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Archive for December, 2015

Extraordinary Woman: Jessica Muroff

Posted on: December 29th, 2015 by Angela Ardolino No Comments


It was a perfect choice for the Girl Scout of West Central Florida to make when time came to pick a new leader: one of their own.

Jessica Muroff is a former GSWCF member herself and now the mother of two little girls.  In both her roles as mother and Chief Executive Officer of GSWCF, Muroff is poised to fulfil what she considers the most important task facing society today: investing in young girls.

“Today’s generation of girls faces unparalleled opportunities, but also historic challenges,” says Muroff. “It falls to us, as women (and men!), to serve as mentors, role models, and guides, and to support them in their journey—for if there is one thing we can be sure of, it’s that in our modern global economy we are going to need to harness the full potential of both men and women in order for us to succeed.”

 A University of South Florida grad with a bachelor’s degree in mass communication (with a minor in international studies) and a master’s degree in English education, Muroff worked in marketing and sales for companies such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Raymond James before starting her nonprofit career as CEO of Frameworks of Tampa Bay, an organization dedicated to developing the social and emotional skills of youth.

Today, Muroff serves on the board of directors of the Nonprofit Leadership Center of Tampa Bay, Executive Committee of USF Women in Leadership and Philanthropy, and the CEO Council of Tampa Bay. She is a founding member and co-chair of Emerge Tampa, and writes a blog She has been awarded Tampa Bay Business Journal’s Young Business Woman of the Year of 2005, Tampa Bay Business Journal’s Up & Comers Hall of Fame in 2013, and the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce Emerging Leader Award in 2014.

Muroff is married to architect Michael Muroff and is the mom of two daughters, Danica and Alexandra, ages 10 and 7.

What do you think is the secret to your family’s success?

As a family, we are committed to enjoying each other and spending time together. Like many families, we have a full plate—work, school, after-school activities, community commitments—but at the end of the day, we know our family time is important. We try to eat dinner together every night (it is never perfect). The one ritual we have at dinner each night is that we always start by asking the question, “What are you grateful for?” It is my favorite tradition that instills happiness, hopefulness, and perspective in my family.

Another one of my favorite traditions is Sunday Night Dinner. I’ve been enjoying Sunday dinners with my sister and her family for more than six years now. This time spent with family (and cousins having so much fun together!) is the best part of my week.

What is your biggest fear?

I’m a bit of a fearless person, so this is a tough question for me! I have to say that I didn’t really know worry until I have my children. I’ve been told that worry never goes away, even when they grow old. My biggest fear is that time moves way too fast and one day, very soon, I will wish that I could experience these magical years all over again. This is why I choose to be present. I know the best gift I can give my girls is my love and presence.

 What advice would you give to other women?

Be present – This is my commitment in life. I am abundantly blessed and I want to enjoy each and every moment, even the challenging moments. I try my best to be present so that I can make each day a story worth telling and learn from my actions and habits each day. This means putting away my phone when I’m with loved ones or in important meetings. It is so important to disconnect for longer periods of time just to give my brain a break from social media and email.

What is your proudest moment?

My proudest moment is when my girls saved their money and decided to donate their savings (mostly coins) to Metropolitan Ministries. They donated $25 and we matched their gift so that a total of $50 was donated. The Metropolitan Ministries team treated their gift like a big donation. They gave the girls a tour and helped them see exactly what their gift would do. I was so proud of their generous hearts and how much they want to help and give to others.

What is your biggest achievement?

My best decision I made: choosing to leave my for-profit job to begin my nonprofit career. I knew that in order to be fulfilled in my career that my job had to have a community impact. Being selected to lead the Girl Scouts of West Central Florida has been my biggest achievement to date. I have an incredibly exciting job—every day, I get to work with girls to help them tap into their leadership abilities and gain the courage, confidence and character to make the world a better place.

 What makes you happy?

There are so many things that make me happy; it is hard to keep this answer short! My girls are a great source of happiness and laughter for me. My entire family is incredible. So many of my family lives close and that makes me happy; our family gatherings are quite large and fun!

What makes me the happiest is knowing that my work each and every day is helping to develop and grow the leadership potential of girls. This starts in my house with my own daughters, but I feel so fortunate to lead an organization dedicated to this movement, the Girl Scouts. My daughters now make three generations of Girl Scouts in my family!

How do you relax and take time for yourself?

I love pushing myself with my fitness. Boxing, Pilates, and my aerial silks classes are some of my favorite ways to take time for myself.

I also love to cook and bake. I cook dinner for my family nearly every night and it is my favorite way to unwind at the end of the day. I also love to bake cakes, all kinds. The more elaborate and challenging, the more excited I get.

What kind of message would you like to give women in the area or in this community?

My message: the importance of investing the future of girls. I believe there isn’t much that is more important for the future of our community, of our society, than investing in our girls. At Girl Scouts we’re driving to transform the future leadership landscape, and produce the greatest return on economic development and social progress, by investing in girls.

What is your favorite thing to do with your kids in Tampa Bay?

I think Tampa is one of the best places in this country to raise a family. We have so many options of things to do with our kids that nearly every weekend could be filled! My favorite thing to do with my kids is one of two things: visiting my mom’s farm in Plant City where my girls can ride horses and interact with all of her animals (reminds me of how I grew up) or taking them to the beach for a day. We LOVE collecting shells and building sandcastles.

