Primary Day is typically an all-hands-on-deck affair for the Granite State’s elected officials, but New Hampshire Representative Matt Wilhelm ’04 had a more pressing commitment in the nation’s capital. He’ll still be in the political mix, however, spending his day with luminaries like civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis and fellow Friends of National Service Award recipients.
“It’s pretty humbling to be listed among those folks,” says Wilhelm, who, as National Service Advocate of the Year, will be acknowledged for his exemplary dedication, creativity, and results in building support for national service among our nation’s leaders. “One of my big passions is expanding opportunities for young Americans to serve their country and community, and really creating a common expectation—a cultural expectation—for every young person to do a year of voluntary paid national service,” he says.
The Nashua native’s journey to national honor accelerated while at Plymouth State. “I showed up not sure what I wanted to do with my life, but knew that I wanted to stay in New Hampshire and get a good education. The community is pretty unique among college campuses and I learned a lot about different ways one can serve.”
His first-year community service orientation made a positive first impression. Wilhelm went on to take an active role on campus, serving as both student body president and student senate speaker, and receiving the Dedication to Student Development Award and the Harold E. Hyde Student Senator of the Year Award. A communication studies major with a minor in political science, he also brought musical acts to PSU that shared his belief in giving back to the community.
“When I graduated, I knew I was drawn to service and found an opportunity to continue through AmeriCorps,” he says. His work as an AmeriCorps team leader with City Year New Hampshire has been followed by additional service positions in Manchester, where he has organized volunteers, raised funds for worthwhile causes, and built community connections.
Wilhelm currently serves as director of the Old Sol Alliance, Inc., whose centerpiece project to date was helping to inspire the renovation of the formerly dilapidated Rex Theatre. “We pitched a vision through the New Hampshire Social Innovation Challenge to renovate the Rex and turn it into a concert venue and community space,” he says. His group’s winning proposal was a public/private/nonprofit model that leverages the theatre to create positive community impact. Last fall, the Rex Theatre reopened in downtown Manchester and is operated by the Palace Theatre Trust.
New Hampshire’s workforce challenges include struggling to attract and retain young people and the high cost of higher education. Upon joining the legislature in 2018, Wilhelm formed a commission to study pathways from AmeriCorps programs, to postsecondary education, and then on to careers. “We want to find ways to keep more of these service-driven and community-minded young people in our state,” he says.
He was prime sponsor of a bill that passed unanimously with bipartisan support in both houses and became law last summer. “We’ve immediately gotten to work on this,” says Wilhelm, who hopes to bring the commission to PSU this semester during its fact-finding tour.
Wilhelm’s national and statewide efforts are complemented by continued interest in his alma mater. He and his wife, Jody, established the Ut Prosim Scholarship last year to assist AmeriCorps veterans attending PSU. The University’s transformation and embrace of new academic and operational models is being watched closely in Concord, Wilhelm notes. “As someone who personally sought out opportunities for service learning, it’s exciting.”