Nancy Frank Talks about WFSS’s Early Days

Nancy and Salva at our 2016 fundraising brunch.

Nancy and Salva at our 2016 fundraising brunch.

When Nancy Frank first met WFSS Founder Salva Dut he was 19 years old and had just arrived in Rochester, New York. Nancy was the Coordinator of Outreach and Mission at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. It was her responsibility to help the refugees that St. Paul’s sponsored to get acclimated to life in Rochester. In 1995-1996, most of the South Sudanese in Rochester were Nuer. Salva arrived in 1996 and being Dinka he didn’t have a support network among other South Sudanese. Nancy assisted him in finding housing and a job at Wegmans.

“St. Paul’s embraced Salva in a way they hadn’t embraced other refugees,” said Nancy, “Everyone knew him and wanted him to succeed." When Salva was working as a cashier at Wegmans in Pittsford his line would often be the longest, because people from St. Paul’s would all get into his line to say hello. Nancy shared another story about Salva working at Wegmans. “One day while working the cash register Salva was robbed,” Nancy said, “Salva chased the thief out into the parking lot to get the money back.”  This story is a tribute to Salva’s sense of responsibility – he was not going to let anyone steal from Wegmans.

Nancy Frank and board member Angelique Stevens in South Sudan, 2008

Nancy Frank and board member Angelique Stevens in South Sudan, 2008

Nancy knew that Salva wanted to do something to help his people. When he started talking about drilling a well for his father Nancy understood the need. She had been to South Sudan several times and knew the lay of the land. She had seen women carrying water, as well as non-functioning wells and hand dug wells that turned to mud, dried up, or caved in taking lives. “I tried carrying water on my head,” Nancy remembered, “I couldn’t do it.”

Nancy noted that Salva pulled together a wonderful team. Nancy was invited to join the WFSS Board. She was practical. She saw barriers where others could see that it could work. “It was fun to be part of that,” she said. 

“The right people came to the Board at the right time, bringing special talents” Nancy said. “John Bevier was a wonderful idea person. John Turner worked the problems to death, until he found solutions. Chris Moore had the leadership and drive. Glenn Balch has done so much and Don Fairman was the right person at the right time. Everyone had a piece of this huge puzzle.”

The Board met in Nancy’s living room until the Rotary folks came on board. “This was a wonderful development,” Nancy remarked, “Salva was invited to speak at Rotary meetings and then he joined Penfield Rotary Club. All of Rotary International knows WFSS and Salva’s journey.”

Nancy led a team of Board members and others to experience the drilling operation in 2008. Everyone worked together. “My job was mixing cement,” Nancy recalled.  Nobody expected WFSS to become what it is today. The original mission was to drill a well for Salva’s father. “It felt a shame to stop with one well, we thought we would just drill some wells in neighboring villages,” Nancy said.  It has grown way beyond that, with 325 wells drilled to date.

I asked Nancy what she was most proud of accomplishing with WFSS. She responded “that we did it, we put it on the ground, and we have affected the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. It is one of the most amazing things I have been a part of in my life.”

Read about other Founding Board members here.