By Bruce Hope
FLEMING ISLAND – Clay County native Noelle Marx has always been fit and athletic. And she’s also always cared about others.
She combined those passions recently to bring awareness to one of her favorite causes.
Concern for others was instilled in her by her mother, Malea Guiriba, who runs a nonprofit in St. John’s County, but she’s worked for others throughout her life and seen that Noelle was around to help.
Noelle’s fitness and drive to help others found the perfect confluence when she discovered Freedom Hikers and climbed Mt. Elbert in Colorado to bring awareness to human trafficking and its victims. Florida has one of the highest rates for human trafficking in the country, according to worldpopulationreview.com.
“I was like, wait, what?” said Guiriba, of her reaction when she found out about her daughter’s plan. Mt. Elbert, at 14,439 feet, is the second-highest mountain in the contiguous United States.
Marx’s father, Dom Guiriba, wasn’t as shocked. According to her, he instilled the love and dedication to fitness in her.
“I knew she could do it because she is in excellent shape, and I am so proud of her for taking this challenge on to help others,” he said.
Marx is a graduate of Orange Park High, where she ran track and swam.
Now 40 years old, her activism goes back a long way.
“Right after high school, I started rape prevention or rape awareness campaign in Clay County,” she said. “Ìt just kind of just escalated. Its always been in our lives. Human trafficking has been a part of my life for the last two years, or so I would say.”
Marx’s best friend, Donna Fenchell, brought human trafficking to her attention about two years ago. They began researching the crime and attending seminars to learn more. As a mother of two daughters, Marx paid special attention. The issue was brought even closer to home when she met one of her high school classmates who shared with her that she had been a victim of trafficking.
“When you realize how close it is, and that it’s in your backyard – it’s not just children that get kidnapped. It’s how they groom teenagers going to high school. It’s adult, grown women that it happens to as well,” she said.
Fenchell was researching when she came across the organization called Rescue Freedom, which works to rescue and restore survivors of sexual slavery. Freedom Hikers is a subgroup of Rescue Freedom.
“This is a very physically and mentally challenging time to go do this,” said Marx. “Especially for a Florida girl, to go and climb the highest mountain in Colorado. There are women and children living in so much pain every day of their lives.” She knew it was worth the effort of a nine-hour climb and descent to bring awareness to human trafficking. Each hiker was asked to raise $1,500 for the climb. All of the money goes to the efforts of the rescue and restoration of the sex trafficking survivors. Her team raised $20,000.
“These are the things that we need to do, for the children who no mothers to fight for them, and for the mothers that can’t fight for their children,” said Marx of her first thoughts when she reached the peak of Mt. Elbert.
Now, back in Clay County, Marx continues her efforts to bring awareness to human trafficking. She has recently been in contact with the Tim Tebow Foundation, which just announced that they would also join the fight against sexual slavery in the form of trafficking.