Talk to D.C. native Monique Dailey for an hour, and you’ll find that she has endless stories to tell. She’s led a life chock-full of experiences, from volunteering with the Peace Corps to living in the Philippines. Now, she provides opportunities for D.C. youth to explore the outdoors through nonprofit City Kids Wilderness Project. She recently spoke with District Fray about her work, how she’s adjusted to life during the pandemic and what makes her tick via some rapid-fire questions.
District Fray: What do you hope to achieve at City Kids?
Monique Dailey: Our mission is to help D.C. youth build skills to be successful in life, and we do that through outdoor experiences and programming. We’re a long-term organization where youth start the program in sixth grade, and the overall goal is when they leave our program and graduate high school, they have leadership and teamwork skills, confidence and the ability to believe in themselves to do great things. That’s ultimately the end goal: to make sure they are resilient and proud of everything they have accomplished through the extensive array of programs we offer.
As a D.C. native, do you wish there was an organization like this when you were growing up?
I had this neighbor who introduced my friends and me to the outdoors. It was very unusual because I grew up in D.C. in a really rough neighborhood during the height of the crack epidemic. She was this older white lady who lived across the street from us walking her dog and we’d be like, “What is she doing?” We became curious and she started taking us on walks with her to Rock Creek Park. She decided to start this community organization called Neighbors United to Save the Community. In doing so, she found the Student Conservation Association [and suggested we join.] I was a participant in that program from the age of about 10 and did camping trips all over the place: Delaware, West Virginia, Virginia, the Shenandoah Mountains, Rehoboth Beach – places like that.
What drew you to this occupation?
I knew I wanted to be in youth development work. I knew I wanted to do outdoor work. My first job when I got back from the Peace Corps was actually with the Student Conservation Association. I had my dream job running programs with the youth. Because I was a participant in that program all throughout high school, I knew the value of organizations like City Kids, [which is] extremely unique given that it’s a seven-year continuum program.
Since many public parks and outdoor spaces have been shut down this spring, how have you been engaging with nature?
I am fortunate enough that my home in D.C. and my partner’s home in Memphis – where I’m staying right now – have access to a fair amount of outdoor spaces including my backyard, patio and parks. [At City Kids], we realized we would have to pivot pretty significantly in order to serve our population and ensure we were meeting our mission, but also be realistic about the realities of a global epidemic and how priorities shift. We built a combination of programming that included outdoor virtual adventures like virtual canoe trips, and utilized a significant amount of resources we found online through the National Park Service.
How have you changed your day-to-day routine during Covid-19?
I’ve very much enjoyed waking up at the very last minute right before I start working. You’re talking to me right now and I’m in my robe. So that’s been fantastic. In a lot of ways, my work-life balance has been good: being able to sleep in and not feeling rushed in the morning to do a ton of stuff before I head to the office.
What parts of pre-pandemic life do you miss most?
The thing I’ve struggled with most is not being able to see anyone. I haven’t seen my mom. My grandfather passed away during this pandemic, and we haven’t been able to have a funeral. A lot of people are dealing with grief in a very unique way. It’s been pretty difficult to shift how I communicate and connect with people, having to separate from people and adapt in a way that makes connection a challenge. Ultimately, I’m learning a lot of new ways to bring myself joy to deal with what the situation has brought. I think we are all collectively grieving something, whether it’s time with our friends or the death of family members. Having to deal with all of these things while being apart has been a shift.
What are your favorite D.C. activities? One of my favorite places to be outside is Anacostia Park. When I’m not outside, I prefer to do social activities with friends and family. What does your ideal day look like? Time spent outside and socializing in whatever way that means now with the people I love. What do you hope to accomplish in the future? I want to have a family at some point, but when it comes to my career, my ultimate goal is to be an executive director of a youth development nonprofit by my mid-40s. What is your favorite part of your job? Engaging with youth who bring joy to my life. How do you hope to help shape the next generation through your work? It has always been my dream to be in position to do impactful work. I hope to give resources to our youth to be successful. What is your most treasured memory? When I was 17, I spent a few weeks in the national forest in Idaho GPS mapping invasive plant species with the Student Conservation Association. I was challenged a lot during that trip, but it let me know I was capable of anything. Who in your life has impacted you the most? It’s really hard to pick one person. There’s a couple from North Carolina I met during a program in Georgia when I was a teen, and I stayed with them often afterward during college breaks. My neighbor Julie who introduced me to the outdoors. Akiima Price, my mentor to this day. My mom. Where do you go to take a breather? Malcolm X Park (Meridian Hill Park). It’s the best place to people-watch. What makes you happiest in life? Being around people and knowing I’ve built relationships that are impactful. Bringing joy to others. Hearing laughter. Having authentic connections. What is the best advice you could give to a young person living in D.C. right now? My advice to all youth is to explore. What was your biggest takeaway from your experience in the Peace Corps? I learned more about Americans while abroad than in America. Speaking with other volunteers helped me realize that life is so different for people from the same country. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live? Somewhere where there’s a beach. What makes you feel empowered? Feeling that people are listening to me to understand, not just to respond. What is the District’s best-kept secret? Anacostia Park. And Mama’s Pizza on MLK Avenue is the best pizza in D.C.
Enjoy this piece? Consider becoming a member for access to our premium digital content and to get a monthly print edition delivered to your door. Support local journalism and start your membership today.