A polygamy outreach group is working to open a community center in the heart of the polygamous towns on the Utah/Arizona border.
The Utah-based charity Holding Out HELP says its new center will be located in Colorado City and will open mid-October. The building will provide a safe haven for community gatherings and include food distribution, a thrift store for clothing, and internet access, according to the non-profit organization.
“This community center is pivotal, I think, to bringing some sense of reality or normalcy back to this community,” said Brody Olsen, a volunteer who is helping remodel the inside of the log building on Johnson Avenue.
The twin towns of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah are headquarters for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which is run by imprisoned leader Warren Jeffs.
Since 2011, Jeffs, 57, has been serving a life sentence in Texas on a two-count conviction of sexually assaulting two underage girls.
With Jeffs in prison, polygamy watchdog groups, former FLDS members, and law enforcement agencies on both sides of the border have frequently described the towns as communities in turmoil due to the number of people being forced out or voluntarily leaving the church.
“A lot of people are left without a place to live; a lot of people are left without family,” Olsen said. “Their world is still upside down and in a lot of ways they are trying to make sense of their realities.”
Those who have been kicked out of the church say the new community center will be important to those needing someone to talk to as they navigate their new lives outside of the ultra-insular religion.
“They’re looking for friends, they’re looking for people they can talk to, they’re looking for a reason why to stay here,” said former FLDS member Ross Chatwin.
Chatwin said the FLDS Church’s control over the towns is as powerful as ever, which allows church leaders to isolate those who left or were kicked out of the polygamous sect.
“They 100% control the entire community, like they have always,” Chatwin said. “In the amount of about 60 seconds it can turn from everybody being your friend to nobody being your friend and it’s a very tough thing for people to experience.”
The new community center will be open to everyone and organizers say it could even hold community events like dances.
“If we can just encourage them and empower them a little bit, that’s what we’d like to do,” Olsen said.
Holding Out HELP is planning to open the community center with a grand opening on October 19th.
The charity says it is still in need of some building supplies to finish remodeling the building. Those wishing to help can get more information at HoldingOutHelp.org
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