Community Service Challenge winner: Dwight Murrah

Dwight Murrah has built volunteer activities into multiple aspects of his life.

Community service isn’t something Dwight Murrah does every now and then on a Saturday. It’s woven into his friendships, his marriage, his hobbies, and his relationship to the neighborhood where he lives. Murrah, a business agent for Millwright Local 2232, volunteers individually, with friends, and with groups, including cycling and Jeep-enthusiast groups he’s a member of and groups organized by his wife’s employer.

The work he’s done ranges from distributing food to the homeless and fostering shelter dogs to taking blind people on tandem-bike rides. “Sometimes I wish I’d found an awesome charity or organization to consistently work with, but for me, the reward has been in the diversity,” he said.

While Murrah has led and participated in fundraisers, most of his community-service activities have been hands on. “A lot of fundraisers are all about cash,” he said. “Walking down a trail that’s overgrown with grass 5 feet tall to find the two people who are living under a bridge and say, ‘Hey, here’s some water’ – that’s a different deal.”

Volunteerism started taking on an important role in Murrah’s life in 2005, when someone with Habitat for Humanity asked him to donate landscape plants from his family’s nursery business. He helped with two houses – one for siblings in their early twenties whose parents had died and the other for a wheelchair-bound woman who was caring for her mentally disabled daughter. “They were so grateful,” he recalled.

Murrah said the main reason he’s had so many volunteer opportunities is because of the friendships and connections he’s developed. Other Habitat volunteers told him about additional projects. And people in the hobbyist groups he’s joined are involved in community service. “If you expose yourself to good people doing good things, you’re going to have opportunities,” Murrah said.

Much of the volunteer work Murrah does happens in or near his own neighborhood. He and his wife, Fiona, live in a walkable, densely populated community that is part of downtown Houston.

“It feels good to volunteer,” Murrah said. “You learn from the people you volunteer to help. You get a better perspective on what other people are going through. And you learn more about what’s going on in your own world when you step into other parts of it.”

Murrah didn’t finish college but has enjoyed a well-paying career as a millwright – a fact he attributes partly to good fortune and assistance from others. “A buddy of mine was a millwright, and he introduced me to the right person,” he said. “I have a strong work ethic, but that only takes you so far in creating opportunities. Somebody always gives us a chance. You’ve got to realize you’ve been given stuff and want to give it back.”

“Dwight has always been extremely committed to helping out his brother and sister members as well as those in need in our local communities,” said James Rowland, director of the SSMRC’s Western Region. “He will always go above and beyond if he feels that the membership is being wronged.”

Some of the community-service activities Murrah has participated in are listed below.

Fostering and fundraising for abandoned animals

  • Murrah and his wife have fostered seven dogs and a set of puppies through the Houston Pets Alive! animal-rescue organization. Houston Pets Alive! rescues animals in danger of euthanasia at Houston-area shelters and places them in foster homes until they are adopted.
  • The couple also help Houston Pets Alive! with fundraising. Many people want to foster animals, but the organization needs to give those people pet food and a leash, which is on reason fundraising is needed, Murrah said.

Food distribution / helping the homeless

  • Murrah has sorted food at the Houston Food Bank.
  • With members of the Real Riders cycling group (so named because they wear T-shirts, shorts, and tennis shoes instead of typical cycling gear), Murrah also regularly made sandwiches or burritos and gave them to homeless people around Houston before the city outlawed this practice.
  • After the law went into effect, Murrah transitioned to working with a non-denominational Christian group that fills large pails with bottled water, sports drinks, gift cards, blankets, rain gear, aspirin, underwear, socks, and other essential items and distributes them to the homeless.
  • Murrah’s Jeep-enthusiast group, which usually gets together to go off-roading and do mechanical work on their vehicles, once bought food from a Jack in the Box restaurant and gave it to homeless people taking shelter under a nearby overpass.
  • There is a particular need for men’s clothes among the homeless because men are less likely than women to go to shelters and accept donations, Murrah said. Twice a year, he goes through his closet and picks out items he no longer wears. He then takes them to areas of the city where homeless men congregate.

Cycling-related volunteer and fundraising events

  • Murrah has taken part in several charity bike rides with teams including Ham Cycles, LyondellBasell, and Sun & Ski Sports. The rides include the Texas Bike MS event (180 miles from Houston to Austin), which supports the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Tour de Cure (two-day ride) benefitting the American Diabetes Association, the Tour de Houston, an annual bike ride to raise funds for the city’s reforestation projects, and several 45-to-50-mile rides to raise money for breast-cancer research. For the latter events, Murrah wore a pink helmet, ordered pink bicycle tires from a company in England, and wrapped his bike’s handlebars in pink tape. “My grandmother was very sick with breast cancer twice and ultimately died of metastasized breast cancer,” he said.
  • During two holiday seasons, he assembled kids’ bikes for the nonprofit Cycle Houston, which rewards children’s academic performance with new bicycles. Being a millwright, Murrah said his assembly practices took a bit too much time. “They’re like, ‘Hey we need you to build three of these an hour, preferably four,’” Murrah recalled. “And I’m over there truing the wheel up, making sure it’s perfect, like it’s a rotor blade on a multi-million-dollar piece of machinery.”
  • Through an organization that provided services for the visually impaired, Murrah offered participants rides on his tandem bike, giving them an experience they hadn’t had in years – or ever, in some cases.

Supporting the LGBTQ community

  • Murrah and Fiona help organize fundraisers for Tony’s Place, a nonprofit in their neighborhood that helps homeless LGBTQ youth find housing and meets their immediate needs for food, toiletries, clothing, counseling services, and more. Many of the kids Tony’s Place serves are no longer welcome in their families’ homes after they come out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, Murrah said.
  • To promote inclusivity, Murrah, his wife, and his Jeep group participate in the Houston Pride Parade, one of the largest gay-pride parades in the world. In 2019, the Texas Rainbow Jeepers – with Murrah’s vehicle in front – led the parade after the title sponsor dropped out at the last minute.

Community building and beautification

  • Murrah has been a member of groups that have painted over graffiti on fences and walls in low-income neighborhoods.
  • Fiona is a corporate-level employee of an oil-and-gas company in Houston, and, as her spouse, Murrah has in participated in the company’s volunteer program. Projects typically involve cleaning up beaches near Houston.
  • At Millwright Local 2232, Murrah mows the grass as a volunteer. The local could pay, as adjacent businesses do, to have the grass mowed with a tractor, but Murrah says it doesn’t get cut as short or even and doesn’t look good.
  • Murrah donated and installed plants from his family’s landscape-nursery business at two Habitat for Humanity houses.
  • Through the nonprofit Sleep in Heavenly Peace, Murrah has assembled beds for children in need.
  • Murrah and Fiona have participated in the Houston Turkey Trot, an annual race that raises funds for BakerRipley, a community-development nonprofit that brings resources, education, and connection to emerging neighborhoods.

LEFT TO RIGHT, FROM TOP: Dwight Murrah and wife Fiona at the Houston Turkey Trot; Local artwork the couple has purchased at fundraisers; Puppies the Murrahs have fostered; Murrah at a toy drive; A charity bike ride in which Murrah wore his pink breast-cancer-awareness helmet; Murrah and his Jeep-enthusiast group leading the Houston Pride Parade; Murrah outfitted his bike with pink tires; The tandem bike Murrah used to give blind people rides through Houston; Murrah assembles headboards and footboards for kids in need of beds