17 Nov 2010

Two houses donated for use as safe havens for women and children fleeing abuse in Utah's polygamous Mormon communities

Fox13 Now - Utah January 18, 2010

Homes Donated to Help People Leaving Polygamy

Ben Winslow | Fox 13 News

SALT LAKE COUNTY - A pair of homes here will serve as safe haven for women and children leaving abusive situations within Utah's polygamous communities. The homes were donated to the non-profit group "Holding Out Hope," a group that seeks to help those transitioning from polygamous communities.

"Honestly, a lot of them don't have money when they leave," said Tonia Tewell, Holding Out Hope's director. "A lot of the communities pool their finances and so when they leave, they literally leave with nothing."

The homes were donated by someone who wishes to remain anonymous, she said. Tewell managed to round up community contributions and donations of appliances, supplies and labor to fix them up. Frank Lavery of High Ridge Homes donated his expertise to the cause.

"Finish doors, trim doors, get things to fit right," Lavery said. "Replace cabinets, windows, kind of all areas."

Students from the California-based Bible school Biola University were drafted to help repair the homes while on a trip to Utah for an interfaith mission. Dealing firsthand with people from the polygamous communities was not exactly what Kenzie Cole imagined when she came here.

"God kind of put it in our laps, so yeah, we took it by the horns," she said. "We're excited to help."

They cleaned, painted, and repaired what was broken in the homes. Their locations are being kept secret for security purposes, Tewell said. The donor of the homes wished to remain anonymous.

Many of the women, like Jerusha Jeffs, said they were leaving behind an abusive marriage.

"It was dangerous, but I did it," she said.

Jeffs said she was excommunicated from the southern Utah-based Fundamentalist LDS Church and then went into another marriage that didn't work out. When she wound up at a domestic violence shelter, she was referred to Holding Out Help.

"Coming out of what we came out of was very scary," she told Fox 13 News. "Not having anybody to rely on, or just not being able to trust anybody, because the world is 'scary.' They helped us and unconditionally loved us, and that was the most important."

Though she doesn't believe in polygamy and many in her organization are evangelical Christians, Tewell made it clear that Holding Out Help does not make any judgments about polygamy. In the year that they have been in existence, Tewell said they have provided resources for about 60 people -- some of whom have chosen to remain in their fundamentalist communities.

"We love them where they are," she said.

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