Nonprofit opens community center in polygamous town
On a dusty road in a town famous for its polygamous population, an old log cabin will be resurrected Saturday as a first-of-its-kind community center.
The center located at 45 W. Johnson Ave. in Colorado City, Ariz. will officially open at 10 a.m. with an open house, tours, food and other activities. It will be run by Holding Out Help, a nonprofit organization that works to support anyone with a connection to polygamy, and is located in the old Johnson schoolhouse. Holding Out Help is renting the building from the United Effort Plan, a now state-run trust originally created by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Tonia Tewell, director of Holding Out Help, said the center has been in the works since January, when her organization began discussing it. The center will include a thrift store, food distribution services, an Internet cafe, summer camps for kids and classes on a variety of skills, among other programming.
Tewell said it likely will serve many "displaced" members of the community or people who have either left the FLDS Church on their own or who were kicked out. Tewell did not know exactly how many people that might be but said displacement is increasing in the community and about 1,500 people could consequently end up being regularly served by the center.
The center will be funded with donations and staffed by volunteers.
Chief among those volunteers are Brody and Elizabeth Olson. The couple moved to the Short Creek area which includes Colorado City and neighboring Hildale, Utah about a year and a half ago. They had no connections to the community, but they wanted to live in a place where they could help people. After learning about the tumult in the Short Creek area several years earlier from a friend, the couple thought it might fit the bill.
"You have to live somewhere," Brody Olson added. "So we decided to give it a shot. It seems unusual but it doesn't necessarily need to be. Colorado City has great potential, and the people have great potential."
He has been working most recently as a substitute teacher at El Capitan, a public school in the community. He and his wife also have been working to prepare the new Holding Out Help community center.
Brody Olson isn't sure what the center might evolve into, but he is optimistic about its potential to be a force for good in a community that has struggled over the years. In addition to the activities mentioned by Tewell, he suggested it might offer the community a place to gather for weddings, dances or seminars on topics such as personal finance.
"We want to make it a center for fellowship and community," he added.
Others are optimistic as well. Paul Murphy, a spokesman for the Utah Attorney General's Office, called the center a "big deal" Friday. And Bruce Wisan, an accountant appointed by the state to run the UEP trust, said the center fit the bill for what they wanted in the old schoolhouse.
For more information or to get involved, visit Holding Out Help at holdingouthelp.org or call 801-548-3492.