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" Plumber Is Investing in the Poor "
By William Kenny
Times Staff Writer
Marzulli & Sons Inc. has been dispatching qualified plumbers
to homes and businesses throughout the Greater Northeast for
more than 80 years. But nowadays, there’s a lot more going on
at "Marz Inc." than mere wrench-turning. Under the direction of
third-generation owner Vince Marzulli, the Holmesburg Company
is making an impact well beyond Philadelphia and the developed world as the lead supporter of a decade-old church and school in the impoverished and war-torn Caribbean nation of Haiti. Marzulli’s core mission is to spread practical knowledge and hope. But in doing so, the owner and his company are proving that you don’t have to be an international conglomerate to help some of the world’s poorest children.
" It doesn’t matter how big you are or how many employees you have. It’s about community service,"
Marzulli said. "We’re making a significant contribution to society. We’re not just making money."Marzulli spends almost as much time nowadays, perhaps more, contemplating his next initiative for the New Covenant Christian Academy in Delmas, a section of the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, than running his own business.
Marzulli & Sons has been going strong since 1925, when Vince’s late grandfather Michael opened a hardware store with plumbing and heating service at Princeton Avenue and Edmund Street in Tacony. In the early 1950s, Vince’s late father, Salvatore "Sam" Marzulli, moved the business to 8133 Frankford Ave., where it remains. The current owner’s son, Vincent, is the fourth generation in his family to work for the company. None of the Marzullis can take full credit for their extraordinary community-service program. Rather, a former employee was the one who conceived it all. In 1998, Vince hired a Haitian man named Tonac "Tony" Emile, whom the plumber had met while attending a local non-denominational Christian church. "He had a broken foot and couldn’t work, but he could do office work," Marzulli recalled. " We took him inside, and he was doing some things for us. One day, he shared with me that he had a vision as a child to start a church, a school and a university in Haiti. The vision was real clear, and I was like, ‘Wow!’ The next thing you know, I told him I would help him get started. " Emile, who had come to the United States to earn money for his family in Haiti and to study to become a church pastor, led Marzulli to Virginia for a 10-day school-principal apprentice workshop. When Emile was ready to return to Haiti, Marzulli accompanied him to get a firsthand look at the massive effort that he had agreed to support and the people it would serve. That was the first of his three visits there. " I went to the poorest area, and it was like a government project, " the business owner said. " There were like garages with no front door, just a curtain in front. I had never seen anything like that in my life. They had no running water, no electricity and no toilet. And out of this room that was maybe ten
by ten (feet), out came eight kids.
There are some people who are real wealthy and
most who are real poor. There’s no in-between,"
Marzulli said. Emile, a father of eight, lived in a
modestly larger home than many but was still
beholden to government rationing of electric and
water service. " When the government turns it off,
they have no electricity. It’s the same with water, "
Marzulli said. Nonetheless, with funding at a premium, Emile started his church and school in his home. A Christian school in Lancaster, Dayspring Academy, which Marzulli’s kids attend, donated desks and chairs. Marzulli shipped them to Haiti.
" We started with two kids, his children, in a home-school environment," Marzulli said. " In the first year, we picked upten to fifteen kids. In the second year, we doubled that."
By 2003, at that point, we were up to eighty or ninety." About one-third of the students pay the tuition of $130 a year. Another one-third pay partial tuition. The final third attend for free because they don’t have any money. Students range in age from about 5 to 19.The curriculum is both academic and spiritual. Students are taught basic English, reading, math and history, as well as more abstract concepts. Enrollment has reached as high as 200 in recent years, with about 10 teachers. " (The school) teaches them how to think and to reason," Marzulli said. "We’re trying to teach them from the ground up how to educate themselves and to teach them businesses to support themselves."
In the last year, both Emile and the school have faced new challenges — Emile’s wife and one of his children passed away. Then the school was displaced because of the disrepair of the building it had been renting. " At the same time, the country was in (political) turmoil. It was not a good situation," Marzulli said. Emile found a local religious order that was trying to build a new retirement home for its priests but had stalled construction of the 16-room, dormitory-style building. The school bought the shell and is now trying to raise money for basic finishing work, such as masonry. Since his latest visit to Haiti in April, Marzulli has begun the difficult process of creating a non-profit organization in Pennsylvania to support the school. Until now, it’s been basically a family project."It’s been my family and my business," he said. "All of our customers are really supporting it. When they (hire) us, they should know that a part of the profits go toward what we’re doing. We can only do it with their help." ••