Q&A with TOMODACHI Program Participants and TOMODACHI Alumni: Matthew Winders
Matthew Winders is an alumnus of the 2022 Building the TOMODACHI Generation: Morgan Stanley Ambassadors Program. Currently, he is a student at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) at Manchester majoring in public service and nonprofit management.
Matthew’s passion lies within the commitment to public service. He has tremendous experience with volunteering among numerous organizations with diverse cultures and objectives. He is currently one of the Trustees of the Trust Fund in his city, where he handles the proper appropriation of the city’s funds, as well as the investments, scholarships, and fund requests. In April 2023, he was awarded the University of New Hampshire President’s Leadership Award, recognizing his service to the community through his involvement with the city of Rochester, his hometown. He has assisted the Rochester City Clerk’s office in at least 6 elections over the years. One of his ultimate goals in his career is to be a unique asset to a progressive and collaborative organization.
Q1. In our interview you talked about your passion in regards to “commitment to public service.” Could you explain more about that and what led your passion towards this?
To point back to a very specific date, September 10th 2016, a date that I will never forget. This was the day of the first gay pride event here in Manchester. During that time, I was really down, and I didn’t know what was happening, what I wanted to do, I was still in the closet. I was so sad and down. I went to this event with my friend and the sense of community that I saw, seeing that there was an organization and people that really cared about these issues and that were like me was amazing! From that time I felt that I needed to get involved in this organization that put this on. So I found out it was the Rochester Main Street Board of Directors and contacted the director and asked, how can I get involved in this organization and how can I try to make a difference. The director said he was looking for a student representative. At the time I was a freshman in high school. I decided to join the board. I was terrified as 16 years old but it was great.
I learned so much about non-profit leadership, I made so many connections, lifetime mentors and friends. From there I gained so many different opportunities and I was just able to do so much on that board. I ran clean up days, I helped run other community events, I volunteered a lot and I got informational interviews and I just felt good. I got a lot out of it and then I also was able to give a lot back to my community that made me feel welcome.
Q2 Why do you think this is an important topic that the younger generation should participate?
I believe this is important because you can make a community a better place by participating. At Great Bay Community College and a military school I went to, they both had a form of student government, but UNH at Manchester did not. So I worked with many students and faculty members to create one. After ten months, I was the first president. We created forms for students safety, worked with the deans office to get more accessible seating and made sure that students’ voices were heard. Student government in my university started because we were involved! We didn’t have this before but because of students voicing their concerns, we were able to change this. If we didn’t get involved we were able to change things.
I want to point out that the younger generation should be educated about what benefits to the community and also to themselves. I feel that there is a stigma around public service that someone who is a good public servant must be a hundred percent committed to it and nothing else, but I disagree with that because you have to be committed to yourself to help others. If you are only giving to others and do not take care of yourself, you will eventually burn out. You have to take care of yourself, headspace to better serve your community.
Q3 Do you have any advice for those who are also interested in public service?
First, do not give up! It can be really stressful and sad sometimes because you always have to work with many people involved and it could take time to get their approval. But if you don’t give up, you can make things happen so please don’t give up. Second, reach out. Here in the U.S., there are so many boards and commissions that always look for younger people to be involved. So if you are interested in local government, you can reach out to your public affairs person in your city, they will be able to help you or reach out to local nonprofits. You can also research non-profits and find ones that really connect to your values. That’s really important because you should be passionate about what you’re doing.
Q3 What are your ambitions for the future?
I would like to go to grad school, and get my MPA (Masters in Public Administration).
One of my passion projects that I worked on was on the EFC (Estimated Family Contribution). The EFC is an index number used to determine your eligibility for federal student financial aid. Here in the U.S., you can get a number from the federal government and you can submit that to a lot of scholarships to determine financial need. As a trustee of my city, we hold scholarships funds that are interesting to us and then we write out the criteria based on those funds to then distribute them through our scholarship committee and before we would only look at the EFC to determine the financial need, but because of how it is calculated it is not always accurate so it can inflate someone’s ability of pay for school.
So we created a special circumstance line form where people can write their special circumstances on it so that people can actually explain their situations. During this process of trying to get this done, I was told “no” so many times by people involved in the process that I needed approval. At times, I felt like I was taking one step forward and two steps back, but eventually we made it happen! I was really happy at the difference that I could make and I hope to continue to be involved in things like this in the future!
Q4 In your TOMODACHI program, you created a presentation with your team, could you please tell us more about that.
I was a part of the Team Mirai Innovators. The project was working on educating women in Japan about mental health and providing them with different resources. We identified the problem that 60% of Japanese women ages 20 to 30 feel lonely on a daily basis because of the lack of openness of mental health discussion and interactions with others, and came up with this project to create a safe and accepting forum for them to learn about and discuss mental health. Mental health is such a big problem now in the U.S. and Japan. There’s a lot of stigma around it in both countries. Our goal was to try to bring people with similar problems and situations together to be able to communicate and hopefully get through together.
Q5 What does TOMODACHI mean to you?
I really like the idea of TOMODACHI, bringing two cultures together and working on a project together with people from different countries. When the Japanese students explained their situation and their country, I found it really interesting because our two countries are so different but we have a lot of similar issues. I’d like to engage in more activities provided by TOMODACHI going forward.