Joy Hoover and her husband Phil met when she was 17 and he was 25 and they both worked at an evangelical fundamentalist Christian church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. But wait, don’t leave ~ that’s not where they are now! They aligned on many things, number one being that they wanted to make an impact in the world and they wanted people who felt they didn’t “belong” for whatever reason, their sexual orientation, their religious beliefs, their economic status, etc. to know that they do belong. They believe everyone has a story and everyone is deserving of love, kindness and respect.
Their first move to the West Coast was Los Angeles, just outside of Hollywood. It was there while Joy was in fashion school that they began to hang out with people not like them ~ LGBTQ couples from her classes, for example. This was really an eye opening experience for two kids from the Midwest. Their upbringing and faith was much different than what they were seeing. They wanted to connect with people who were not like them. They would just sit down and start a conversation with people. They believe everyone has a story and everyone is deserving of love, kindness and respect.
In September 2009, Joy and Phil spent a weekend in Vegas for their 4 year wedding anniversary. They had never been to Vegas before. The adult entertainment industry screamed at them as they walked down the Strip. They started learning about the people who worked in the adult entertainment industry. Stats they discovered: Approximately 100,000 people work in the adult entertainment industry in Vegas. 25% choose it. 25% are trafficked (forced) into it. 50% are doing it to survive, it’s a job. They heard of only a couple of groups working in Las Vegas working with adult entertainers. They couldn’t NOT do something. That experience rocked her. Joy told Phil, “We need to be a safe space for these folks. We need to provide resources and create non-judgmental support.” It was on that trip after saying “We never want to live here!” about a half dozen times that they decided they had to move here and start helping.
They received no support from their families for their idea. They experienced discouraging moments; people expected them to fail. Their journey was a beautiful disaster but they found their purpose.
In January 2010, Joy and Phil moved to Vegas and immediately started connecting with adult entertainment workers. Two days after they arrived, Joy and Phil went to the AVN Expo, the largest porn convention in the world. Joy positioned herself in the ladies room by the mirrors/sinks with lashes and hairspray and business cards offering her services free. She met porn actresses, strip club entertainers and others. Some opened up and told Joy their stories – showed her pictures of their kids, some told her they were from the Midwest, shared their troubles, their good days/bad days. She came away from that day thinking, “How can we show that we care?”
Peace, love and cupcakes.
For a brief period in the beginning, Joy and Phil worked with another organization that provided services to sex workers. However, the organization was faith-based, which went again their firm “no agenda” belief.
In addition to visiting strip clubs bringing cupcakes or sandwiches, Phil would drive Joy and a couple of volunteers up to 6 hours outside of Clark County to visit women working in legal Nevada brothels. It was actually the strip club entertainers who named them – “The Cupcake Girls are here!” In February 2011, Joy and Phil officially launched Cupcake Girls with little more than a desire to help and provide non-judgmental support. Several months later in October 2011, they started a Cupcake Girls chapter in Portland, Oregon. Their core value was “love without agenda”; they provided support and services without expecting anything in return. They had no desire to “convert” any of the women they were meeting. They just wanted to help them.
Eight years later, The Cupcake Girls is a 501c3 non-profit organization which has a staff of 10, over 150 volunteers and 300 partners who provide holistic, medical, dental, mental health, legal, financial services and more to their 130 clients. They have provided services and support to thousands of adult entertainers and sex workers who might otherwise be left out. I was shocked to learn that a bank could close a customer’s account if it was discovered the money comes from the adult industry. And, renting an an apartment can be challenging to find a landlord who won’t discriminate against an adult entertainment worker. Or the fact that sex workers face a difficult time finding a dentist or doctor who will work with them.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting Joy Hoover in person. It was truly a delight to spend an hour with her. She’s a warm and loving human whose passion for helping others is apparent. And, she is a business savvy individual. I was impressed by how she runs this non-profit, believing intensely in consistency for her clients. She is not just giving handouts to her clients; there are case managers who work with clients on a plan. There are volunteers who will accompany clients to the hospital if they have been abused or assaulted. This is truly a hands-on organization with humans who truly care about other humans. Joy has been featured in TEDx Women, The L.A. Times, Huffington Post, Fox News, and the Leadership Journal. She is joy.
The Cupcake Girls have a full website thecupcakegirls.org that provides information about who they are, what they do, and how people can get involved or support them. There are businesses, mostly locally-owned, who have partnered with them by creating special Cupcake Girls products. Each business has dedicated a certain percentage of proceeds from these products directly to the Cupcake Girls to support their clients.
Three weeks ago, Joy and Phil launched @humanswhogiveash*t, a “brave and inclusive podcast where everyone belongs”. They talk about their journey and finding their purpose. Three episodes later, I am hooked. Their latest episode just aired yesterday. Give them a listen and see what you think.
From their humble beginnings of simply bringing cupcakes and friendship to sex workers, Joy and Phil have expanded the Cupcake Girls vision to its next step. Local for All will be a Community Driven Social Enterprise and Holistic Resource Center where clients and local community will find a safe and inclusive space to shop, eat, work, and receive pro-bono and/or low cost mental, emotional, spiritual, physical and financial support and resources. They plan to accomplish this by collaborating with local community partners, businesses and individuals, some of whom will rent space in the facility and/or offer services to Cupcake Girls clients. The facility will be located in Downtown Las Vegas, close to major bus lines and partner agencies. Their plan for the Resource Center includes the Cupcake Girls Operations Office, financial services office, mental health office, nutritionist office, medical clinic, multipurpose room, Cupcake Hair Salon, The Cupcake Shop & Bakery, and a co-working space. The Cupcake Girls volunteers currently deliver 80 dozen cupcakes a month to strip clubs and brothels.
Bowl for Justice is the third annual Cupcake Girls fundraiser which kicks off September 19, 2019. This year’s goal is $350,000, with $168,000 going directly to the Local for All building fund. You can support this fundraiser in a number of ways. You can become a Team Leader and create your own themed team, you can join an existing team, or you can make a donation. We will be bowling in Las Vegas on Sunday, October 13 (the chapter in Portland will bowl on Saturday, October 19). I have joined Joy’s team and my personal fundraising goal for this year’s event is $1,770. How did I choose this amount? Here’s the formula: 1-59 cupcakes. Pick a number (=amount) you can feel happy donating. When all the cupcakes have been colored in, the total amount is $1,770 (1+2+3+4+5…+59=1770). If you would like to donate more, select more than one number to equal the amount. Why did I choose 59? I just entered my 59th year on this planet last month, and at the beginning of this year, I told myself, “I don’t know how or why, but 2019 is going to be my year to do things.” Here’s my personal Bowl for Justice website. I believe every human deserves love, kindness and respect. I hope you will join me in supporting the Cupcake Girls.