Joy Hoover’s reputation precedes her. As the founder of a nonprofit that helps sex workers, she’s known for being selfless.
Hoover, 34, and her husband, Philip, 42, moved to Las Vegas from Michigan in 2010, starting a nonprofit, The Cupcake Girls, in their first year in town. The organization, which has expanded to 22 states, helps adult industry workers and sex trafficking survivors.
The Cupcake Girls visit strip clubs and brothels in and around Las Vegas, bringing cupcakes and tools to do hair and makeup for the women working. While they’re there, they talk with the workers and offer resources such as money, legal help and counseling.
Hoover, a cosmetologist by trade, first used her skills to help sex workers in the bathroom of the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo in 2010 and discovered a passion for helping women in that community.
In addition to running The Cupcake Girls, Hoover is preparing to open Local For All, a food hall and holistic resource center in downtown Las Vegas.
Coming to Las Vegas
Hoover met her husband at church in their home state of Michigan when she was 16 and he was 24. Philip Hoover said he was working at the church and Joy came on as an intern who had just graduated early from high school. They worked together at the church for two years and, despite the age gap, Philip said the couple knew right away that they were going to get married.
The Hoovers got married on Sept. 3, 2005, and moved to Los Angeles so Joy could attend fashion school. They lived in Long Beach and commuted to downtown Los Angeles where Phillip said their “sheltered, evangelical upbringings” were shattered and the world opened up. He said he made an effort to buy lunch every day for a homeless person and eat the meal with them to hear their story.
Philip said he and Joy quickly discovered that their passion was in helping marginalized communities, but Southern California was too expensive and they moved back to Michigan. They were there less than a year.
“We hated everything from the religion to the politics, the weather,” Philip said. “So when we came to Vegas for our four-year anniversary, and there was no intention behind it other than a cheap hotel, but we ended up moving out here a few months later.”
While on their anniversary trip to Las Vegas, the Hoovers found an organization called Strip Church that worked with adult industry workers and, when the group asked the couple to move to Las Vegas and work with them, Hoover said they took the chance.
In three months, they sold most of their belongings, loaded everything else into their car and drove to Las Vegas. They arrived on Jan. 2, 2010, and lived with someone for a few months until they could get a place of their own.
Becoming The Cupcake Girls
The Hoovers interned with Strip Church but said they quickly realized the group wasn’t for them.
“They had an ulterior motive from a religious perspective to get people ‘saved,’” Philip said. “So we decided to do our own thing, and that’s where The Cupcake Girls was born. I would drive Joy around to the clubs, and she would go in and just offer people help.”
Neither of them had history in the industry; Joy said they just saw a group of people being marginalized and wanted to help without any ulterior motives. And that’s how The Cupcake Girls began, with its still-standing mission statement: Love with no agenda.
Joy said the start of The Cupcake Girls was not easy. She didn’t have experience starting a nonprofit and was learning on the fly. But, she said, nothing was going to stop her from helping people.
“When we first came out here it was like, ‘Great, we’re gonna help these people.’ But I realized very quickly we had no idea what we were doing, and it was going to take a lot more than we expected,” she said. “So I listened and showed up every week, wherever I needed to be to be with the community and hear their needs, then I built The Cupcake Girls based on that.”
In the first year, Joy met a woman named Virginia Galaviz at the Chicken Ranch brothel in Pahrump. As Galaviz tells it, she had no interest in talking to Joy because she’d become callous to other organizations whose help was masking hidden agendas. But when she decided to leave her pimp after more than 20 years in the industry, a friend gave her Joy’s card.
“I called Joy as I was leaving the brothel and she said, ‘I’ll meet you, just tell me where,’” Galaviz said. “So we met at a Hawaiian barbecue restaurant and we sat there and she bought me lunch and we talked and we cried and we’ve been friends ever since.”
‘She saved my life’
Galaviz, who volunteers with The Cupcake Girls, said the Hoovers’ selfless nature is what draws so many people to them.
“Joy and Phil sacrificed so much to help others, they literally went without for years so Joy could build what she has now,” she said. “That always stuck with me because I thought, ‘Wow, she’s sacrificing her personal things so that she can help people like me.’ She really, genuinely cares about people.”
Within a year of starting The Cupcake Girls, Joy said she got a call from a group in Portland, Oregon, asking her to open a branch there. The Portland branch has five staff members and several community partners and volunteers.
Galaviz, a now 48-year-old who has been out of the industry for 10 years, has a career in medical billing and is in the process of buying a house, said she owes Joy her life.
She said Joy shows the most unconditional and nonjudgmental love she’s ever seen, which was exactly what she needed when she made the decision to leave the brothel.
“She doesn’t care about how she comes across to people, but what she doesn’t realize is that she comes across as absolutely amazing,” Galaviz said. “She’s one of the best human beings I’ve ever met, and she saved my life. I truly believe that I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Joy.”