This week, I am re-introducing you to The Cupcake Girls and SolaceSF, for the third installation of my series. While I have covered both organizations in the past, I want to offer some insight on the women who lead these growing organizations. I have seen both of these organizations work with those within the industry and have spoken to people who have been on the receiving end of their help, met and spoken to their Board members, seen their financial records and spoke to past and present volunteers. Both subjects this week worked with Craig Gross and XXX Church prior to starting their own organizations. Researching and learning their history made me wonder how much of an influence Pastor Gross had on their non-profits.
I initially encountered Joy Hoover of The Cupcake Girls, in late December 2012/January 2013 when she partnered with Solace SF for the Hollie Stevens Suite during AVN. Hoover’s organization offered up their local team to serve the performers attending AVN. Hoover is in her late 20’s, married, has a new baby and keeps busy running her non-profit. Hoover has been described as “passionate about helping people”, “tenacious” and “a people person”.
The Cupcake Girls are based in Las Vegas, Nevada and they also have a team in Portland, Oregon. Hoover, unlike Dust, Lasky or Munoz, was never a sex worker or involved in the sex industry in any capacity; she felt compelled to start her organization for different reasons: “On a vacation to Las Vegas, my husband and I heard Craig Gross speak about his ministry with XXX Church. With further reflection, we felt very connected to the mission and felt compelled to move to Las Vegas in an effort to help meet the needs of women in the sex industry. After some time with XXX Church, they shifted their goals and mission and moved to Los Angeles. It was at that time that we started The Cupcake Girls.” Hoover said.
While Hoover is no longer working with Gross, she did reuse one of his ideas: “In an effort to continue supporting women in the adult industry and to be consistent with our words and actions, we made the decision to continue using pink cupcakes to connect with women in the adult industry which was an idea established by XXX Church. The women in the adult industry coined us, “The Cupcake Girls”, which we thought was very fitting. While using cupcakes wasn’t my idea, The Cupcake Girls structure, policies, trainings, partners, fundraising, mission, etc. are my ideas. XXX Church and The Cupcake Girls are two separate, unaffiliated organizations with different philosophies.” When asked if Hoover refers people to XXX Church: “No.” Hoover explained why she no longer partners with Gross or his organization: “Because our focus is different than XXX Church, we meet the needs of the women within our own organization or with affiliates who are designed to meet those needs.”
Hoover is a Christian; she wanted to make Cupcake Girls a faith-based organization, but decided against it. “We planned to establish ourselves as a faith-based organization being that I believe my desire to help these women is God-given and I see my faith as an integral part of my life. Our primary goal is to offer support & resources to women in need, not to try to convert them to Christianity, which is why we filed as a nonreligious nonprofit.”
While at AVN, one of Hoover’s volunteers made a poor decision, much like XXX Church’s volunteer. While serving in the Hollie Steven’s Suite, a hair/make up person asked if she could pray for a woman receiving services; to some, it could feel as if they were providing a service with the goal of leading whoever receives it to Jesus. “Our policy is that no volunteer should ever address religious issues unless specifically asked by the woman she is serving. So yes, a Cupcake Girls volunteer asking a woman if she can pray for her is out of protocol and against our policies. I don’t know who that person was. This is the first time I’ve heard of this situation. If I were to observe the action that you spoke of, that person would not be able to volunteer in an area of direct care until they could fully commit to following the policies and procedures of The Cupcake Girls.”
What this tells me is that while The Cupcake Girls may mean well, Hoover needs to pay more attention to what her volunteers are doing, especially, if this is indeed the first she is hearing of it. I am glad to see that she would be willing to take action, once she knows someone has done something outside of protocol.
I asked all of the organizations if they would still do this work, if they received no attention from doing so: Munoz from abeni laughed and said, “What attention?” Based on what I discovered about her organization, they are newly relaunched with limited social media presence. Dust, from Treasures, has received a large amount of press over the years with an impressive amount of followers and fans, but says, “It wouldn’t matter” if she never did again, she “would run [her] organization even if no one knew about them.”
Hoover replied, “Yes, we would absolutely still do this work, regardless of our “audience”. No one will ever know about most of the work we do. Daily, myself and our teams are working to support and serve women in the adult entertainment industry. We are not looking for fame or attention, but simply to help every woman in the adult entertainment industry know that she is incredibly loved and supported by The Cupcake Girls.”
