Chris Marlow: Help One Now
by Settle Monroe
Chris Marlow has a saying: “A life interrupted is a life inspired.”
For Marlow, that interruption happened in Zimbabwe in 2007 when a young boy living in a makeshift orphanage beside an old gas station approached him and asked for help. He asked Marlow if he could work for food. The boy had not eaten in days. Marlow looked around at the swarms of other hungry children, many the same ages as his own young daughters at home. Their needs seemed too great, and he thought he had nothing to give that could actually help. He also had a busy travel itinerary to keep for his work as a pastor and real estate business owner. He told the boy: “No.” But the boy’s simple question never left him. And it would be the last time Marlow would allow an overwhelming need, a sense of helplessness, or even a busy schedule to keep him from acting.
Today, almost nine years later, Marlow’s Raleigh-based nonprofit organization, Help One Now, is changing the lives of thousands of children and families across the world. The group brings education and healthcare to orphaned and vulnerable children and communities in eight developing countries: Haiti, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Peru, Congo, Dominican Republic, and South Africa.
Help One Now does its work by partnering with local leaders in every community it serves. Marlow is proud of the organization’s ability to remain almost invisible to the people who receive its help. “A Haitian mother who sends her child to the school we helped fund will most likely never have heard of Help One Now,” he says. “The school was built by Haitians and is run by Haitians. This maintains and promotes dignity and purpose in the local communities. There is power in that.”
Justin Morgan, a friend of Marlow’s and the pastor of Raleigh’s Church on Morgan, has traveled to Haiti and witnessed the group’s impact.
Morgan reports, “They are absolutely moving the needle around the world, town by town, and in so many sectors from education to healthcare, job creation to meeting basic needs. But the locals are the heroes in the development story they’re telling.”
Local leaders are also the organization’s bedrock. Marlow has built the organization around the belief that a community thrives under great leadership from within, and with authentic partnerships. He says he seeks out effective local leaders who are already motivated and engaged in the fight against extreme poverty. These men and women lead the charge, and Help One Now comes alongside them to equip, serve, and help fund their efforts.
For example, Jean-Alix Paul is a successful Haitian pastor, businessman, and the president of a philanthropic organization, Esprit de Vérité. Paul knows that the best hope for his country lies in access to solid education for its youth. In the impoverished border town of Ferrier, Haiti, for instance, the children are some of the country’s most vulnerable. Child trafficking and child labor are rampant there.
Under Marlow and Paul’s leadership, and after years of planning, researching, and fundraising, Help One Now completed the first phase of Ferrier Village in 2013. Ferrier Village includes five homes, a community center, a water cistern system, and a security wall. The 25 rescued children who now live in Ferrier Village enjoy nutritious meals, a warm home, counseling, and access to quality education. Most importantly, for the first time in their young lives, they are safe.
Help One Now’s reach is expansive. Since its beginning in 2009, the organization has helped place over 200 orphans into 24-hour care facilities. It has served 3,000 children at risk for starvation, abandonment, or trafficking, providing them with food and other daily necessities. Of those vulnerable children, 2,000 are currently enrolled in high-quality schools. The organization has also built two schools from the ground up and partnered with 13 other schools in five countries, including Peru, Haiti, Uganda, Ethiopia, and South Africa.
Marlow acknowledges that the statistics of extreme poverty can be overwhelming to contemplate. In a country like Haiti, where 77 percent of the population lives in poverty and the adult literacy rate is below 50 percent, it is easy for someone who might like to help to feel paralyzed by the scope of the country’s problems.
Part of Help One Now’s mission is to equip ordinary people with simple and practical ways to become part of the solution. Marlow says people who want to help can sponsor an individual child or host a garage sale for orphans, or even travel with the organization on a “vision trip” to witness and experience the needs in one of the communities that Help One Now serves.
“Human capital is our greatest resource,” he says. “We just need to ask ourselves, ‘What problem do I see?’ and ‘what unique skills or talents do I have that might help solve it?’ The people of Raleigh care deeply about the problems of the world. And they are creative, motivated, and highly capable to help solve them.”
Marlow has an eye for finding those passionate and effective leaders to join his efforts here as well as across the globe.
Had to act
When he was working as a pastor and running several real estate businesses, Chris Marlow never imagined that he would one day lead an international nonprofit. But when he returned from that trip to Zimbabwe in 2007, burdened by the devastation, poverty, and a young boy’s plea, he knew he had to act.
His background in ministry coupled with his executive experience provided the knowledge necessary to get the organization off the ground. But it took more than that to grow a nonprofit in the floundering economy of 2009. It took an unwavering focus and a contagious zeal.
Marlow attracted investors and partners, and eventually turned a $1,000 investment into an organization with a $2.2 million annual budget and a significant international impact. That same zeal and focus has led the organization to maintain 40 percent annual growth. Marlow is hopeful that this growth will continue. Help One Now is aiming for a 2016 budget of around $3 million. Contributions from businesses, churches, and private donors have fueled the growth.
But it’s not just finanical contributions that make a difference, Marlow says. In a shrinking world, where the concept of neighbor stretches far past the person next door, he says every ordinary person can be a part of the movement to end extreme poverty.
“We need educators, businessmen and women, artists, and writers. While we certainly need people who can give money, we also need people who can write business plans, train doctors and teachers, and for people to just share our story.”
Today, that little boy’s simple ask for help is being answered as communities across the globe break free from the cycle of poverty.
Because when Marlow’s life was interrupted, he responded with “Yes.”
For more on Help One Now, go to helponenow.org