Manny Almonte Awarded NRF’s 2023 Crawford Prize

"We all belong outdoors. We all want to be seen. We all want to be heard. We all want to be understood. When we create spaces for that to happen and we use nature to activate all of our senses and to remove the focus of technology from our lives, beautiful things can happen." – MANNY ALMONTE, 2023 Crawford Prize Recipient

Crawford Prize

Manny Almonte was awarded the 2023 Robert W. Crawford Prize at the Annual Meeting of the Board of Trustees of the National Recreation Foundation (NRF) held in Durham, NC. The Prize was presented to Almonte by NRF Trustee José González.

Almonte is a founder of the nonprofit organization Young Masterminds Initiative. NRF specifically recognized Almonte for his creativity, dedication and steadfast commitment to changing the lives of young Black and Brown men through Young Masterminds Initiative’s Camping to Connect program and for his powerful work to increase access and inclusion for BIPOC youth in the outdoors.

Camping to Connect
Photo courtesy of Young Masterminds Initiative

Growing up in the bustling city of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, Almonte sought peace and freedom during weekend, holiday and summer visits to his father’s home in Bonao, an inland town at the foothills of the Pico Duarte mountains.

“I was able to experience nature beyond the beach. Usually, you think of the Caribbean Sea and how beautiful the beaches are, but when you go into the land, you find beautiful mountains, streams and wildlife—and that is something that I always looked forward to,” said Almonte. “I didn't experience nature intentionally; it was simply life.”

Today, Almonte shares that way of life with young men of color from New York City and Denver through Camping to Connect, which uses outdoor recreation to instill self-reliance, healthy lifestyle choices, leadership, introspection and brotherhood. “In the quiet of the forest, we hold conversations on topics like race, masculinity and mental health that tackle the meaningful issues these youth face in America’s cities,” said Almonte. “These trips also show our young participants and their families that America’s outdoor spaces are safe and theirs to benefit from, too.”

Mastermind Connect
Photo courtesy of Mastermind Connect

Camping to Connect’s volunteer mentors are from Mastermind Connect, a nationwide collective (founded by Almonte) of progressive men of color who support one another to become the best versions of themselves.

“Mentoring these young men is our way to give back and work with younger versions of ourselves. There was so much we needed to learn, relearn, unlearn [like generational trauma and boundaries we had set for ourselves based on fear] and overcome. This is the catalyst for our work with the young men,” said Almonte. “We understand that someone has to share these experiences with them—to go out into nature with them and help them see and feel the healing power of nature, to connect with nature and to connect with each other and, more importantly, to connect with themselves.”

Wood Hood
Photo courtesy of Young Masterminds Initiative

The power of connection to nature is highlighted in the award-winning short film, Wood Hood, which follows a group of young men on a wilderness journey with Camping to Connect. Produced by Almonte and Young Masterminds Initiative co-founder, Andy Isaacson, Wood Hood champions justice, equity, diversity and inclusion in the outdoors and urges viewers to recognize the power and potential of a world where nature is accessible and inclusive for all.

Reflecting on the Crawford Prize, Almonte said, “It is an honor to receive this award and to be respected by those who understand the value of investing in a community beyond its immediate neighbors. Young Masterminds Initiative has been asked to collaborate and expand our Camping to Connect program all over the country, from the Bay Area to Portland, Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta and Texas. The prize money is going to allow us to build capacity, hire staff and expand so we can do more of this good work.”

Presented annually since 2002, the Robert W. Crawford Achievement Prize recognizes a person dedicated to enhancing recreation opportunities for youth, making it possible for more young Americans to live healthy, participatory lives, thus reinforcing the work of the Foundation. Each year, the Prize is awarded to a person, professional or volunteer, who has made an extraordinary contribution in advancing recreation programs for youth from disadvantaged circumstances.

The Prize winner then directs the $50,000 cash prize to support the nonprofit of their choice that addresses the needs of disenfranchised youth through outdoor recreation.

Almonte and Crawford Family
Manny Almonte (center), 2023 Prize winner, with three generations of Robert W. Crawford's decedents (including NRF Trustee Bob Crawford, second from right).