Adriana wasn’t impressed when Joy Hoover started showing up with cupcakes at the strip club where she danced. Adriana was suspicious. In her world, those kind of gestures usually had strings attached.
Each month, Hoover would arrive with a couple of friends, bringing perfectly iced cupcakes in hot pink boxes to the smoky backroom where the girls prepared to perform. The visitors, toting mini bottles of hairspray, eye shadow kits and false eyelashes, would offer to do the dancers’ hair or makeup.
They are the Cupcake Girls, and their monthly rounds have one mission: to earn the trust of the women who work in Southern Nevada’s adult entertainment industry. Hoover, 27, founded the nonprofit organization more than three years ago and reasoned that if the Cupcake Girls could gain the dancers’ trust, they could help them.
“I fell in love with their hearts and their stories,” Hoover said. “I just realized that they were exactly like I was, that we were no different. We’re women. We all have dreams and goals and ambitions, and we have fat days, and we want our lipstick to match our outfits. There was just this connection.”
The Cupcake Girls offer friendship and free services from local business partners — lawyers, doctors, baby sitters — to women who work in clubs and brothels. With permission from management, the group visits 17 strip clubs and seven brothels a month.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
To cover expenses, the Cupcake Girls conduct community fundraisers, such as an annual poker tournament and “Sweet Run,” which coincides with the Las Vegas Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon (Nov. 16 this year). They also accept donations and monthly sponsors from $10 to $500.
• To donate money, go to thecupcakegirls.com/donate
• To participate in the “Sweet Run,” email [email protected]
• To volunteer, go to thecupcakegirls.org/volunteer-application/
Hoover, a hair stylist, was inspired to establish the Cupcake Girls after working the Adult Entertainment Expo in 2011. As she did female performers’ hair, she listened to their stories. The women faced abusive relationships, financial trouble and unsafe living conditions. Many had no one to turn to for help.
Hoover got involved with an organization called XXX Church and started going on its cupcake runs. A few months later, the church left town, but Hoover kept up its work. “I didn’t want to be just another person in the girls’ lives who said, ‘We are here for you’ and then left,” Hoover said.
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As Hoover began connecting personally with the women, they began to seek her help finding baby sitters, doctors, dentists and financial advisers. Some sought legal advice on custody hearings or divorces. Some needed a safe place to stay as they left abusive relationships. Some just needed someone to talk to — about work, their families and changes they wanted to make, including getting out of the adult entertainment industry.
Hoover contacted medical offices and law firms to secure pro bono work. She recruited partners, such as Trina Brown, who had worked for Nevada’s welfare division, and Greg Feese, a financial adviser willing to work with clients regardless of income. Cupcake Girls, which branched into Portland, Ore., signed up 100 volunteers across both cities and partnered with dozens of businesses.
Among them is Las Vegas attorney Rachel Silverstein, who helps the women with custody cases, divorce proceedings and traffic offenses.
“These women are loving people, loving parents, smart, articulate and not by any means are they less worthy than any of us,” Silverstein said.
Moreover, the Cupcake Girls have developed into a kind of family. They host spa days at their headquarters, send gifts to women on their birthdays and have group counseling every Sunday.
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With each visit from the Cupcake Girls, Adriana’s discomfort eased. She and Hoover began to develop a bond, eventually swapping phones numbers and talking frequently.
In December, Adriana had a breakdown. She desperately wanted to get out of the industry but needed help. She called Hoover.
Hoover arranged for a therapist to help Adriana transition from 12 years as an exotic dancer. Cupcake Girls volunteers helped her write a resume, enroll in school to study technology and find a job as an administrative assistant. That Christmas, they showered her 3-month-old daughter with gifts Adriana otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford.
Now, nearly every Sunday, Adriana visits the Cupcake Girls at their headquarters at Valley View Boulevard and Sirius Avenue for a cupcake and chat.
“Because of the support here, I had the courage to let go of the industry,” Adriana said. “They allowed me to get my strength back. Never have I met more open and compassionate women. They are truly a gift.”
The experiences the women the Cupcake Girls helps vary dramatically. Adriana’s story isn’t typical.
Some women want to get out of the business, and others are content to stay. Some dance to pay for college or start a small business, while others may have become involved in the industry through the pressure of a man — a boyfriend, friend or father. Some are dealing with substance abuse or domestic violence issues. Some may have been forced into the industry.
Some situations the Cupcake Girls encounter are dire — such as the time a dancer known as April was poisoned by a jealous patron, causing her heart, liver and kidney to fail. She was hospitalized for months, during which she was revived three times before being stabilized. Cupcake Girls volunteers visited her in the hospital and arranged a place for her to stay during the three months of around-the-clock care she needed after she was released.
On July 18, while visiting Cheetahs on a cupcake run, Hoover learned April had died while awaiting a heart transplant.
“I don’t understand why nobody told me,” a visibly upset Hoover said. “She didn’t have much of a family. We could have helped.”