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Orange Grad Blossoms in Florida Sunshine

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January 13, 2014

Gabriel Levine ’07 seemed predestined for a career in hospitality management. His parents have been in the restaurant business for 15 years; his mom owns Bistro 185; and Gabriel has always had a knack for making people comfortable in their surroundings. It just took a few good Orange teachers to truly help him blossom.

“The teachers at Orange are the ones who really set me on that path to learn, making sure that I was prepared. They lead me to where I want to be,” said Levine. “And now I can make a difference, speaking to the students who are now in the shoes I was in when I was a senior.”

That path recently brought Levine back to OHS from Florida, where he is the lead night agent at the Hilton Bonnet Creek in Orlando…a perfect place for this “slice of Orange” to shine.

“I was part of the opening team at Hilton Bonnet Creek and have been there happily for four years. Hilton has been very good to me, and I hope to continue to grow within the Hilton Company.”

Speaking to a group of OHS students about his life at Orange and his career path, Levine said one of the best things that happened to him was the vocational program offered through Orange Schools and the Excel TECC Consortium’s Food and Hospitality Program. At first, it was just something fun to do…he later realized he could make a career of it.

“I was really involved with band and Model UN, but once I got into this, it was a lot of fun,” said Levine. “What senior can say they got out of school at 12:30 in the afternoon to go to a vocational program like this? It was a great thing! Plus, job training is key in this industry today. Education gets you the job you want; it opens the doors you want.”

But things weren’t always “fun” or “easy” for Levine. While attending Orange High School, Gabriel struggled with traditional academics as he had many learning differences to overcome. He credits Orange teachers for helping him develop a skill set that would help him succeed in a global economy.

“The staff and the educators here at Orange made sure I stayed on the right path, making sure I got all my homework turned in and that I did what I had to do in a timely fashion,” he said.

“Gabe followed his dreams. He said that if it weren’t for teachers that cared and pushed him along (kicking him in the behind a few hundred times), he knows he wouldn’t be where he is today,” said transition coordinator Fran Piunno-Brooks, one of Gabriel’s advocates. “Gabe knows it is really a tough world and wishes students would listen to teachers’ advice.”

That advice served as a large part of Gabriel’s message to students as he shared how it helped him obtain a senior project with the Holiday Inn in Mayfield Village. There he got a taste of life in the world of hospitality and could put his new-found skill set to use. He loved it….and pursued it.

“I was searching around to see what was out there besides college, and I stumbled across the Disney (Hospitality Management Training) program. I applied. After the longest two-month waiting process ever, I got the big envelope in the mail that said ‘you’re coming to Orlando’!”

Levine was selected from more than 1600 applicants to attend the Disney Career Start Program, working at Disney as a trainer for the Front Office Bell Services Dispatch team while simultaneously taking classes through the Disney Hotel Management Program at Valencia College.

“The Disney College Excellence Series offers a whole assortment of classes credited through the American College of Education. It’s all about time management; it’s all about leadership, human resources. It helps you narrow down your career path,” Levine said.

But he warned students that it’s not as simple as taking a few ‘Mickey Mouse classes’. Many hours, a great deal of hard work, and tons of effort went into his very involved studies.

“A college degree is very important. It opens doors,” Levine told the group of attentive students. “If you look at Hilton’s Career Website; if you look at Disney’s Career Website; if you want to do anything besides the basic jobs, a college degree is a must.”  

Levine is one class away from finishing his Associate’s Degree in Hospitality Management which he plans to complete soon. Levine has already found his skill set in high demand and was recruited by Hilton to join its team. Levine plans to use his degree to grow within the company.

“Eventually I want to try something different within the brand, but I don’t have any plans of leaving the company,” Levine said. “Hilton has been fantastic.”

No matter what challenges lie ahead for Gabe, his teachers believe he’s ready to face them head-on.

“Gabe was never one to say ‘no’ to a challenge!” effused OHS psychologist Edie Ungar-Shafron. “He could navigate a website like nobody else and has a wonderful learned set of skills that are great foundations for employability, social and independent living, daily living, and communication.”

The students Gabriel spoke to were particularly fascinated and eager to learn about the many celebrities he encountered while engaged in his hospitality adventures.  But Gabriel, smiling sheepishly, reminded them that part of his training is maintaining confidentiality and saying that all guests are equally special.

“Seeing a guest smile is what I’m most proud of,” said Levine. “There are guests that come back and say ‘Hey, you helped us last year. We’re back here because of you.’ That makes a difference.”

That attitude helped Levine receive a Partner’s Pin at Disney for exceptional guest service and a signed letter from Meg Crofton (the President of Walt Disney Parks & Resorts) for making a guest’s stay “magical”. Levine likes helping his guests make great memories… just like those from his days at Orange.

“Friday night football games; the family atmosphere at Orange; we’re very fortunate to go to a school where teachers are top-notch – they are almost like college professors. You can reach out to a teacher you had five years ago, and they still know you by your first name.  It's why Orange is one of the best high schools in the United States." 

With his parents Marc and Ruth and brothers Ari ’97 and Zachary ’01 still living in the Cleveland area, Gabriel loves returning ‘home’ for visits but always looks forward to getting back to Florida to be with Ashley Arend, his girlfriend of five years…and going back to work.

“As I always say, if you like what you do you never work a day in your life,” Levine said. “There’s a different step for each person. There’s a different path. My path was not the normal honors collegiate path. My path was career, learning, getting college credit through learning, through making connections. You CAN do anything; you just have to try. As long as I keep learning and trying, I know I can do anything.”

Well said.

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