A group that helps people leaving polygamous communities opens its doors to the public

DRAPER, Utah -- A group that helps those in and out of Utah's polygamous communities is opening its first-ever permanent home.

Holding Out HELP is hosting an open house on Tuesday night to highlight its work and the donated Draper home it has converted into a base of operations. Three years ago, FOX 13 reported on the non-profit group getting the home and beginning construction.

A woman puts flowers up outside Holding Out HELP's first-ever permanent location. (Image by Mike Rank, FOX 13 News)

Now, it's completely remodeled with bigger spaces and a play area for children. There are apartments for people who need a place to stay.

"It's just a safe place to come, a place where people can feel at home and just helps you get over your nerves a little bit," said Melissa Ellis, an ex-member of the Davis County Cooperative Society, also known as the Kingston group.

Ellis said she took her four children and a suitcase when she left her marriage and her community in 2012. Holding Out HELP gave her support and resources.

"They encouraged me to do what I thought was right," she said. "Whatever I wanted to do, they were there to support me."

Holding Out HELP's mission is to work with those inside and outside Utah's fundamentalist Mormon and polygamous communities. The group's founder, Tonia Tewell, said they take no position on polygamy, but offer resources.

"We not only help the people that leave, we're also serving people that are still in the communities," she said Monday.

Tonia Tewell, the director of Holding Out Help, shows off a home donated in 2015 for the group to use as transitional housing for people leaving polygamous communities.

Tewell said her organization offers food, clothing, job skills and education help. Since beginning, she estimates roughly 1,600 people have used Holding Out HELP.

The Draper home near 700 East and Pioneer Road is their first-ever permanent location. In the past, they've worked out of churches and met fearful clients at restaurants, homes or parking lots to provide help, in sometimes clandestine situations. Tewell smiles as she acknowledges this is the first place they've put down roots.

"They can bring their kids. It feels like a home," Tewell said of people who will use the facility. "It's a place they want to come. They know they're going to be safe, they're going to be loved and they can be served."

Holding Out HELP said it is need of volunteers and donations. The open house takes place Tuesday from 6:30pm-8:30pm at 748 East Pioneer Road in Draper. More information can be found here.