What is your biggest inspiration or role model?

The future of girls is my inspiration. I learn daily about what girls in our council are doing for their communities and [how they are] growing their leadership skills. It makes me so happy to know we are growing the leaders of tomorrow.

Extraordinary Woman: Maria Gselle

Posted on: December 1st, 2015 by Angela Ardolino No Comments


Maria Gsell didn’t start off in county administration; her first job with Hillsborough County School District was as secretary at Plant High School. That’s when she got the first vote of confidence that spurred her to return to college: when then principal, Dr. Jim Hamilton, told Gsell that she could “probably run this school.”

As the daughter of a migrant worker, Gsell was no stranger to hard work. Her father came from Mexico and worked the fields before joining the Air Force and being stationed in Burlington, Vermont. That’s where he met and married Gsell’s mother. One of the couple’s four sons and two daughters was Gsell. “We were a big, loud, happy family,” she says. She graduated from high school in Dover, Delaware, and married her husband, Gary, right after graduation. The couple followed Gsell’s parents to Tampa, and together raised a son and two daughters until, after 40 years of marriage, he passed away in 2013 after a lengthy illness.

Soon after Hamilton’s comment, Gsell decided to return to school. She graduated from Hillsborough Community College and earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degrees from The University of South Florida. She then taught English at Plant High School, became an assistant principal at Lennard High School, and has been the proud principal of East Bay High School for four years.

What do you think is the secret to your family’s success?
We don’t have a big secret! Like other families, we believe in each other and just a few important values: education, accepting people for what they are, unconditional love, and a lot of laughter.

What is your biggest fear?
Besides the frogs and lizards that insist on coming in my garage? Seriously, I think that it is that, somehow, I will fail to recognize a potentially harmful situation that may result in one of our students either becoming hurt or not receiving the appropriate support from those of us on the faculty or in the administration. Our teenagers are growing up in a very complex world. Multiple influences combine to affect their successful transition into the adult world. I am concerned each day that we model good behavior and decision making skills, as well as provide a safe and professional educational atmosphere.

What advice would you give to other women?
That sounds a bit presumptive, but I would ask that they recognize their strengths and the skills that they have developed as they have grown. I would suggest that they find people that encourage them and nurture them, and limit their exposure to those that don’t. Our environment is full of negative voices; associate yourself with positive women.

What is your proudest moment?
As a parent, seeing how my children have grown into happy, productive adults. Also, when I spend time with my grandchildren and watch them developing and learning. Professionally, becoming a principal was a personal moment of pride.

What is your biggest achievement?
I think that would be the combination of raising a family, having a successful marriage, and returning to complete my college education as an adult. Balancing the demands of those three important, and sometimes divergent, tasks helped me develop the same skills needed in my professional life: prioritizing, negotiation, time management, listening and a strong sense of humor.

What makes you happy?
Spending time with my family, going to the beach, travel, and watching the extraordinary talent at East Bay perform in athletics, music, drama, or many other activities. Just the other night, while eating out, one of my recent graduates came to the table to tell me how much he appreciated East Bay and how it prepared him for his future. That makes me very happy. That he was so affected by his experience that he would take time to tell me about it says that the efforts we make every day to make our school a positive force for kids is invaluable.

How do you relax and take time for yourself?
I like to sit on my couch or deck with a book; watch television shows I have recorded; listen to music. When I have the opportunity, I like to travel. I will be going to Costa Rica just after Christmas. Even though they have frogs there, I am going on a zip line canopy tour, horseback riding and river rafting.

What kind of message would you like to give women in the area?
It feels a bit presumptive to tell the women that read your magazine what I believe they should do or think. What I will say is that women can help each other by networking with and supporting the women in their personal contacts. We can be of great support since we have experienced similar life tracks and problems. I also believe that we should laugh more. Have fun with your work. Enjoy the moments. Life is not guaranteed. One thing I learned from the illness and loss of my husband, Gary, is that we can lose something important. Don’t miss the opportunities today; they may not be there again. Don’t be afraid to love or try something new. Life is what you do.

What else would you like to share?
Being a mom never ends. My children are grown and out on their own; there are grandchildren now. But, they still need my love, support, advice, and sometimes even my saying things that they don’t want to hear. My worry and thoughts about my children never goes away. They are always my kids. Both as a parent and as a principal, I have come to believe that life is about resilience: facing loss or failure without giving up. Being a success is less about whether you fail or lose something, than about how you get back up and face life as it is right now. The most important skill we can pass on to or families or students is resilience, because everyone falls down. The question is only how you get back up.

What is your biggest inspiration?
As I grew up, my parents were very important. They worked hard to provide a good life for all of us. We knew that we were loved. In the 3rd grade, Mrs. Wilson at Anderson Elementary School was a huge influence on how I viewed school. That continued in Delaware with Mr. Hilton in high school. When I was a secretary at Plant High School, Jim Hamilton, the principal, encouraged me to go back to school and told me that I could “run a school”. My husband Gary always supported me and encouraged me to do what made me happy. He was my best friend and biggest fan. My children also inspired me to model for them that lifelong learning is an important value.

Professionally, I am inspired every time I walk into a classroom and see a teacher in front of a class inspiring young minds. I am inspired by the administrative staff I have assembled over the past four years. Those men and women are tireless and recharge me daily. Every June as I shake the hands of the graduates, I am inspired.