The Power of Small: A Lesson in Making Change

“The power of small is a wonderful thing, especially when potential is mighty.” That’s the message that Matt Hoidal ES’89 is trying to teach kids through his non-profit, World of Change. As chief change maker, Matt is dedicated to educating young students on the power of philanthropy to create meaningful change.

Matt’s world changed when a brochure about SYA opened a door that he feels lucky to have walked through. His curiosity compelled him to spend his junior year in Barcelona rather than remain at his suburban boarding school.  He says SYA Spain opened his senses to community and the opportunities to connect with others. Beyond using his language skills as a tool to connect with people in professional and personal lives, Matt said “It also helped me step outside myself, making me more aware of a world much larger than the one I was accustomed to.” Since then, those doors have continued to open.

A graduate of Vermont Law School, Matt worked at the Legal Aid Society of New Hampshire, in the Charitable Trusts Division in the Office of the New Hampshire Attorney General and was a legal assistant working on South American corporate finance matters. These experiences enabled him to use his Spanish skills and also opened his eyes to nonprofit work and human needs. “At some point it occurred to me that I might be able to use my skills and passions in service to others,” he said.

With this awareness came a deep sense of responsibility borne out of gratitude and empathy. While still in graduate school, Matt and his brother ran the Disney Marathon and started looking for a great cause to support. A friend alerted him to Camp Sunshine, a national retreat for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. Following a tour of the camp, they committed to raising money to sponsor families, and after receiving a thank-you letter from one of the recipient families, Matt organized a run from Florida to Maine. Enlisting a team of 12 runners from around the country, they raised over $90,000. 

Matt was offered the job of executive director, and after some soul-searching, he decided to go for it. “Despite having wanted to become an attorney since I was a kid, Camp Sunshine showed me that you can be passionate about things you never even knew you could be passionate about, until you walk through those doors that open for you. And the doors will continue to open, one after another,” he said. For the last two decades, Matt has served in non-profit leadership roles. “The nonprofit world made my heart beat faster and stronger than anything else ever had.”

After 13 years at Camp Sunshine and three at The United Way of Greater Portland, Matt pursued his idea of creating World of Change. “More than the value of the language as a communication tool, my year abroad gave me courage to pursue starting World of Change, something I had dreamt about for years. Courage, conviction and communication are three very powerful traits that SYA helped me discover.” World of Change was launched on Valentine’s Day 2017 and it’s Matt’s dream job. His passion for language also led him to start teaching Spanish two years ago at a small Maine island school to 30+ students, one day a week.

 Whether he’s engaging kids in classrooms at schools or at summer camps, Matt and World of Change empower students, using the $10 billion in estimated change sitting idle in the U.S. alone as a way to illustrate potential to young change makers. By collecting loose change and deciding where the change will go, they learn how a little thing can make a big difference.

“This is something we are very proud of because it empowers young people to learn about numerous challenges their communities face and gives them the opportunity to support causes they truly believe in. For every little bit we can do the first time, we can do it again, and better the next time.”

During a recent visit to Falmouth (Maine) Elementary school, Matt brought a change truck so that students could donate change to some local causes of their choosing. The truck was equipped with six slots, labeled: education, animals and nature, health, play, housing and food. The activity provided them with a chance to give back to the community with a service learning activity, in addition to providing an opportunity to practice math skills. Students helped to fund swim lessons, purchase beds, meals and backpacks filled with books for kids in need, and provide pet therapy, summer camperships, groceries and fuel for families of kids with cancer. Watch this short video from this school visit.

 “The opportunity to have a vision, and to pursue it, with a board of directors and group of founding donors who have so generously rallied behind the effort — is truly special and heartwarming, “ said Matt.“Our school and camp partners are all so enthusiastic about our mission to help youth discover and fulfill their capacities as change makers. Granted, just like any start-up, there are challenges and days that are harder than others, but World of Change took off right from the start. We’ve been building a movement ever since, with 49 schools and camps in seven states partnering with us in just two years.”

Matt remembers spending weeks with his grandparents on their farm in Collingwood, Ontario, where his grandfather would pay him one penny for every weed pulled from the garden. His biggest payday was when he pulled 6,200 weeds, netting $62. That was a lot of money for an 11 year old and it taught him how small things can add up in big ways. That’s the message he’s trying to teach kids through World of Change.

About Matt Hoidal ES’89

Matt attended SYA as a junior from The Hill School, and graduated from St. Lawrence University (BA, 1994) and Vermont Law School (JD, 2000). He is a former senior vice president of Resource Development & Marketing for the United Way of Greater Portland and former executive director of Camp Sunshine in Casco, Maine, a national nonprofit retreat for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. Matt worked in the Office of the New Hampshire Attorney General (Charitable Trusts Division), New Hampshire Legal Aid and Sullivan & Cromwell in New York City. He is a trustee of the Camp Timanous Foundation and has served on the national Board of Directors of SADD, Inc. (Students Against Destructive Decisions) and on the Board of the Governor Baxter School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Maine. Previous volunteer work has also included serving with the WCSH 6 Who Care Board of Governors and the Maine Marathon Committee. Matt is a longstanding member of the Massachusetts Bar Association.


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