She is a domestic violence survivor. Now this Utahn is giving back by providing clothes and girl talk

West Bank • Jessie was searching a rack of business attire on a Thursday afternoon. Just days after moving out of her home with her four daughters, she had to start from scratch.

Jessie had just received a no-contact order against her partner and left most of her belongings behind. After seeing a Facebook post about the Pretty Tough Ladies Resource Center and consulting with founder McKayla Julian, she received a coupon to buy free clothes for her kids and herself.

“I appreciate it. I have no clothes. I have nothing,” said Jessie, who asked to be identified by her first name only while discussing her need for assistance. “…We had to leave the house because of lockdown.”

The center provided immediate help in a moment of need—without the extensive questionnaires that some social services require. Jessie walked the day with different outfits, glittery sneakers for her kids, hygiene products and information for her next steps.

Julian knows how important this is. She found herself on the Other Side about 2½ years ago, escaping a domestic violence situation with her daughter and a few small bags.

“To be honest, I was really scared,” Julian recalls. “That was a time in my life when I thought it was over for me. I didn’t see any light at the end of this tunnel.”

She got help. Lots of it. Now she’s in a much happier place. Since then she has been married and has another baby.

But living through that trauma took its toll. When Julian got back on his feet, she decided to start a mental health support group for survivors of domestic violence. A room next to her West Jordan home that she used as a photography studio became essentially a sanctuary, playground and closet.

“I wanted to create a safe space where women could come in and feel like they could really enjoy themselves,” she said, “and get out of the environment where they don’t feel safe.”

start small

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) McKayla Julian, left, Shoni Childrey and Jamii Stock at the Pretty Tough Ladies resource center in West Jordan, Thursday, July 7, 2022. The resource center helps women and children by providing resources for mental health victims of domestic violence and clothing that they can “buy” with free coupons.

The first support meeting took place in April and attracted around 20 people she connected with on Facebook. It was more of a fun, supportive group chat among women, including potluck, than any conventional therapy. They repeated it every two weeks and identified needs that they could meet.

Julian started small, pulling a few things from her closet and posting about them on her personal social media accounts.

But this closet grew quickly. Donations kept coming in and Julian received help from people in the community to minister to the 60 women who usually came to the closet each week.

After a consultation, users receive a voucher for free shopping in the closet. There are business outfits for women, clothes for children and babies as well as hygiene articles. Those who access the Services are allowed to make purchases every three months.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Women visiting the Pretty Tough Ladies Resource Center in West Jordan on Thursday, July 7, 2022 will receive a sanitary bag containing personal care products.

Although Pretty Tough Ladies began as an initiative for survivors of domestic violence, Julian emphasized that the resources are there for any woman or child in need.

“I don’t want people to feel like we’re not going to help them if their story is different than mine,” she said. “We are there for all women and children in need.”

The current space resembles a shop with shelves for clothes and toys. Every day, it seems, the center advances to the next level, including achieving nonprofit status in June. There’s a lot of hard work involved, but also a little bit of chance.

“We don’t believe that anything is a coincidence. There’s no such thing,” said Jamii Stock, who joined Julian as the center’s vice president as she discussed how they met with investors and even a carpenter who agreed to build shelves for free. “We were attracted to each other. We have similar stories, similar backgrounds, similar personalities, children, all that… But people come out of the wood and say, ‘I want to help you.'”

“It just brightened my life”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jamii Stock (right) makes her friend and colleague Shoni Childrey (left) laugh as Stock demonstrates her ability to fill a bag of toiletries for five people into a bin at the Pretty Tough Ladies Resource Center in West Jordan, Thursday, July 7, 2022.

One of them is Shoni Childrey, who now runs the volunteer work for the center. While reading about Pretty Tough Ladies on Facebook, she remembered watching a program about a domestic violence survivor.

“I put in my donations and it just clicked, and since May I’ve started volunteering here every week,” she said. “…When women shop here or get help, it’s simply enriching. Hearing their stories is really powerful. So it brightened my life.”

Julian said the center’s biggest initiative is focused on mental health. The next step is to specialize support groups to address specific issues that survivors may be facing.

As demand increases, organizers plan to relocate the center and expand services. Future resources may include preparing for interviews, creating resumes, and providing emergency groceries.

However, what sets Julian apart the most is the immediate impact this type of support provides – even for her.

“It’s crazy to think that my life was like this two and a half years ago and now I’m here. I never imagined that once I moved on from my abuse,” she said. “It’s another reason I love what I do because I can talk to them and let them know there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”

Alixel Cabrera is a Report for America Corps member and writes for The Salt Lake Tribune on the status of communities on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley. Your donation of our RFA grant helps her write stories like this; Please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here. She is a domestic violence survivor. Now this Utahn is giving back by providing clothes and girl talk

Joel McCord

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