Habitat Volunteer Builds Home, Finds Unexpected Friendship

Wells Fargo has reached its goal to build and improve 1,000 homes by 2020 more than two years early, thanks to volunteers like Sammie Griffin.
Mar 29, 2018 10:00 AM ET

Habitat volunteer builds home, finds unexpected friendship

If it wasn’t for Paul Manyok and his family, Sammie Griffin might not be as heavily involved with Habitat for Humanity as she is today. But, like many of Wells Fargo’s volunteer team members, she found there are certain families whose stories have stayed with her and who inspire her to continue helping others.

“From the time I met Paul and his family during my first volunteer experience, I said, ‘I want to continue helping with Habitat as much as I can,’” Griffin said. “When I’m trying to encourage people to volunteer, I want their first experience to be like my first experience.”

Griffin is one of thousands of Wells Fargo team members who have volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and other organizations as the company worked toward Wells Fargo’s 2020 commitment to build and improve 1,000 homes for low-income homeowners, seniors, veterans and families. More than two years ahead of its deadline, Wells Fargo has met its goal, surpassing 1,000 homes at the end of 2017.

“This is an important milestone for us,” said Martin Sundquist, head of the Wells Fargo Housing Foundation. “Habitat for Humanity and other affordable housing organizations are doing great work in their areas to create affordable and sustainable housing and invest in neighborhood revitalization efforts to build stronger communities, which is our mission and vision at the Wells Fargo Housing Foundation. We are excited to reach our goal more than two years early, and we couldn't have done it without our team member volunteers. We look forward to continuing this work in our communities.”

Since 2010, the Wells Fargo Housing Foundation has donated more than $48 million to local Habitat for Humanity affiliates, as well as Habitat for Humanity International. Wells Fargo team members have volunteered on a Habitat for Humanity home equivalent to every day for seven consecutive years. Among the leading providers of volunteers to Habitat for Humanity, Wells Fargo team members have volunteered more than 355,000 hours since 2010 to build and improve more than 2,400 Habitat homes for low-income homeowners, seniors, and veterans.

‘I became immediately drawn to this family’

Griffin, a sales analyst for Wells Fargo Treasury Management, first volunteered with Habitat for Humanity when she moved to Nashville, Tennessee, in 2012. At the time, she worked on the same floor as a team member who recruited and coordinated volunteers for the global nonprofit housing organization. Griffin decided volunteering with Habitat and helping to recruit other volunteers would be a good way to get involved in the community and meet fellow team members.

“I stayed involved because of the Manyok family, the family we were building for at that time,” Griffin said. “We volunteered for four days (two consecutive weekends), and I became immediately drawn to this family. Paul Manyok was so polite, and you could just tell from his smile how grateful he was for this opportunity. His wife spoke very little English but was out there working hard and made it very obvious how much she appreciated the opportunity Habitat was providing her and her family. Their honest and genuine gratitude for what Habitat was doing for their family is what hooked me and kept me involved.”

For Paul Manyok, the connection was mutual. One of the Lost Boys of Sudan who left their homes to escape war and genocide, Manyok lived in Ethiopia and Kenya before coming to Nashville in 2003. After graduating from Lipscomb University in 2011, he was living in an old apartment with his wife and three children and working as a community services officer with Vanderbilt University Medical Center when he applied for and was approved to purchase a four-bedroom house from Habitat for Humanity of Greater Nashville.

Manyok said he was thankful to be approved for the home and meet volunteers like Griffin. “It’s her personality and how she carried herself and treated other volunteers,” he said. “You could tell she was a leader. She also asked questions about who I was and my background.”

As a result of purchasing the home with an affordable mortgage, Manyok was able to get a new job as a corrections officer, something he said he wouldn’t have been able to do without a stable home and address. “Working in a jail can be stressful, but I have a four-bedroom house and God has blessed me with a beautiful family,” Manyok said. “That is peace of mind that I’ve received because of this. You don’t know how much stress people go through when they have children and can’t afford to pay for an expensive place. Habitat has helped me have a home to raise my children in.”

‘I always thought about the impression they made on me’

Over the years, Griffin has increased her involvement with Habitat for Humanity. Since 2013, she has been a volunteer recruit for the organization. In 2016, she interned with her local Habitat’s board of directors and was invited in 2017 to join its advisory board for a three-year term. Griffin joins almost 90 other Wells Fargo team members who serve on boards for local Habitat for Humanity organizations. She has also served on the Homeowners Selection Committee since 2017, participating in home visits for applicants.

As fate would have it, Griffin has run into Manyok over the years. While she was working on another home in the same neighborhood in 2014, two years after she first volunteered, she heard someone call her name. “I immediately knew from the smile that it was Paul Manyok,” Griffin said. “I can’t even explain the emotions I had in that moment. I could not believe that after two years this family still remembered who I was. All this time I always thought about the impression they made on me, but I never thought about it the other way around.”

She saw him again three years later, in 2017 when she dropped off her son for his first day of school. As she returned to the nearby church parking lot where her car was, Griffin saw a familiar man and asked if his name was Paul. “The man replied, ‘The last time I checked it was,’” she said. “I laughed and gave him the biggest hug. We took a selfie and exchanged contact information. We even became friends on Facebook. I shared with Paul the impact his family made on me and was excited to now have a means to stay in touch with him.”

Since then, Griffin and Manyok have stayed in touch and discussed Griffin bringing her son to the Manyok house sometime soon so their families could meet. Six years after they first met, their connection remains. “I love that this wonderful family is a part of my story now,” Griffin said.

For more stories about how Wells Fargo is helping to make our communities better, please visit Wells Fargo Stories at https://stories.wf.com/?cid=intpart_wfs_3bl_1801_0.