Reston Couple Encourages Civic Duty

Reston Couple Encourages Civic Duty

Best of Reston

Chris Griffin and Donald Owens were operating out of two separate offices, one in Herndon and one in Sterling. When the Stuart Professional Village on Elden Street opened, they were the first tenants.

"We've been in this office since 1986," said Chris Griffin, co-owner of Griffin-Owens and Associates, a Nationwide Insurance and Financial office. "We started here in Herndon and wanted to stay in the community."

To that end, the married couple have submersed themselves into the community. They moved to Reston the same year they moved the business and became involved in several community and business organizations. In addition, a majority of their clients are within a 5-mile radius of the business.

"We feel this community has been very good to us and it's right to give back," said Griffin.

And the company has given so much back to the community it was selected as one of the Best of Reston winners; however, some feel that does not even begin to describe the couple and their employees.

"They are the best of Herndon and Reston to me," said Capt. Darryl Smith of the Herndon Police Department and co-creator of Vecino Unidos, a community youth group in Herndon. "Don and Chris are major players in the operation of Vecino Unidos. They are a major part of what it is now. They were a Godsend to the program."

IT STARTED OUT simply enough. While the new company was trying to attract clients, the pair began donating money and sponsoring events to get their name on T-shirts, and from there the couple began volunteering time to business and community-service organizations.

"It naturally evolves from insurance. You ask people personal questions and learn about their needs. You find out what is affecting their lives," said Owens. "In our business, it's easy to get involved."

Griffin said that through the business they got to see a broad spectrum of people ranging from wealthy business owners to people who went to bed hungry.

The need in the community also hit home since over the past 10 years, three staff members have been diagnosed with cancer, with two becoming survivors. The experience led to the company becoming involved with Relay for Life.

"The first year we were in it. One of our employees was in a wheelchair going around the track," said Owens. "The second year, she walked. That really inspires you."

IN ADDITION, Griffin, Owens and their employees began sponsoring the Prom Promise at Herndon and South Lakes high schools nearly 10 years ago; tutoring English as a Second Language families; sponsoring families during the holidays; sponsoring Optimists Club youth teams; and putting on seminars at the homeless shelter on basic finance.

Smith said because of the couple's efforts, Vecino Unidos has been able to financially support several soccer traveling teams, take children to professional soccer games, support a tutoring program and create a good after-school program. He also said the couple doesn't just write a check. Griffin serves as the group's secretary and the couple, along with employees, volunteer as tutors.

"I am very proud of Vecino Unidos and the quality of the people who are a part of it," Smith said. "And they [Griffin and Owens] don't even live here. They could be doing all this just for Reston, but they're not. They're helping Herndon too. They are wonderful people."

AFTER NATIONWIDE completed a study last year which found the Hispanic community tends not to use car safety seats, Griffin-Owens was selected to represent the community during a give away aimed at the Hispanic community. The local company gave away 80 to 100 car seats and arranged for certified installers from the fire department to teach parents the proper way to secure the seat in the car.

"It's the agency. Everyone volunteers. Nobody makes them do it," Owens said. "It builds camaraderie and a family atmosphere for the agency."

Griffin said a lot of the community-service projects the company becomes involved in are because of their employees. One year around the holidays a staff member mentioned a family where the head of the household died. The staff decided to collect all the money they would have spent on a gift exchange and instead gave it to the family.

"It's difficult to say no when you see the need is so great. It's easy to say yes," Griffin said.

Between the two of them, the couple has four grown children including one who also works at the agency. They hope they have passed on the community giving spirit.

"You plant the seed," Owens said.