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Young graduates have been hit hard by the economic crisis — but they’re also the first to help

Travis Normin (aka Santa Travis) thanks firefighters at Fire Station No. 51 in Layton as organizers of the Sounds of Freedom Festival delivered Little Caesars Pizza to the first responders on Friday, May 15, 2020. Festival organizers dropped off pizzas at the Davis County Sheriff’s Office, the Farmington Fire Department, and the Layton and Clearfield fire departments.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Because of the COVID-19 crisis, young people graduating from high school or college, or returning from a church mission, face a tough job market and uncertain futures. The unemployment rate is the highest in many decades. Entry-level jobs are especially difficult to find.

At the same time, Utah has many needs, especially with individuals, nonprofits and small businesses suffering because of the pandemic.

Utah’s new Hope Corps seeks to address both challenges. It matches needs with resources — enabling willing and energetic young people to tackle some of the problems caused by the pandemic.

Hope Corps is patterned in some ways after the Peace Corps, which was established in 1961 by Pres. John F. Kennedy. Since then, some 235,000 Americans have joined the Peace Corps, serving in 141 countries and providing a wide variety of services.

The Hope Corps’ theme is “Students Lifting Utah,” and its mission is to “assist and lift the businesses, nonprofits and people of Utah.” The program matches community needs with Utah young people who are passionate about serving.

Despite federal and state relief programs, great challenges still exist among Utah small businesses and nonprofits. Only about half of Utah’s 71,000 small businesses (which employ some 880,000 workers), and even fewer of Utah’s 10,400 nonprofits (with 63,000 employees) have been helped via government programs.

Young people from the Hope Corps are helping with virus testing, and are also helping individuals and organizations learn to access financial aid, operate with COVID-19 restrictions, adjust business plans, and implement healthy financial practices. The Hope Corps is helping people and organizations access the Internet, build websites and develop e-commerce capabilities. They are helping with online marketing and advertising and teaching social media engagement and strategy.

Hope Corps participants are helping Utah recover from the COVID-19 pandemic by recruiting households for testing to detect virus spread in Utah.

It’s a great program because it provides experience dealing with real-world critical issues, and introduces students to a lifetime of community service. Students receive mentoring from industry experts and community leaders, and may be eligible for financial support at this time of limited job prospects.

A broad coalition of community partners are making the Hope Corps successful. They include all of the business schools across the state, along with Utah Community Builders, the Clark and Christine Ivory Foundation, Salt Lake City Corp., the Salt Lake Chamber, the Boyer Company, Sorenson Legacy Foundation, and the Price companies. The advisory board consists of many top Utah leaders.

Ruchi Watson, associate dean of the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah, is director of the Hope Corps. She said that, while Utah is weathering the pandemic and economic impacts better than many states, some businesses and individuals are “falling through the cracks.” At the same time, many of Utah’s best and brightest students have seen their opportunities dwindle. “The Hope Corps seeks to pair these two important needs to assist and lift the businesses and people of Utah and strengthen our state’s overall recovery.”

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said, “The Hope Corps is a shining example of what makes Utah uniquely great. I am beyond excited to see how our youth will help shape our community’s response and recovery from this terrible pandemic”

Students at every institution of higher education, graduating high-school seniors and other young adults, including recently returned missionaries, are eligible to participate. Students may be eligible for course credit via their home institution and may be able to receive a small stipend.

The Hope Corps is coordinated by at the Eccles School of Business in partnership with Utah Community Builders, a 501c3 affiliate of the Salt Lake Chamber. Those interested in joining the Hope Corps can apply for positions at https://eccles.utah.edu/hope-corps. Entities interested in partnering with the Hope Corps should contact hopecorps@eccles.utah.edu.

A. Scott Anderson is CEO and president of Zions Bank.