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Utah’s First Lady Abby Cox Launches Initiative To Help Combat State’s ‘Empathy Crisis’

A photo of Abby Cox announcing her initiative.
Sonja Hutson
First Lady Abby Cox announced a four-part initiative to combat the “empathy crisis."

About 50 people gathered at a nonprofit horse riding school Tuesday to help launch Utah First Lady Abby Cox’s “Show Up” initiative.

The volunteers worked on the first service project by making gift packages with handwritten notes for foster families.

Cox’s initiative is aimed at solving what she calls the “empathy crisis.”

“We must learn to connect through our differences,” she said. “[Show Up is] about encouraging Utahns everywhere to reach out wherever they are, lift others, serve others and to be willing to learn and appreciate different points of view.”

Her project has four components. One is a conference to train teachers on how to promote social and emotional learning in their classrooms.

State Superintendent Sydnee Dickson said the pandemic has reinforced how important those skills are.

“Having that unique situation in our state of being able to get our students back to in-person learning — they were still experiencing trauma from the pandemic, some more than most,” Dickson said. “They were experiencing challenges at school, at home, loss of jobs and families … Part of our mission is to ensure that students succeed and lead. And it's not just about the academics, but it's about their mental and social wellbeing as well.”

Another aspect of “Show Up” is expanding the Special Olympics Unified Sports Program, which puts kids with and without intellectual disabilities on the same sports teams.

“Utah's program is relatively small,” Cox said. “Through promotion, partnership and awareness, my team will work with community partners to expand the unified sports by working to introduce a program to additional schools and asking Utah's businesses to show up for unified sports by sponsoring schools and enabling them to bring the program to the students’ lives.”

Cox’s focus also includes a public education campaign about how people can help foster kids in Utah, even if they can’t bring one into their home.

“The concept is that a foster family has several families assigned that wrap around that family to help them,” she said. “You can spend a little time each week bringing a meal, folding laundry, mowing the lawn or taking a child to an appointment for this family.”

The first lady’s office will be doing quarterly service projects around the state and is encouraging other Utahns to get involved too.

“What I want to challenge everyone to do is shift from thinking about service as nice to [thinking it’s] necessary,” said LaDawn Stoddard, director of UServeUtah, a state commission focused on volunteerism. “It's a necessary part of civil society. … Volunteerism bonds together neighbors and communities in a common cause, and enables us to see and appreciate each other's humanity.”

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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