The company’s four employees help people safely and comfortably reach doctors, dentists and surgery appointments, dialysis centers, senior care and nursing facilities, independent living communities, and hospice centers.
It was concern for a family member’s crucial transportation needs that drove Fowler, now 31, away from a growing career in the sales and IT consultancy fields and toward entrepreneurship.
Fowler’s first unofficial passenger was his older brother, Anzi Jonas Israel, who was born with muscular dystrophy and started needing a wheelchair when he was in seventh grade.
Fowler said he and Anzi are a year apart and their parents always treated them like twins. They grew up as roommates and the family’s caretaking has continued into Anzi’s adulthood.
“My brother is the inspiration behind our business,” said Fowler, 31, who runs Happy2Help with his wife, Beatriz Fowler, and employs four drivers. “Growing up with someone disabled really just equipped me with a different mindset than others. Starting when we were young, I had awareness and sensitivity. With firsthand experience, I know what that entails.”
While Fowler was one of the family’s main caretakers for his brother most of his life, taking hours and days of work off to help his brother get to his medical appointments started to prove challenging when Fowler got busier with his own responsibilities.
He found it increasingly more difficult to balance the obligations he had for Anzi and started relying on other transportation companies to help his brother get around.
He said Anzi, who remains mentally sharp, relayed stories to him about how the drivers did not always treat him well.
Patience, Compassion is Paramount
“I didn’t like what they were doing,” Fowler said. “There was always a problem, one way or another. Some didn’t have the patience. Others would leave him waiting outside in the cold, or they wouldn’t show up and he would miss appointments. At the other end, sometimes he would have to wait for hours for someone to get him.”
Fowler said it also bothered him when his brother told him that drivers would often have conversations on the phone and ignore him.
“I was thinking, ‘Hey, that’s not right. You have a passenger back there!’ Fowler said. “I think it’s important that you engage with the person in your vehicle. It might be the only time that person has had a conversation all day.”
Fowler, who studied mass communications and journalism in college, said he did some more investigation, and it didn’t take him long to see that the transportation companies he had been trusting to care for his brother “lacked the professionalism and the customer care” his brother deserved.
He said he had considered leaving his comfortable sales job in 2017 but didn’t make a move until two years later after a conversation he said he had with a company manager showed him he was wasting time getting his checks from that company.
“It was the scariest thing to just leave and start from scratch,” he said. “But I looked at myself in the mirror and said, ‘If the business thing doesn’t work out, I can always find another job.’ My wife had to be OK with it and she signed off on it. My career in sales came to a complete halt.”
Starting with a Prius
Fowler started out with one car, a Prius, then said he gained experience for less ambulatory customers with San Diego-based Marquee Medical Transport.
After driving for and learning from Marquee, Fowler added a specially equipped van set up for transporting wheelchairs, and now the company has a fleet of six vehicles – four vans and two sedans.
The business started off slowly but has been picking up steam.
“I’m guilty of saying ‘Yes’ to everybody no matter how busy I am, no matter how early it is,” Fowler said.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been a challenge for the company. It did not qualify for any PPP loans, but the company has been heeding all the protocols and Happy2Help has carried on.
Working with the Multicultural Health Foundation
Fowler said that last year Happy2Help partnered with the Multicultural Health Foundation working to bridge the gap between underserved minority community members who were having trouble affording essential items and their necessary transportation needs.
The Multicultural Health Foundation seeks to bring health justice and wellness to San Diego County, focusing its resources on vulnerable populations with community-based wellness strategies, social-clinical interventions and research seeking to eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities.
“We were able to give people a special rate through the partnership with the foundation,” he said. “I was able to talk to my own community members and it was the most Black families that I have ever helped. That was beautiful. Knowing I was helping out and possibly extending their lives was so rewarding.”
Fowler’s San Diego ties run deep. He grew up near Lincoln High School and graduated from Madison High in 2008, attending Southwestern and San Diego Mesa colleges and earning a scholarship to play football and attend Missouri Valley College. He started as a safety on defense while earning his degree. He is also a member of the United States Air Force reserves.
Happy2Help’s company’s headquarters are in Mission Valley but Fowler, his wife and their three children live in Wildomar.
Fowler said Anzi now 32, lives by himself in Point Loma, and that a hired caretaker and other members of their extended family, help his brother manage his needs.
“I’ve got my house set up so that if the day comes when he needs to move and leave San Diego, I am prepared,” Fowler said. “I do come to San Diego on weekends and when (family members) go on vacations to see him and help out.”
He said Happy2Help clients are shown courtesy, respect and patience by his trained staff; they are treated as cherished family members.
“We end up being the additional family member for 70 percent of our clientele,” Fowler said. We will hear from a son, daughter, father or mother, ‘We cannot do this. Can you take this on for us?’ That keeps us going.”
Founder: Phil Fowler
Business: Ambulatory and wheelchair accessible non-emergency transportation
Notable: Founder Phil Fowler is a U.S. Air Force reservist.