Our new Camp Director, Montae Franklin, is a City Kids alum and former staff member! He met with Yael Schoenbaum, our new Development and Communications Manager, to share and reflect on his experiences, the impact of City Kids on his personal and professional development, and the significance of being a leader at such an influential organization for him.
A FORMATIVE TIMELINE WITH CITY KIDS
Montae started at City Kids as an 11 year old camper in 2003 and stayed in the program until his high school graduation. It’s been a few years since Montae has spent a full summer at camp, but he has returned in many different roles over the years, both in DC and on the Ranch in Wyoming to make sure he’s “staying grounded with the kids.” Montae has been a volunteer, a camp counselor and most recently returned to City Kids last year to help run the alumni program. His deep connection with City Kids and its alumni made him perfect for every role he’s played.
The City Kids Alumni Program aims to establish regular check-ins and support with graduated youth, offer mentorship and career planning assistance, provide post-secondary education and job coaching, organize alumni outdoor adventures and networking gatherings, and offer volunteer engagement and job opportunities within City Kids programs.
PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
City Kids has had a profound impact on Montae’s personal and professional growth. He says, “The trips that I did as a camper, junior staff, or even a counselor … really helped build my mental health … and resilience. A trip could start out, the first two days, it’s like the worst days of your life. But when the trip ends, you realize it was the best point of your life, and it helped me realize if I put my mind to it I can do anything I want. As cliche as it sounds, I think that’s true: if you got a plan, and you get some support behind you, I really do believe you could do anything.”
THE FULFILLMENT OF GIVING BACK
Becoming a leader at an organization that was formative in his life holds immense meaning for Montae: “It’s always been a goal of mine to … build up the kids of tomorrow.” He describes being Camp Director as a surreal experience, filled with gratitude and purpose. Transitioning from a corporate job to a full-time role at City Kids, Montae highlights how the move aligns with his goal of giving back to the community and fills his heart in ways other jobs have not. The opportunity to guide and support the campers, helping them discover the world beyond their neighborhoods and fostering personal growth, resonates deeply with his values.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF MONTAE’S ROLE
Montae hopes his presence as Camp Director holds immense meaning for the campers. Having grown up in the City Kids program himself, his familiarity with the program and his deep understanding of its transformative power make him an ideal leader to guide and support participants. “I have always wanted to be a bridge between campers and counselors, and just help them see someone they can relate to and feel comfortable talking to. For the kids to see a Black male in Wyoming and running the camp now is very important.”
When asked Montae what he’d share if he could address himself as a young camper, Montae knew right away. He shared that he grew up among poverty, and “just because you come from poverty doesn’t mean you have a broken home, or you don’t have the same support system that you need.” Nonetheless, he reflected that a goal of his growing up was to “defy the odds”—
“I had this fantasy career to be an engineer. … As a kid, I felt like I needed this important job so I could feel important or feel needed in a way. So I would say to myself as a camper, figure out what you love and make that your career, not just being an engineer because society puts this pressure on you to be something. … In this role [as Camp Director] I feel important, I feel wanted. This feeds my heart … This is where I want to be. It makes me happy to be here … I realize I am important no matter where I go, and it starts with yourself, to make yourself feel that.”
This year, nearly 25% of camp staff are City Kids alumni! Robert, a counselor on staff this year, was Montae’s camper when Montae first joined on staff. On the significance of so many alumni at camp this year, Montae jokes, “It means I’m old! But it just signifies the importance of keeping your alumni around, because that’s what’s going to keep the program going.”