‘Keep Sweet’ investigator speaking at fundraiser to benefit those leaving polygamous groups

A woman speaks to reporters in this still image from the Netflix documentary series "Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey," released in June 2022 | Image courtesy of Netflix, St. George News / Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY — Organizers have scheduled a fundraising dinner event in Cedar City to provide assistance to those who have already left or are in the process of leaving polygamous groups.

A still image from the Netflix documentary series “Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey,” released in June 2022 | Image courtesy of Netflix, St. George News / Cedar City News

The third annual “Freedom to Choose” fundraiser benefiting Holding Out HELP will take place at the Courtyard Marriott in Cedar City on the evening of Oct. 15.

Among the event’s featured speakers are Holding Out HELP founder and executive director Tonia Tewell and Sam Brower, a bestselling author and private investigator who is featured in “Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey,” a four-part documentary series streaming on Netflix.

Other scheduled speakers include Charlene Jeffs, former wife of convicted former polygamist bishop Lyle Jeffs; Roger Hoole, a prosecuting attorney on the Warren Jeffs case;  and Elissa Wall, whose impactful story about her journey to freedom is featured in the docuseries. 

All proceeds raised from the event will go to Holding Out HELP, a nonprofit organization based in Draper whose stated mission is to provide assistance to those from a polygamous culture, giving them the care, support and resources they need to become independent and self-sufficient. The acronym HELP in the organization’s name stands for “Helping, Encouraging and Loving Polygamists.

Event organizer Meggie McMullen told Cedar City News that Holding Out HELP got its start when Tewell decided to open up her home to some polygamists who needed a place to stay. Since its founding in 2008, the organization has reportedly helped more than 2,500 clients. 

“They pretty much provide a middle ground for people looking to escape or even just choose a different life,” McMullen explained. “A lot of these people don’t have the tools, when they leave these communities, that they need in order to function in modern-day society. Whether it’s teaching someone job skills, or providing temporary housing, food or clothing, they’re just that middle ground that helps these people transition and get on their feet.”

A still image from the Netflix documentary series “Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey,” released in June 2022 | Image courtesy of Netflix, St. George News / Cedar City News

Additionally, as stated in the event’s promotional materials, “Clients often come to us with only the clothes on their backs, little education and struggling with trauma from abuse.” 

“Unfortunately, 95% of the individuals leaving this community have suffered some form of abuse, whether that’s sexual abuse, mental abuse or physical abuse,” McMullen added. “There’s been some sort of trauma that a lot of them have had to endure. Adapting to normal life after coming from an environment like that can be very challenging.”

Nevertheless, McMullen noted that not all those who belong to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints or its associated groups are involved in abuse.

“We’re not in any way, shape, or form saying that every member of the FLDS is abusing their children,” she said. “That is not the purpose. There are a lot of them that are raised in loving homes and don’t have any part of the hierarchy of abuse or anything like that.”

“We try to make it very clear that Holding Out HELP isn’t saying anyone is bad or good. It’s just saying, if you want to change, here you go, we can help,” she added. “There’s a lot going on in these communities that (others) need to be aware of, because if people don’t know, they can’t help.”

According to Holding Out HELP’s website, there are an estimated 40,000-100,000 polygamists living in the Western United States, Canada and Mexico, with a majority of them residing in or around Utah.

“Each group, family and individual has a unique story – but most of the individuals HOH serve have faced forms of bondage and tragedy,” the organization’s website states, adding: “When someone leaves or is kicked out, they often experience loss of family, financial ruin, feeling judged, abandonment and loneliness. HOH is a safe place for them, providing a loving and caring body of people to extend hope for a new and bright future.”

Event details

  • What: “Freedom to Choose” fundraiser benefiting Holding Out HELP, a nonprofit organization.
  • When: Saturday, Oct. 15, 5:30 p.m.
  • Where: Courtyard Marriott, 1294 S. Interstate Drive, Cedar City.
  • Admission: $50 per person. Click here to purchase tickets or for more information. 
  • Additional details: Contact Meggie McMullen at [email protected].

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.

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