CHEYENNE – Matt Snyder remembers something his father told him that’s influenced his life.
Growing up in New Jersey with cerebral palsy, it was physically difficult for Matt to participate in sports. But his father told him that, if he couldn’t play on the team, Matt could definitely manage the team.
Those were words he took to heart and, after graduating college, that’s exactly what he did – he went to work for an independent minor league baseball league that was just getting off the ground. Within a few years, he was managing the entire league.
It’s that attitude and refusal to give up that brought Matt to his current position as the executive director of the Wyoming State Advocates in Leadership, a not-for-profit based in Cheyenne and focused on advocacy for people with developmental disabilities. Matt took over the helm of WYSAIL in early June.
As important as those words his father told him years ago to getting Matt to where he is today, though, there’s a strong Goshen County connection he said was as vital – his wife, the former Johanna Swisher of Torrington.
WYSAIL may be just a bit different than other groups advocating for people with developmental disabilities. It’s focus is to “develop leaders … while learning and teaching skills needed to stand up for our rights and choices and communicate productively,” according to a group brochure. For Matt, it’s about teaching people to stand up for themselves and giving them the tools to do so.
“I was talking with a participant – one frustrating thing was as simple as not getting the correct change back,” Matt said. “Before she took the classes (at WYSAIL), she wouldn’t have asked. Now, she has the confidence to say, ‘That’s not right.’”
In other words, it’s said the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Well, Matt wants to teach people like him to be that squeaky wheel. It goes back to his father’s advice about running the team.
“Our community needs a bullhorn – it’s really important,” he said. “I can be a big mouthpiece.”
And Matt definitely found a soul-mate in Johanna, herself no stranger to volunteering and non-profits, a passion she said she got from her parents, Neal and Wanda Swisher. Matt recalled, on their first date, Johanna telling him she was part of a group trying to launch an opera company in the state – the Casper-based Opera Wyoming.
“My first inclination was, ‘Whaaaat?’” Matt said. “Then, she invited me to a concert - I sat in one of the first two rows and she and her friends opened their mouths and my jaw just dropped.
“But that’s kind of a thing about us that’s unique. A lot of what we’ve done, while discussing it, we’ve just looked at each other and said, ‘Why not?’ We’re a couple who says, ‘Why not?’ and wherever we need to be to help each other do it, we do.”
Johanna was also instrumental in starting Art 3-2-1, an artist guild in Casper providing lessons, creative space and exhibition opportunities to artists locally and statewide.
“Mom really drilled it in – you see a person struggling with something, go and ask them if they want help,” Johanna said.
She was one leg of the stool that got Matt to where he is today, he said. He also wouldn’t be leading the charge at WYSAIL without another Torrington individual, Shannon Buller who, at the time, served as director of the Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities. It was during a formal dinner in May 2019 that Matt introduced himself to Buller.
“I asked where she was from, she said she lived in Torrington for many years,” Matt recalled. “I asked, ‘Would you happen to know my fiance?’ Turns out they performed in community theater.”
Fast forward a year – Buller called Matt and told him about WYSAIL, asking if he’d be willing to lead the charge.
“I said, ‘I’d love to do that,’” he said. “But I couldn’t and I wouldn’t have this job and be able to do these things without (Johanna).
“She is incredibly inspiring to me,” Matt said. “We are an organization that’s rebuilding and Johanna will remind me it’s ok, we’re going through growing pains and to just remember what it’s for.”
A big challenge for WYSAIL is getting the word out, particularly in rural areas where services for people with developmental challenges may be few and far between. Matt said, while WYSAIL is still growing, he’d love to eventually see chapters in every part of the state.
For more information about WYSAIL and what it offers, contact the main office at 1810 Capital Avenue in Cheyenne or by phone at (307) 514-5700.