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Mentoring program helps people from polygamous families

Published January 3, 2013 3:48 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

When the average person applies for a job, she usually knows the basics, like how to dress or write a resume. She may have learned these skills from parents, teachers or someone else, but by the time most people reach adulthood they can typically figure out how to survive.

But some people leaving comparatively isolated polygamous communities in Utah and Arizona may never have learned those skills, according to Holding Out HELP (HOH) director of operations Kerri Webber. That can make the transition economically and socially tumultuous and as result the non-profit organization recently began a mentoring program to help exiting polygamous cope with the challenges of the outside world.

According to Webber, the program began in earnest in August and is required for people who receive financial support — in the form of food or housing assistance, among many other things — from HOH. She said the program teaches things that many people take for granted like basic job skills, how to open a bank account, or how to pursue a GED.

"When they come out they don't even realize that any of this stuff is an option for them," she explained.

The program helps people adjust to everyday interactions. Webber explained that some young men leave polygamous communities not knowing how to talk to young women. By pairing the young men with mentors they learn how to make choices related to dating and marriage. Other times, mentors hold get-togethers where they watch movies or go out to lunch. A group of young men recently learned from their mentors how to play poker. A group of young women learned how to do makeup.

Tonia Tewell, HOH executive director, added that the program primarily serves people leaving polygamous communities but is also available to those who choose to remain. About 50 people are currently being mentored, Tewell said. The beneficiaries are males and females of all age.

The mentors are vetted by HOH personnel and undergo background checks, according to Tewell. They're also asked to commit to a year of volunteering at least two hours a week and are generally recruited by other mentors.

Jim Dalrymple II

Twitter: @jimmycdii —

For more information on Holding Out HELP visit holdingouthelp.org/