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$40,000 to aid those who leave polygamy

A tiny southern Utah nonprofit that helps women and children who leave the polygamous lifestyle has received a $40,000 grant from a women's organization affiliated with the national Presbyterian Church.

The funding about doubles the HOPE organization's annual budget. The money will fund Jump Start, a life-skills program aimed at helping children ages 6 to 17 build self-esteem, develop interpersonal skills and understand mainstream society, HOPE President Elaine Tyler said.

"We are so honored," Tyler said. "It's going to make a huge impact in the lives of some of these kids."

Three segments of Jump Start classes — in groups aged 6 to 9, 10 to 13 and 14 to 17 — begin Sept. 11 and last eight weeks. Tyler hopes to have about 25 kids enrolled. The grant is also paying for a facilitator to run the program and the rent for the facility where classes will be held.

The grant is from the Creative Ministries Offering Committee of Presbyterian Women, which awards several Thank Offering grants annually.

Based in Washington, in Washington County, HOPE works mostly with families who have left the insular Fundamentalist LDS Church. Last year the organization helped 85 individuals who needed assistance with basic needs such as transportation and clothing, housing, legal assistance, education, employment and referrals to other programs and service agencies, Tyler said.

Founded in 2004 with just $7,000, HOPE runs on a shoestring budget of grant funding and private donations that total about $30,000 annually and relies heavily on in-kind contributions, Tyler said.

Tyler applied for the Thank Offering grant last year after making presentations to Presbyterian women's groups at churches in Cedar City and St. George.

Such a small organization seemed an unlikely candidate for a grant, said Carolyn Jantzer, who attends Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church in St. George. But high-profile events — the 2007 prosecution and conviction of FLDS leader Warren Jeffs on felony rape as an accomplice charges and a 2008 raid on a west Texas ranch owned by the sect — had raised the awareness of problems faced by those who leave the church, she said.

"Our goal with these grants is to support women and children," said Jantzer, who also serves as a volunteer bookkeeper for HOPE. "We thought there would be a heightened awareness of those who need these services."

Still, Jantzer and Tyler both said they were "flabbergasted" when a check showed up in the mail last month.

"For us to get that much money for a project this small is astounding," Jantzer said.

Jantzer said she is amazed at the courage of those who "have the wherewithal to pick up and leave."

"We see these people in town and we see can see the ones who are happy there, because frankly many are happy," said Jantzer. "But the people who come to Elaine are not happy. They are aware they don't have a conventional life and they want to succeed. We want to help."