Family portrait of Marrs family

Dave and Jenny Marrs’ Path to Parenthood Made Them Global Philanthropists

It’s family first, philanthropy second, and fame a distant third for the HGTV stars and Bentonville’s hometown heroes who make an impact with Help One Now.

Long before they were the affable stars of a smash-hit HGTV home renovation show, Fixer to Fabulous, Jenny and Dave Marrs were quietly running Marrs Developing in Bentonville, Arkansas, remodeling houses for grateful local families and dreaming of a family of their own. Little did they know that their path to parenthood would introduce them to some of the most meaningful work of their lives. 

“We decided to have kids, and it took a while. We had this kind of struggle, like so many people do,” says Jenny via FaceTime from home, chatting with BHG for an interview while caring for her youngest son, Luke, who’s home sick from school. It’s a juggling act that would give even a committed multi-tasker pause. But Jenny is one of those capable people who is able to do almost anything in life with ease. That’s one reason why the fertility challenges she and her husband Dave faced were hard to understand. “I have that type A personality that made it possible for me to do so many things in life. I would think, ‘Why can’t we just do it? Why isn’t it happening on our timeline?’ It was a good lesson, to learn that you don’t have control of every situation.”

They eventually gave birth to twin sons, Nathan and Ben, now 12, and then started what the Marrs like to call the miracle story of their daughter, Sylvie, who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2012, joining their family. Through Sylvie, they were introduced to global philanthropy, and now contribute to various non-profits that offer assistance to orphans and young adults who have aged out of orphan care in Congo and Zimbabwe. 

Marrs family with photo of Sylvie

Courtesy of Dave and Jenny Marrs

Meeting Sylvie

When the Marrs contacted an international adoption agency in Congo, they were introduced to young Sylvie through an online profile in 2012. Soon after, they learned firsthand about the under-funded care centers children in the region called home. Food was scarce, many children slept on the floor, and caregivers were stretched thin. The Marrs started sending money for food and supplies, and organized small local fundraisers for assistance. By 2013, their adoption paperwork was finalized. Then the unthinkable happened: There was a Congolese government shutdown, which meant that all adoptions were suspended. In crisis mode, the Marrs found a local doctor and her husband to foster Sylvie, among a dozen other children, until she could come home to them. After pleading with US government officials to intervene, Sylvie was cleared to come home in 2014—600 days after they started the process.

“I was just texting yesterday with Sylvie’s foster mom, Laure, in Congo, who cared for Sylvie for two years,” Jenny says. “We still have that community there that’s tied to our family in a way that’s really important. Laure and I are, when you break it down, the same. We both loved that little girl.”

Sylvie and Charlotte Marrs

Courtesy of Dave and Jenny Marrs

Using The Berry Farm to Give Back

Today, the Marrs run a Berry Farm and event venue in Bentonville, and all of the proceeds go to funding for a farming program in Zimbabwe designed to teach young adults who have aged out of orphan care to support themselves through agriculture. The Marrs partner with Help One Now, which supports local experts in Africa in their efforts. 

“Our daughter Charlotte, who’s 8 now, was in Jenny’s back in a carrier when we planted the berry farm,” says Dave. “Now the kids have their lemonade stand there, and all the hard work they put into it goes to kids who weren’t born with the same advantages they were.”

When a production team sent by HGTV came calling in 2018, a television show was the furthest thing from their minds. Their reluctance to live and work on camera was strong, but their desire to spread the word about the kids who need assistance was stronger.

When things get chaotic, and we start to question why we’re doing all of this, Jenny and I look at each other and say, ‘Remember the why.’ — Dave Marrs

“When the producer first approached us, we weren’t interested,” Dave says. “Then once we started talking, he said, ‘Look, if the show calls attention to these organizations you support, don’t you think that alone would be worth it?’ And he was right. When things get chaotic, and we start to question why we’re doing all of this, Jenny and I look at each other and say, ‘Remember the why.’”

The way Jenny explains it, it all comes down to relationships, and recognizing the common ground we share with people who live on the other side of the planet, and sharing our resources to care for each other. 

“Our kids know John and Orfa, the couple that runs the farm in Zimbabwe, very closely,” adds Jenny. “They’ve visited us here and we’ve been there. The kids know that they will use the money we raise to help kids in their community. They’ve seen it now and they understand it in a way that’s important. It all comes back to relationships, and caring for fellow humans.”

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