PHOENIX About 200 people have called a hotline offering money, clothing, jobs and housing to boys and men thrown out of the nation's largest polygamous community near the Arizona-Utah state line.
The calls came after dozens of young men and boys gathered on the steps of the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on Saturday to say how their lives were shattered by the leadership of their polygamous faith, The Arizona Republic reported Tuesday.
"We've had a wonderfully large response," said Lynette Phillips, director of Smiles for Diversity, a nonprofit group that launched a nationwide appeal for the boys.
The youths said they represented a fraction of more than 400 males who either were excommunicated or driven from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 1998.
Those expulsions coincide with the rise to power of Warren Jeffs, president and self-proclaimed prophet of the church.
Jeffs, who is said to have as many as 50 wives, was accused in a lawsuit last week of serially sodomizing his nephew as a child and covering up widespread sexual molestation by other church leaders for decades. He denies the allegations.
The men who came forward last weekend said Jeffs personally ordered them out of the twin communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., for perceived violations of church policy ranging from rolling up the long sleeves on their shirts to watching movies or wanting to go to public school.
Advocates say the geographic isolation, religious indoctrination and limited education leave the young men and boys unprepared to cope with life when they are exiled.Comment on this story
"Our main focus right now is getting them their high school equivalency and keeping them safe," said Phillips.
The males range in age from their midteens to early 20s. None who have come forward is eligible to be legally adopted, but several need housing and mentoring.
They are concentrated for now in two clusters, one in Salt Lake City and one in St. George, about 40 miles outside the Colorado City-Hildale area where they grew up.
"We are doing our best to match up the volunteers with the kids that need help," Phillips said. "We are letting some of them get together casually over pizza and just see if they click."