Former FLDS member earns prestigious Soroptimist honor

The Spectrum Daily News, Utah/September 24, 2014

Soroptimist International of the Americas, a global women's organization, has selected Shirlee Draper of St. George as one of its three 2014 Live Your Dream Award finalists.

Through this award-winning program (formerly called the Women's Opportunity Awards), Soroptimist assists women who provide the primary source of financial support for their families by giving them the resources they need to improve their education, skills and employment prospects.

"We believe the single best way we can empower women to lead full and productive lives is to provide them with access to education," said Elizabeth M. Lucas, Soroptimist's executive director and CEO. "For more than 40 years, the Live Your Dream Awards program has made a measurable and sustainable difference in the lives of our recipients and their families."

Each year, Soroptimist awards about $1.7 million in education grants to more than 1,200 women, many of whom face obstacles including poverty, domestic violence and death of a spouse. Uniquely, Live Your Dream Award recipients may use the cash award to offset any costs associated with their efforts to attain higher education, such as books, childcare, tuition and transportation.

Draper will not only use her award to improve life for herself and her family, but her community will benefit as well, as she plans for a career assisting women who are struggling through situations she is all too familiar with.

The single mom of four made the courageous decision to leave behind everyone and everything she had ever known to escape the extremely patriarchal and polygamous religious order, the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS), where she says "the place of women is piercingly clear — that they are to have no voice."

When her youngest child, who suffers from severe cerebral palsy, was just 3 years old, Draper took her children and fled the community. As she began to rebuild her life, she was naturally interested in helping others who found themselves in similar situations to those she has experienced. She began doing voluntary informal advocacy for women who left the FLDS community and soon realized that she needed to reclaim her dream of higher education if she wanted to be effective. She enrolled in the University of Utah's social work program and will graduate with a bachelor's degree in May 2015.

Said Draper: "It's my responsibility to pass on what Soroptimist has given me: hope in the face of hopelessness and recognizing the possibilities in the impossible."

Impressed by Draper and her courageousness, the Soroptimist club of Salt Lake City selected her as its club-level Live Your Dream Award recipient. She went on to receive $5,000 as the Soroptimist Rocky Mountain Region recipient, and was ultimately chosen as one of the organization's three finalists, for which she received an additional $10,000. In total, Soroptimist awarded Draper more than $15,000, which she plans to use to start an agency that will provide services to women and teens exiting the FLDS community.

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