Nonprofit will host event to raise awareness for victims of polygamy
Arthur Jessop will speak of his mother's plight
September 12, 2017
Deciding to end a relationship is hard in itself, but adding the threat of losing eternal life makes leaving exponentially difficult.
This is what individuals and families of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints face when they decide to escape its polygamous culture.
And this is where Holding Out HELP, a nonprofit organization that provides the resources needed to transition from isolation to independence, comes in.
Since it was established in 2008 by Tonia Tewell and her husband Larry, Holding Out HELP has given aid to between 750 to 800 individuals — including single adults and single teens to families which are as large as 13 to 14 people — reboot their lives.
The Tewells offered their home as a safe house for people who left the polygamist lifestyle, said Nicole Nystrom, Holding Out HELP director of operations.
"They started things in their basement and helped one family at a time," Nystrom said during a Park Record interview. "Now we have a network of donors, supporters, host homes and mentors all over the Salt Lake Valley, Utah County and reaching into Park City."
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Park City residents will get the chance to learn about Holing Out HELP during a wine and cheese fundraiser from 7-9 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 15, at 69 White Pine Canyon Road.
The event is free to the public, but RSVPs are requested. RSVPs can be made by visiting holdingouthelpparkcity.eventbrite.com.
"The reason why we want to host an event in Park City is because we've had several families up there who have hosted teens who have left the Church, and we would love to share with the rest of the community what is happening right around them," Nysrom said.
The evening will feature a presentation by Arthur Jessop, son of Carolyn Jessop, author of New York Times bestsellers "Escape" and "Triumph."
"Escape," published in 2007, chronicled Carolyn Jessop's upbringing in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and how she was able to leave the church and gain custody of her children.
"Triumph," which was published in 2010, gives background on her life in the aftermath of "Escape," including the milestones of her own transformation into the person she is now. It also gives background on a raid conducted by Texas state authorities on a polygamist ranch.
Arthur Jessop will talk about leaving the FLDS church with his mom and siblings.
"They didn't have resources such as Holding Out HELP," Nystrom said. "So, a lot of his story goes into how difficult it was for his mom and siblings to get out of the Church. He will also talk about how different it would have been if there was a resource like Holding Out HELP who could have supported them."
The evening will also include segments that will provide information about what people who leave the polygamous culture needs to find their own independence.
"During that time, we will ask people to help in whatever way they can, whether it's by donating their time volunteering, or donating funds," Nystrom said.
In the past few years, there has been a surge of information regarding the FLDS teachings and polygamy.
"As more people leave these compounds, their stories give more people on the outside more insight of what is going on," Nystrom said. "Also, those who are currently leaving have found there are many people who have left before them, and that gives them a little more confidence to talk about what happened to them.
"Most people who have managed to leave the church can point to a person, organization or other resources that allowed them to become free."
The evening will also help clear up some misconceptions about the FLDS culture.
"Some who live on the outside don't understand why these people can't just get up and leave," Nystrom said. "We would love for the public to understand that many of these people are held through mental bondage, because they believe their salvation is tied to staying with the church.
Most of Holding Out HELP clients feel they are walking away from their faith, and, as a consequence, giving up eternal life so they can pursue freedom here on Earth.
"I had one child tell me that when he chose to leave he felt he was leaving 'Hell on Earth,' to live in 'Hell in Eternity,'" Nystrom said. "That's heavy."
Another misconception is that people who live in polygamy are uneducated or lazy.
"They aren't stupid or dumb," Nystrom said. "They just haven't been given the resources like schooling and learning opportunities that we have had on the outside. This is basically a form of control that would make them think it would be impossible to leave.
"One of Holding Out HELP's main jobs is to help these people know that they deserve a chance to get educated or enter a trade school so they can become self-sufficient."
Nystrom enjoys watching those who have left the church start to see themselves in a different light.
"They find they have their own voices and realize they have choices they can make for themselves," she said. "These people are so courageous and there is so much to admire."
Holding Out HELP, a nonprofit that helps those who leave the polygamous culture, will host a wine and cheese fundraiser from 7-9 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 15, at 69 White Pine Canyon Road. For information and tickets, visit holdingouthelpparkcity.eventbrite.com.