Voices of the Bay: Warren’s Sheila Dobbyn Wants Kids to Thrive Outside

A non-profit development director and parent on creating safe outdoor learning zones


Sheila Dobbyn grew up spending much of her childhood outdoors exploring nature. A lifelong passion for environmental literacy led her to get involved with Thrive Outside, an East Bay non-profit partnering with community spaces and schools to design dynamic safe outdoor learning zones, all complemented by professional teacher development and outdoor educational training. The Warren native initially served as a board member before spearheading fundraising and development efforts in 2022. A graduate of Connecticut College with a degree in psychology-based human relations and French, Dobbyn was a soccer player, including her sophomore year when the team was inducted into the College Athletic Hall of Fame, and serving as captain her senior year. After college Dobbyn used her six-month experience living and teaching English in Mexico in her role as the international student advisor for the English Language Center, formerly located at Roger Williams University. When the office closed, she started Dobbyn Homestay, working with international students and host families. The mother of two school-aged children spent five years on the Bristol Warren Education Foundation Board.


GET OUTSIDE: During the pandemic, the mask breaks [in the elementary schools] became really important. Teachers saw that if kids can be outside and not have to wear masks, they’ll spend a little more time outside and have a more normal life. Teachers made the connection to outdoor education and the benefits that naturally happen when you bring kids outside to learn.


IMPACT: Thrive approached Kickemuit Middle School with an Outdoor Learning Zone. It will function as a shared community space outside of the school. The number of students impacted is 684 – plus Hugh Cole Elementary School and Warren residents.


FUNDING: The school district received a $100,000 grant from Rhode Island Department of Education as part of an initiative to create outdoor classrooms. It covers the most basic elements of the design. It was an exciting stamp of approval for the type of work that we’re doing. An additional $10,000 comes from Eastern RI Conservation District for the growing garden portion. Thrive is working to raise an additional $190,000 to bring some exciting elements of the designs to fruition, including a ropes course for team building and leadership.


STEPPING UP: People’s Credit Union was the first business to join our Funders Collaborative. Environmental literacy and hands-on learning is really important to them. Ongoing general partners include Portsmouth’s Domina’s Agway, Rhode Races, and NuGen Capital.


RELATIONSHIPS: One of the main skills I learned from my Bristol Warren Education Foundation work was fundraising with business partnerships and sponsorships: developing those relationships and understanding how to celebrate them and communicate to the community what the business is actually doing with its charitable giving. It ties back to when I was developing relationships with local families to help international students. The element of trust is crucial. The exciting part about development work is that people [and businesses] have an opportunity to invest in ideas that they really believe in.



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  • EileenAbbott

    Excellent and positive story, Nina Murphy!

    Friday, June 14 Report this