Group gives youth access to meaningful adventures, wellness

Group gives youth access to meaningful adventures, wellness

Jo Ayuso, founder of Movement Education Outdoors, right, has partnered with Andraly Horn, of Cumberland, to grow produce at his 2-acre farm to provide fresh food to 10 families in need this summer as a response to the pandemic. Horn is currently building a greenhouse to grow more produce over the winter to continue helping folks in need. (Breeze photo by Melanie Thibeault)
Partnership with Cumberland farm provides food for families in need

When Joann “Jo” Ayuso founded Movement Education Outdoors in 2018, her goal was to offer youth of color and with limited economic resources outdoor experiences and opportunities to learn about environmental issues.

While she’s kept busy fulfilling that goal by partnering with different youth-serving organizations, including Riverzedge Arts in Woonsocket, the Providence resident said she’s been hearing from many parents this year amid the pandemic asking how to sign their kids up for these activities. “Things have been picking up,” she told The Breeze.

As part of a response to the COVID-19 crisis Ayuso also partnered with Andraly Horn, a Cumberland resident who has a 2-acre farm, to grow and provide fresh produce to 10 families in need this summer.

Movement Education Outdoors, which is fiscally sponsored by Woonsocket-based YWCA of Rhode Island, mainly serves youth from Pawtucket, Central Falls, Woonsocket, and Providence, and allows them to attend these outings for free. The group serves all of Rhode Island and neighboring states.

As part of the group, youths are given the opportunity to experience wellness in outdoor settings and take part in mindfulness sitting sessions, mindful walking, hiking, camping, snowshoeing, canoeing, cross-country skiing, and more.

“MEO was founded with the knowledge that Rhode Island and southern New England have beautiful and historically unique outdoor spaces that all youth should have equitable chances to be in and enjoy,” states its website.

Ayuso, who noted she’s a staff of one, said she’s thinking of adding a schedule to her website that will let folks sign up for different upcoming events. While events are free for youth with financial need, she said she might allow youth with financial means to pay on a sliding scale.

Part of MEO’s mission is to “teach youth to become mindful of their body, aware of indigenous history and engaged in the natural world.”

For a lot of inner city adolescents, these trips offer many first opportunities, including the first time they’ve been away from home, the first time they’ve eaten s’mores around a campfire, or the first time they’ve seen a chipmunk or snake, Ayuso said. “It’s just really special to hear.”

Ayuso also teaches about the intersection of the environment and Black and Native history, which the kids note isn’t something they learn in school. When they’re taught about environmental issues, the focus is often on reducing plastic use, they said.

“It’s really sweet to hear the messages (from the kids),” she said.

Ayuso has worked as a self-care educator for 21 years and has a master’s degree in exercise science and physiology. She said she loves sharing her experiences and knowledge with the youth. “I just like being outside,” she added.

While monetary donations are always welcome, Ayuso said her greatest need is for gear for the students: boots, coats, tents, sleeping bags, etc. The greatest barrier for these youths is the cost of equipment, she noted. “It’s not cheap.”

If folks have been cleaning out this year or have gear hanging around that they don’t want, Ayuso will accept used donations. Contact her at ayusojoann@gmail.com or 401-314-9247.

She said she’s also looking for skills-based help, including with social media, newsletters, and grant writing.

When COVID-19 hit in March, Ayuso said she and Horn had a conversation about growing food to help people in need. Horn, who works as a massage therapist, has a farm on Kern Boulevard near the Diamond Hill Reservoir in Cumberland, and while he’s hosted a CSA in the past, he’s mostly concentrating on farming for family and friends now, he said.
Because Ayuso has become “such an integral part” of his life, Horn said, “I just wanted to help her in any way that I could with her organization.”

They obtained funding from a rapid response food distribution grant and hired some young folks to help. Horn has been growing produce including carrots, tomatoes, greens, beets, potatoes, and more, which they’ve provided to Akeem Lloyd, founder of Providence-based A Leadership Journey, who has been distributing the food to families in need. Ayuso said she’s also included recipes for the families to try.

“They’re getting fresh produce,” Horn said of the benefits of the donations. “Most people don’t get a chance to get fresh, organic produce.”

While the program will end soon, “we’ll still distribute food as long as we’re growing,” he said. Horn is currently building a greenhouse to grow over the winter to continue helping folks in need.

A Texas native, Horn said he’s been farming all his life and moved to Cumberland 13 years ago; his three children all graduated from Cumberland High School, he said.

He said he’s looking to turn the farm into more of an educational space to teach inner city kids about farming and where their food comes from. “Most kids today don’t know much about where their food is coming from,” he said.

Ayuso said she’s hoping to host more outings for youth this fall and winter.

For more on Movement Education Outdoors, visit www.meoutdoorsri.com .

Andraly Horn digs up potatoes at his 2-acre farm in Cumberland. Horn has been working with Jo Ayuso, founder of Movement Education Outdoors, to grow and distribute fresh produce to families in need during the pandemic.