When Wyatt Schroeder, the son of a mushroom farmer, was growing up in Kennett Square, Penn. – “the mushroom capital of the world – like most boys, his future eye was on baseball. “I wanted to play second base for the Chicago Cubs,” he says. Next, he thought maybe he’d play jazz trombone and be in punk rock bands on the side.
“But it was Boy Scouts that taught me the value of community service,” Schroeder says. “I knew I was going to be doing – something big and important.”
His first love was in protecting the environment and for his Eagle Scout project Schroeder built a 300-foot fence to protect a wetlands area that was part of a beautiful preserve. “I never thought I’d be in an urban environment,” he says. “Now, I want to work on urban issues and homelessness. That’s my life’s calling.”
Schroeder cut his teeth in community service working on political campaigns – including the first Obama campaign – during his college years, where he majored in political science. After graduating, he went to Washington, D.C. and worked a year at AmeriCorps, where he “randomly fell into housing,” working with low-income home repairs. He also worked in a domestic violence shelter then moved to Philadelphia where he focused on homelessness issues.
After Schroeder got his MBA at Villanova University in 2014, “I hooked on a U-Haul and drove West,” he says. “I wanted to feel like I was part of shaping something.”
Originally hired on as a consultant by CATCH’s previous executive director, it soon became apparent Schroeder had more to offer. Much more.
The organization was in dire straits. A three-year grant that was sustaining it as 50 percent of its funding was due to run out. The line of credit was maxed out. Many thought the end was near. “It was a moment where the future of our great work looked in jeopardy,” says Andrew Kukla, pastor and head of staff at First Presbyterian Church in Boise, and one of CATCH’s partners. “I met with Wyatt and it was clear that he was the leader to turn our work around. Wyatt was hired, and without hyperbole, that has made all the difference.”
Through collaboration with the City of Boise and other local partners, Schroeder implemented Housing First strategies, decreased expenses by more than 40 percent and even so, successfully graduated more families from the program in 2015 – 65 – than in 2014 (58). The organization was able to begin 2016 with operating cash in the bank account, a paid-off line of credit, “and a dedicated team of case managers that are now better able to end homelessness for families in the Treasure Valley,” Schroeder says.
Much of the turn-around can be attributed to Schroeder’s collaborative talents, say those who work closely with him on ending homelessness. He has “always been ready to find common ground and work toward evidence-based solutions,” says Diana Lachionda, director of community partnerships for the City of Boise. CATCH is expanding, “driving deeper and wider to end homelessness in the Treasure Valley because of Wyatt’s vision to pursue the right solutions,” Kukla says. He leads by example and is “the most collaborative person in the room. He is the young leader that every community needs.”
Schroeder says the best advice he ever received was from his father. “He told me that life isn’t linear. You take the next opportunity because you’re passionate about it. If you’re too linear it’s too restrictive and life isn’t linear anyway.”
He’s traded the trombone for the guitar these days and, while he still dreams of being in a rock band – “they would be the Boise Potato Mashers” – these days he plays with a band called Chamber Folk and in his church. He’s a die-hard Cubs fan, loves backpacking, and is most happy that he has been able to prove his mettle.
“I was told that coming to Boise would be career suicide,” Schroeder says. “’You need more time in the slow cooker. Maybe in 10 years you can make an impact.’ Coming to Boise wasn’t a career killer for me. It’s actually the exact opposite.”
Most memorable airplane trip: “I took a trip in Alaska, backpacking in Denali (National Park and Preserve). We took a puddle-jumper and landed in this gorgeous glacier lake. You’re able to feel a part of the landscape. It’s a great way to connect with nature, even in a steel trap.”