Reconnecting with the Land with Movement Education Outdoors

The Providence-based organization gets young people outside — and connects them with the diverse histories of the land where they play.

On a hike. Photography by Dominique Sindayiganza.

Growing up on the South Coast of Massachusetts, Elizabeth Malloy had plenty of opportunities to get outdoors. The University of Rhode Island graduate studied wildlife conservation biology, sociology and journalism and later worked as a kayaking instructor and guide.


Elizabeth Malloy, program manager. Photography by Thomas Wright.

“My mom really liked being outdoors and I lived in the woods, but if I didn’t have that, I don’t even know where I would be today,” she says.

As a multiracial New Englander, she knows her experience wasn’t typical. Federal data reveals that people of color are vastly underrepresented when it comes to national park and forest usage, often due to historic barriers that go back generations. Malloy serves as the program manager for Movement Education Outdoors, an organization focused on reconnecting BIPOC and low-income youth from the greater Providence area with the land through hiking, kayaking, archery, farming and other outdoor activities. MEO uses mindfulness techniques and draws on local Black and Indigenous history to help young people experience joy in the outdoors.

“[It’s] giving them a sense of, ‘I belong here,’” Malloy says. “‘This is for people like me. This isn’t just for people who can afford to have access.’”


Founder and educator Jo Ayuso. Photography by Dominique Sindayiganza.

Jo Ayuso, a local educator and former personal trainer, founded the organization in 2018 to eliminate barriers to the outdoors for young people of color. Depending on the season, MEO participants can be found growing vegetables and learning about food justice at the former Sidewalk Ends Farm in Providence’s West End, kayaking the Narrow River or sailing on Narragansett Bay through a partnership with the Conanicut Island Sailing Foundation. Many of the programs offer leadership opportunities for high school students, and all provide equipment to young people who might otherwise not be able to participate.

“We don’t really think about it, but kids grow so fast, so to constantly be buying them swimsuits is not sustainable for a lot of people. Or we provide hiking boots or rain pants because those are more unreasonable for a lot of people to just have,” Malloy explains.


Learning about plants and gardening. Photography courtesy of Elizabeth Malloy.

Beginning in 2021, the organization partnered with the Nature Conservancy to occupy a former Girl Scout lodge on the King/Benson Preserve in Saunderstown. The lodge serves as a home base for programs and hosts intergenerational hikes where participants can bring family members. In the future, Malloy says, they plan to double down on programming and expand education to include Rhode Island’s rich aquaculture landscape. They’re also on the hunt for a new van to transport youth to and from their donation- and grant-funded programs.

“At the end of the day, the fact is that we’re not training youth for sports,” she says. “It’s not like we’re hiking to get somewhere or kayaking to be ripped. It’s a part of the journey; it’s a part of the experience. The goal is to be present with each other.”


Exploring Rhode Island rivers on kayaks. Photography courtesy of Elizabeth Malloy.