Ever since he was a child, Matt Hoidal had wanted to be an attorney. He studied hard, incurred incredible amounts of debt, and sacrificed a lot toward this goal—he even took and passed the Massachusetts bar exam. Yet when the time came, instead of realizing his dream in the courtroom, Matt chose a life that surprised everyone. The day he decided against joining the legal world, he told himself he’d never look back, but the decision itself was agonizing. Now, however, as he looks around with a huge grin at all of the love that surrounds him and the satisfaction he feels in his community at Camp Sunshine, he is quick to say that the rest was easy.
Matt didn’t know it at the time, but his path began to change in law school when a couple of his friends told him that they were going to run a marathon. Feeling restless as student, Matt thought he’d like to give such an intense experience a go. Matt told his brother, Dave, of his plan to run the 2000 Disney Marathon and Dave, too, jumped on board. They were excited about the new challenge, but when the two brothers thought about the marathon they realized just running a race in order to run it wasn’t enough. They wanted to have more of a reason, more of a goal. The solution seemed simple. The previous summer Matt had worked in the Charitable Trust Division at the Attorney General’s office in New Hampshire where he was exposed to a lot of different charities. Seeing all those organizations and their works, Matt was drawn to the idea that he could help too, that he could do some good for charitable causes. Matt and Dave decided they would turn their first marathon into their own personal charity event; they would raise money and run for a good cause. Just like that, the wheels were set in motion and Matt had stepped foot on a new road.
Initially Matt thought he’d raise money for children’s dental care to help children who couldn’t afford dentist visits and orthodontia work. The brothers established a nonprofit organization called Miles for Smiles. At the Attorney General’s office Matt had seen a lot of fledgling nonprofits managed by people who were far less responsible or reliable than he was, so he knew that he was capable of managing a small organization and giving the donations they’d receive to a charity after their marathon. Who to give the money to was the larger issue. But then Matt’s friend Jon Nass stepped in and told him about Camp Sunshine, a national non-profit retreat outside of Portland, Maine, for kids with life-threatening illnesses and their families. Jon’s now-wife and her family had been involved with Camp Sunshine and the place sounded amazing. Matt was hooked on the idea that the camp involved and supported whole families and went above and beyond to meet the medical, physical, and emotional needs of a family during their stay so that everyone could just relax and have fun. Children’s dental care was important, but this was something in which he really wanted to get involved.
“Matt came up with a plan to organize a charity run from Florida to Maine, with all proceeds going to Camp Sunshine…12 runners would run approximately 15 miles each day for 12 days.”
After running the marathon, Matt and Dave gave their donations to Camp Sunshine and were able to sponsor two families for their summer visit to the camp. Yet somehow, it didn’t seem like enough. Matt really liked the organization and the idea that they were helping the family was so unique and the people there were all so good-hearted, so dedicated and effective that he now wanted to do more. “I realized that not only did I love Camp Sunshine, but I loved this thing about reaching out to people and sharing something I was growing more and more passionate about. It just seemed natural and easy.”
Matt decided that he would commit to doing other marathons and raise more money for the camp. Then the idea of doing a much larger-scale run sort of came about. After graduating from Vermont Law School, Matt came up with a plan to organize a charity run from Florida to Maine, with all proceeds going to Camp Sunshine. He spoke with the camp founders, Larry and Anna Gould, who were on board with the idea. That summer, as he studied for his bar exam, Matt planned his run. His goal was to have 10 rotating runners who’d run a certain distance each day and who would each raise $10,000 for Camp Sunshine. Because most of the campers came from the eastern seaboard, the Florida to Maine journey seemed like a fitting route, where along the way they would stop at many of the hospitals that referred families to Camp Sunshine.
In between hitting the books Matt sent emails out to running clubs throughout the country asking people to participate in his run. The response wasn’t overwhelming, but it turned out to be just what he needed. In the end, there were 12 runners for the 2001 Miracle Marathon who hailed from as far away as Texas and California; there was even one runner from British Columbia.
As coordinator of the event, Matt helped the group raise their money while working on getting corporate sponsors for the team. One of the runners worked for Marriott, so they scored free accommodations at Marriott hotels at all of their stops. New Balance donated free running shoes and apparel, the Olive Garden restaurants donated meals for the runners to help them fuel up for free during the exhausting trip, and Jet Blue Airlines donated tickets to fly the runners to Florida and home from Maine. One company even donated two RVS as support vehicles for the trek. As far as money was concerned, some of the runners had raised $1,000 or $2,000, while others had raised substantially more than $10,000. All told, the outside support cut down costs tremendously and in the end they netted $90,000 for Camp Sunshine.
With Dave as an alternate runner and Matt’s college roommate Luke Wasserman (who helped Matt plan the event) and his sister Alexis joining the support crew, there were plenty of extra hands to help the event go smoothly. The people behind Camp Sunshine couldn’t have been more pleased with Matt’s passion and drive. In fact, right before leaving for Florida, Matt got a phone call—he was being offered the position as Executive Director of the camp. Matt politely turned it down. “I’d gone to law school and passed the bar. Working for the camp just wasn’t something I’d planned on doing.” But, in the back of his mind, a little voice starting buzzing and Matt found it hard to turn off.
Once the run was underway, Matt handled all the on-road logistics—where to stop for the night, stocking the vehicles with food and water, dealing with the media who met them in some locations along the way, and more. Although he was busy, with everyone (including himself) running about 15 miles a day, there was still plenty of time to think. “Somewhere around Delaware the phone rang and Larry Gould was on the phone. He congratulated us for getting so close, and at the end of the call said their offer still stood. I thanked him and said I’d continue thinking about it. I didn’t really have anything else to think about while I was running every day. Something inside just wanted to keep thinking about it and not give up on the idea.”
The run took a total of 12 days, finishing on Father’s Day at Camp Sunshine in Casco, Maine. When they arrived, Matt knew the time had come. Now so much more acquainted with the volunteers, donors, and staff at Camp Sunshine and familiar with the ins and outs of the organization, he realized that it would be incredibly difficult to leave all the good being done there behind in the rearview mirror. Thinking about what he brought to the table, Matt felt that the camp had two choices: hire him, a person who may not have the experience but certainly had the passion and commitment, or hire an experienced nonprofit director who had been in the profession for longer but might just want an easy position to slide into, somebody who didn’t care the way he did. He saw that he could make up for his inexperience with his passion and desire and he knew that being a lawyer was pretty much out of the question at this juncture. Meeting with Larry and Anna, he remembers taking a deep breath and saying something along the lines of “I’m interested in talking about the position now.”
Eight years later, Matt wakes up happy every single day. “It’s not a job; it’s a way of life for me. I love it—I love this place.”
For more information about Camp Sunshine visit www.campsunshine.org. To revisit the 2001 Miracle Marathon go to http://wolf1.com/~miraclem/index.htm.
Thank you Matt, for sharing your Story with us.
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© 2009 by Tamar Burris and Story of My Life®