In the Spotlight: Meet the Wilhelms
“Everything about City Year was such a semi-charmed experience.” – Matt Wilhelm, City Year New Hampshire ’06
Matt and Jody Wilhelm pause for the camera while on tour with Dispatch in 2011. The couple, who met through City Year, have been dedicated to helping the popular band engage its fans in service projects at tour locations since 2008.
When Project Ubuntu visited Manchester, NH, I was welcomed to the home of this service-powered couple. Both alumni of City Year, they now are preparing to have their first child and also continuing to spread their love outward through meaningful career pursuits.
Why did you join City Year?
Jody (City Year Boston, 2004-2007): “I graduated as a psychology major from Susquehanna and didn’t have a lot of entry-level job opportunities. I thought I would be interested in education so started looking at different ways to work with kids.
“My school was so small you kind of felt like you didn’t have a choice in friends when you started. It was a very narrow slice of life. So when I got to City Year and there was a bunch of people who liked service – I had been a girl scout for 10 years – who had come all over the country, and were all really into people and helping kids, and didn’t care that that was the only thing we had in common, it was really nice.”
Matt (City Year New Hampshire, 2005-2007): “When I was 16 years old I had a camp counselor at Camp Calumet who had done the corps – in my mind he was one of the coolest guys around. If City Year had anything to do with making John the guy he was and the leader he was, then I wanted a slice of that too.
“I first went to Plymouth State here in New Hampshire and studied communications and political science. I got really into politics and the concept of public service, and I was excited about City Year as a concept – I read City Year’s mission statement and it was about building democracy through citizen service and social entrepreneurship, and I thought this was totally what I needed to be doing.”
What did you gain from the experience?
Jody: “My corps year team was the first time City Year Boston had a formal team relationship with the Boston Public Schools. They sent us into eighth-grade classrooms to teach their new civics in action curriculum. It sounds like a great idea, but it was hard to implement. But it was a really good curriculum to partner with City Year – it made a lot of sense.
“It was a good year, with its challenges, which is why I came back for a senior corps year (and another as Program Manager), and tried to make the team work better in schools with teachers. Three years of working through a team like that definitely taught me what I can and cannot do, what I can do well and not so well, and usually I say the number one skill I walked away from City Year with is that I can work with just about anyone.”
Matt: “In my first year Bobby Kessling (the current Senior Director of Impact for City Year New Hampshire) and we used a Clinton Innovation Award to create ‘Concert Corps’ – we took corps members on the road with (the popular band) Guster to do service on their tour. On tour, we did concert outreach, organized service events and did service learning workshops on college campuses.”
Jody: “Together, Matt and Bobby mobilized nearly half the corps to join Guster in shifts on tour for service. That was a big part of building Matt’s music and service background and I know he’s really proud of such a group effort coming from the site and corps. It was definitely a highlight for CYNH!”
Matt: “New Hampshire is a site where if people believe in you, they allow you to do stuff. I was working harder than I probably ever have, but every day I was excited to go to work. It’s a full-immersion experience. And people believed in us – they believed we were doing something important and that we were changing the world. Everything about City Year was such a semi-charmed experience.”
What became your LACY (Life After City Year)?
Jody met Matt at Summer Academy in 2006, and worked a year on staff with City Year Boston. She then joined the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston working in development, where she worked for Deb Re, who had been Executive Director of City Year Boston while Jody was serving with City Year. Later Jody joined Matt in the enterprise which has shaped the couple since 2008, when they joined forces with City Year Boston alum Sybil Gallagher. Gallagher is married to Chad Stokes, frontman for the bands Dispatch and State Radio, and she is tour manager for both.
Matt: “In the summer of 2007, presidential candidates were coming through New Hampshire. I had met the ServeNext guys, and they were trying to figure out a campaign strategy to put national service front and center in the campaign. I drove all over New Hampshire going to house parties and town hall meetings to try to ask questions on tape and get onto youtube, or organize Americorps and Peace Corps alums to ask questions and record it. So we got candidates to sign pledges (all democratic candidates and Mike Huckabee) saying they would expand Americorps.
“I wanted to try to do concert corps on my own, and it was a humbling experience trying to get a non-profit off the ground. Jody and I both went on tour with State Radio during fall ‘08 because they wanted to support Obama. While campaigning for Obama on the tour, I organized fans to campaign for Obama and they were only playing swing states, and we also did a handful of service projects.
“After the tour Sybil said she wanted to get together and debrief the tour. She said ‘Chad and I are going to start an organization called Calling all Crows, engaging fans in public service and ending violence against women around the world.’ She asked me to be a co-Director. It was intense. I said ‘Jody and I just got married, I can’t go on tour with a rock band,’ and they said ‘we want Jody to go on tour too.’ Now I can’t go anywhere without Jody or they get disappointed.”
Since 2008 Calling All Crows has mobilized fans to serve over 20,000 hours, investing in local communities across the country and Europe, usually through one-off service projects. Their campaigns have also impacted globally, including donations of $250,000 to protect and empower women around the world.
Matt: “We’ve moved from just organizing events to starting to work with other bands – most are linked with Chad in some way – and we’re trying to develop a model we can take to other bands. We’ve gone from some events where it was just be the band and crew showing up for a service project to a service project in Boston coming up where we’re going to have 200 fans – all making a $10 donation to the service partner, City Year Boston.”
The group will be painting the interior walls of Boston Arts Academy, which hasn’t been painted in 15 years. The event takes place on Saturday, October 6 and anyone interested can sign up at here.