2006-04-21 / Community
Ed foundation president tells Simi 'We can do more'
The man who entered the South Tower en route to his job as Chief Technological Officer of Eurobrokers was passionately focused on his career, a mindset that had helped him achieve financial success. The person who exited the tower, just minutes after the second hijacked plane hit almost directly into the Eurobrokers' office on the 84th floor, had a new perspective.
"Before (Sept. 11) I was very focused on my business, on making money, going in that direction," said the Simi Valley resident, who was on the 34thfloor stairwell when the second plane hit. "After 9/11, after watching my friends die, watching their wives and kids lose their fathers, it refocused me.
"It made me focus on my family, on appreciating every hour, every minute I had with them. And it made me focus more on how I could help other people."
This new approach to life is what led White to the Simi Valley Education Foundation, where he's served for the past 10 months as acting president of its board of directors. During that time the foundation, whose goal is to provide additional resources to Simi Valley Unified School District students, has seen its scope-and its coffers-grow exponentially.
Simi Valley Councilmember Glen Becerra, a former education foundation president, said White's impact on the nonprofit organization has been enormous.
"Before Dan came to the education foundation, we felt like we were doing a pretty good job, but it was Dan who had the vision we could do more," Becerra said.
Take, for instance, this year's foundation Gala Dinner Dance and Auction at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, which helped raise $130,000 for local schools. Less than five years ago, organizers were thrilled to raise $10,000 at a similar event.
And while credit for the foundation's success goes to many, it wouldn't be where it is today without the leadership of White-a grateful survivor who decided he wanted to make the world a better place by starting in his own community.
After narrowly escaping the fate of more than 60 of his coworkers, White returned home to his wife, Corinna, and their two young boys, Stephen and Brian, in Simi Valley. Still shaken from the experience, White was asked him to speak in front of 3,000 attendees at a memorial service.
"When I came back to Simi, I just felt so safe," said White, who had moved to the area from New Jersey in 2000. "The people here were amazing. They were so supportive of me, of my family, of the other victims of 9/11. It really told me, this is where home is."
White, whose mother was a vice principal and father a school psychologist, said his passion for education was born in the home. A native of Redding, Calif., he learned early on how the right resources can aid the learning process and, in his case, break ground on a future career path.
"My parents borrowed money at 18 percent interest to get me a Commodore 64 (computer). When I was 8 years old, I learned how to program it," White said. "By the time I got to junior high, I was making robots controlled by my computer . . . all because they gave me that resource."
When he was in his 20s, White developed new software for brokers on Wall Street and began his own company. He sold it in 2000, with basically enough money at age 30 to leave the workforce, an idea he considered briefly.
"I decided, I'm going to take a few years off. I'm going to play golf, lose weight, work out all the time, do all this stuff," White said. "Then I got into it, and I wasn't losing weight, I wasn't playing golf. But I was watching a lot of Jerry Springer. It just wasn't what I envisioned."
White had extra time to think about his children, especially about their schools. As he had all his life, he questioned whether things could be done better, more efficiently.
"I could send my children to private school, but I figured we already pay for these public schools. If the community can be active and make them better, then it should," White said.
Sharing his thoughts with family friend and neighbor Councilmember Steve Sojka, White found the outlet he was seeking. Sojka introduced him to Becerra, Councilmember Michelle Foster and the education foundation.
"I told Glen, this is greatest gift that I'm ever going to give you," said Sojka, who sits on the board of the police foundation. "And sure enough, it's turned out that way."
Nearing the end of his oneyear term as education foundation president, White is fully confident the organization will continue to grow.
He must now focus on his new company, which is based in New York, not far from Ground Zero.
Despite extensive coast-tocoast travel, White said he's truly grounded in Simi Valley. In 2004 he celebrated the birth of his first daughter, Madeline, and he expects to see her graduate from one of the local high schools he's done so much to help.
"I plan to be in Simi forever," White said.
When asked whose achievements he is more proud of- those of the Dan White before Sept. 11 or of the one after-he was quick to answer.
"I'm very proud of what I was able to do in the business world," White said.
"But what I've done with the education foundation has meant more to me personally. It's allowed me to achieve those new goals I set for myself after 9/11."