Usually, I would accept this answer and not think much of it, but her answer didn’t add up with what I saw on social media and their website. Hoover did a TedX Talk (a locally organized version of TedTalks), where she discussed what her organization does. In the talk, you will hear Hoover mention that she is called, “The Stripper Whisperer”. This caused, sex work allies and advocates I asked to review it to take pause. In that moment, she compared those she serves to animals. I would challenge Hoover to re-think her words. While her work may be compelling, she is losing a portion of her audience who she wants to help. When this TedX talk was released it seems as if Hoover was avidly looking for press on it, the following tweets were posted on The Cupcake Girls twitter feed:
- the cupcake girls @CupcakeGirlsLV 3 Jan@FoxNews Would you please partner w/us in changing the world by watching my TEDx video on the adult industry & sharing? http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=xd1LabTQtkU&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3Dxd1LabTQtkU …Expand
- the cupcake girls @CupcakeGirlsLV 3 Jan@DrPhil Would you please partner w/us in changing the world by watching my TEDx video on the adult industry & sharing? http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=xd1LabTQtkU&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3Dxd1LabTQtkU …Expand
- the cupcake girls @CupcakeGirlsLV 3 Jan@TheEllenShow Would you partner w/us in changing the world by watching my TEDx video on the adult industry & sharing? http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=xd1LabTQtkU&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3Dxd1LabTQtkU …
The Cupcake Girls also allowed a local Nevada news crew to cover a spa day that is held for the women she serves.
Having a camera crew around women who are photographed and filmed as part of their living while offering free services, even if their face is not shown, feels inappropriate and exploitative. Hoover recently posted this on her twitter page, and I think she should follow her own advice.
- Joy Hoover @joyhoover 25 SepStop trying to be the next Christian celebrity! Just fricken love people. Get in the trenches. Live your life to serve & love sacrificially!
The Cupcake Girls are funded mainly by donations. Hoover herself receives a salary for running her organization along with three part-time employees who assist in day-to-day operations which are paid out of a budgeted amount for the three of them. Hopefully, Hoover will get a better handle on her organization, because they seem to say one thing and do another. Time will tell, as they are learning along the way. (Joy was willing to allow me to come to Las Vegas at the last-minute to see the day-to-day and meet with Board members and volunteers, but since I am not a trained volunteer, I would not have been able to do a ride along for club visits. The Cupcake Girls were very helpful, responsive and allowed me to take a lot of their time over the last two weeks via email instead.)
Next is Solace SF. I spoke with and shadowed Laura Lasky, the Executive Director as well as with her Board Chair and team. Lasky and I have a history; we first met about sixteen months ago when she was helping with a group of Hollie Steven’s loved ones, as Steven’s battled terminal cancer that sadly took her life. My relationship with Lasky has been speculated upon while working on this series, so I will provide background information: we both live in San Francisco and socialize in some of the same circles.
After my initial meeting with her, I referred two Bay Area sex workers to Solace SF and was told at length by those who received help, of the good Solace did by both sex workers. As of this writing, I continue to refer sex workers to Solace. In the Summer and Fall of 2012, I covered Lasky and SolaceSF for SF Weekly during a firestorm involving false allegations that she and the partner of Hollie Stevens, Eric Cash, were behind repugnant behavior involving Stevens. Interestingly, no charges were ever filed (upon request then and now, her Board and Lasky handed over emails, text messages, social media posts, hospital records, financial and legal paperwork along with their lawyers contact information). Lasky has never spoken publicly about the incident which could have ruined her, Stevens’ partner (Eric Cash) and Solace SF. Her reply when I pressed for answers was, “None of that will ever bring Hollie back. People were and still are in immense pain and grief, over a year later. We have no comment when it comes to this or those who perpetuated it. Eric is remarkably strong and will be okay.”
Lasky identifies as a ‘Believer’ and runs a faith-based organization. “I’m a person of Faith, I don’t hide that fact. We are ‘faith based social services’ because it was advised by our non-profit lawyer to file as such at the time. My beliefs and past as a sex worker compel me to draw on what Solace is and can be.” Lasky is described by her Board and others as, “Quiet and a force to reckon with. Do not let the quiet demeanor fool you. She will fight for the ladies and gents without raising her voice. She raises her argument.” and “…empathetic, loyal and accepting. She also calls bullshit as needed, but does so privately”. While they are based in San Francisco, they have a reach and resources to help those who want it, throughout the U.S.
When you visit the SolaceSF website, you will notice that like abeni, there are no photos of anyone; Solace SF maintains strict privacy towards those she calls, “our ladies and gents” as well as of their volunteers. You also won’t find the people they have helped being asked to provide testimonials. When asked why they do not allow media access to their events when performers are present or take up those they help on an offer to publicly share about the work Solace does: “We’re relational. These are people we love and respect, people we do life with. Most people value privacy being offered, especially when earning a living by choice, doing something you are judged by more often than not. Some may share what we do independently, but we choose not to. We understand that organizations want to signal boost but we choose to let our actions speak louder than a media presence.”
