On May 23, 2023, the Salt Lake Chamber’s Business Women’s Forum heard from First Lady Abby Cox at their bimonthly networking luncheon.
The event, titled “Building the Future Workforce of Utah – How Community Leaders and Changemakers Can Make a Difference,” focused on the importance of fostering growth, empathy and community among the younger generations of Utahns. When her husband was elected governor, Cox decided to use her new platform to amplify the causes she cares most about. So, Show Up Utah was born.
“When Abby became a first spouse, she knew she wanted to use her role for good,” explained Kirsten Rappleye, director of First Lady Initiatives. “But she couldn’t narrow it down to just one thing – she’s just that passionate.”
Show Up focuses its priorities on four main areas: educator wellness, community service, foster child welfare and unified sports. Although each area is distinct, Cox explained that they all serve the same underlying purpose: uplifting and empowering young people in Utah. She calls it ‘cathedral culture:’ building and investing in changes that won’t benefit you, but future generations.
“It’s really hard to build when you can’t see what’s next. It’s really hard to think about those next generations and what they need,” Cox said. “That’s why I love education. Because educators aren’t building for themselves, they’re building for the future.”
To show its commitment to educators, Show Up hosts an annual teacher conference focusing on educator wellness. Cox, who has an education degree from USU, explained that educators are facing unprecedented levels of stress, burnout and trauma, especially after the pandemic. She encouraged attendees to support and stand up for teachers, especially because they are teaching the next generation of the workforce.
The teacher conference isn’t the only event Show Up hosts each year. Another one of Cox’s passions is community service, so each summer brings the “Show Up for Service” fair, an event that brings together families and groups looking to serve nonprofits who need their help the most. This year’s fair was on June 5th and open to all.
“Utah will always be the leader in charitable giving, but we in our organizations need to be intentional about serving,” Cox said. “Our children need to know that this is a way of life, that creating community and fostering partnerships is important.”
Another of the First Lady’s passions is foster children and families. More than 2,600 Utah children are in foster care because their families are in crisis. While not everyone can become a foster parent, Cox explained that everyone can do something to support foster families – even businesses. In 2021, she launched the “Foster Friendly” business app in partnership with America’s Kids Belong to encourage local organizations to offer specific foster friendly discounts.
“What we’re trying to do is create care communities around the foster families that are doing the work right now,” Cox explained. “These kids are the most vulnerable in our state. If they can feel love from their entire community, it can have a huge impact.”
Show Up’s fourth and final emphasis is supporting Special Olympics Unified Sports, a program that pairs people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same sports teams. The program is usually implemented in K-12 schools, but businesses and community members can do their part by donating to, coaching or becoming a sponsor of the Unified Sports teams.
“When those students are in a different situation with someone who doesn’t learn the same way they do, who doesn’t speak the same way they do, they learn to use the skills of love and connection,” said Cox. “That’s how it all comes together – inclusion equals belonging.”
The First Lady closed her address by urging the participants of the Business Women’s Forum to ‘show up’ and be builders for future generations, however that looks for them. Taking action, she explained, makes a real impact.
“You can pretend to care,” Cox said, “but you can’t pretend to show up.”
The next Business Women’s Forum is on July 18th and will feature Utah’s 40 over 40 co-founder Robyn Cohen. Register for the event here, or learn more about the BWF program by visiting its website.