life experiences have brought you to where you are today.
When I think about my role today, I’m reminded of my love of math and how I always knew that all problems could be solved if you put in the time and the hard work. Oftentimes, that means surrounding yourself with others who bring different skills and experiences to the equation.
When I first started with A Gift For Teaching, we had a small store and teachers would come in and get what they needed. Then we realized many people could not get to the store. So then we started letting teachers order on-line and OCPS would ship the materials, but that only allowed for limited supplies. Then we realized there were many schools pretty far out that were still not getting supplies they needed, so we started using our mobile units. Now, over the past year, COVID-19 presented us with new challenges and issues to solve.
We had to work outside of our usual process and find the best way to reach the teachers and students. We started getting materials to the drive-through meal sites as we knew that was one way to reach the kids. We also worked with Orange County, which was going out to hotels and other locations like the Salvation Army where we were able to reach more kids and families.
As I look ahead, I know I will not always be the person sitting in my seat, holding this role that I truly love. At some point it will be someone else, so I need to look ahead to best position the organization for the future to ensure the next generation is poised to solve problems and help our teachers and kids when they need it most.