Solace SF shows up at San Francisco strip clubs and at AVN. They were invited to The Desiree Alliance Conference, CatalystCon, Whores Bath and more; armed with cupcakes and swag, they offer support for those who need it. “Our vision is to meet peoples needs, whatever they may be. Success looks different for everyone and we recognize that these are people, not projects. Relationship trumps rescue. We all need to be reminded that we are loved, appreciated and thought well of outside of our jobs.”
Solace SF thrives with the assistance of volunteers and I wanted to know how they find them and what training they receive: “We don’t make it easy. We schedule an initial meet up at an inconvenient time. If this work and these people matter to them, they won’t mind that we just ruined their Saturday schedule. If we feel that we’re symbiotic and the questions and answers on both sides are a good mix, we ask them if they’d be interested in applying to become a volunteer.” (Their volunteer application covers general questions, as well as if they are presently taking any prescribed medications, health issues they would need to know about in case of an emergency, are they willing to submit to a comprehensive background check and drug test, a Myers Briggs and DISC test, professional and personal references as well as a written portion asking them why they are motivated to work with those within the adult industry). The process takes about six months, with anyone accepted doing work exclusively behind the scenes for up to four months or more.
An incident with a volunteer going rogue happened during their AVN event in January. I asked Lasky how she felt about it and if she could relate to what took place with Pastor Gross’ volunteer and the Jessica Drake matter, even though the transgression came from someone on Hoover’s team: “We learned of it by reading a write-up on the suite, not during the event. We lost relationships and respect (with performers and loved ones of Hollie’s) over the incident. Some came to us and asked us what had happened, others chose to believe the worst. We understand both reactions. At the end of the day, Craig and I both lead organizations. Whatever happens, great or awful – and both of these situations are awful – we are held responsible. We can’t take it back, we should be honest, apologize and make amends if possible without adding more hurt. Time always reveals motivation and truth. I hope Jessica Drake and the woman who experienced the awfulness in the suite are better than okay now. And if the woman from the suite is reading this, please contact me. We want so much to make this right if possible.
Does Solace sell anything, in order to keep afloat financially: “No, we certainly do not.” When asked why they don’t receive donations online: “I fight with some of my Board members on this, but at the end of the day, we are particular about who we accept money from – we want to make sure we do not receive funds from someone who is rescue minded. If a sex worker gave us money, we would be honored but we would not receive it – taking money from a sex worker is counter productive to us offering help to them. We receive funds from private donors, businesses and occasionally, churches who understand and like what we do. We’re thinking of allowing online donations in 2014. We’ll see.” Lasky does not receive a salary for the work she does and neither do her volunteers. They have a part-time holiday season administrative assistant and a security team who is paid as needed for duties, depending on events, logistics and so on.
Like Hoover and Dust, Lasky used to do work with Pastor Gross and XXX Church. I asked her why she no longer works with Gross’s organization: “At the end of the day, we agreed to disagree.” When asked if she refers anyone who needs help to XXX Church: “No.” I asked Lasky what her opinion of Pastor Gross is: “He loves his family. Craig will always be one of the more interesting professors of my life. Cupcakes being delivered to strip clubs were Craig’s idea, which was and is, brilliant. Many orgs, not just us, use that idea of a sweet approach. We all have growth opportunities, Solace SF included.”
Solace SF has a respectable but limited amount of media. I asked Lasky why that is and if she would still do this work if she didn’t receive any attention: “I would love to cast a spotlight on something other than me. But, when you lead, you become the face of your organization and you’re given attention which can be great or terrible. You’re writing a series based on that and the things surrounding it. We’re selective about who we share our work with, because we want to honor those we love, our ladies and gents. Most of the really wow inducing things, the hard work, tears and celebrations of our ladies and gents…no one except those who are in the daily inner-workings will ever get to see it. For us, that’s how it should be. You can remove social media and networking. That’s fine. My dad always said that if you do great work, you’ll always get to do more of it, based on word of mouth. I believe that and we along with other orgs are experiencing that.”
* * *
I want to thank Joy Hoover and Laura Lasky for giving me a large amount of their time and answering some hard questions with grace and integrity. These two women handled it and me with a lot of good humor and class.
Something you will read about next week as this series concludes, is that Pastor Gross selects some of the most gifted and hard-working people to be a part of his team (including Hoover, Lasky, Dust and others) he just can’t seem to keep any of them. He also can’t seem to get any of them to work with him again, or to get them to refer people back to his organization. Next week I will finish this series, by sharing why that is, along with everything else I have come to know about XXXChurch and Craig Gross. Stay tuned.