Meet Trainer, Orlando Lugo, the new face of Thrive Outside’s Family Hike Series. Orlando’s personal odyssey has been deeply rooted in nature.
“I grew up playing in the woods and making treehouses,” Orlando Lugo says of his early childhood in the Dominican Republic. “When we came to Providence, off Broad street, it’s like you’re going from being in the woods to just pavement.”
To get his nature fix and outdoor time, Orlando would ride his bike, play basketball, and explore Roger Williams Park where many of his baseball games took place.
“I’ve always liked riding my bike and being outdoors, but I think it was after college, when I was done with baseball, that I started running.” Around this time Orlando started participating in obstacle courses, and realized that taking his running off of the roads and onto the trails would be much better for his knees and his body overall.
“When I got to Weetamoo Woods, I was like, wow, this is unreal running on trails. It’s almost like boxing with your feet because you are constantly changing where your feet are hitting the ground”. Running the trails required a level of focus that he hadn’t experienced before, and provided an opportunity to be fully immersed in nature. He was hooked.
Fast forward to 2022, when Orlando was approached by Thrive Outside director, Shannon Rozea, to help reinvigorate the organization's Family Hike Series.
“While the series has been successful in bringing families out to experience multiple beautiful trails in Rhode Island, we noticed that our group of loyal hikers was not necessarily expanding," remarked Rozea. She decided to set out to make the hikes more accessible and to attract families living in urban areas, hoping to increase the number of participants and the diversity of the group.
Orlando was quick to offer his services as hike leader, motivator, and fitness expert.
Meanwhile, Thrive Outside was researching how to engage families living in inner city Providence. While brainstorming ways to overcome some of the barriers preventing people from joining our hikes, Thrive Outside received an incredible opportunity to collaborate with University of Rhode Island students enrolled in Professor Chiara Deltito’s Education and Social Justice class.
Part of their course involved working on an advocacy project with a local community partner to mitigate a disparity relating to race, gender, sexual preference, ability, age, language, ethnicity, or religion. The timing was perfect to explore ways to encourage more people to join our hikes.
The students tackled issues such as identifying accessible hiking locations, researching varied attitudes toward hiking, designing a promotion strategy to reach new potential hikers, and creating graphics for advertising the hike. The students found the work to be gratifying.
“Many of the younger generations these days do not share the same passion towards nature as generations before,” commented student Victoria Huggins. Student Eric Connolly enjoyed “helping to provide a chance for multiple children to get engaged and involved with the outdoors”.
The students suggested a city-based, bus-accessible hike location at Neutaconkanut Hill, and per their recommendation the hike was promoted in Spanish and English through new channels using our new graphics. Orlando met the hikers at the skater park, and led the small group up the steep hill to a beautiful view overlooking the city of Providence.
While the hike did not draw an increased number of participants, the Thrive Outside team remains encouraged. “This hike brought us out of our own comfort zone a bit and provided some of our loyal hikers with an enriching nature experience in the middle of the city. While we have a ways to go in reaching our goal, each attempt is still valuable,” noted Teacher Professional Development Director, Sheila Dobbyn.
Orlando was equally encouraged. He remarked how he had grown up going to the public pool at Neutaconkanut Park, but never realized that this amazing nature preserve was here.
He went on to explain how his immigrant parents were always hard at work trying to make a living and didn't have the time or energy for hikes.
He left excited about the possibilities of giving kids, who were like himself as a child, an opportunity to have a nature immersion experience.
It is these experiences, after all, that truly shape a child. As little hiker, Eve Mark, remarked, “My favorite part of the hike was the strange bush I saw of grass with leathery ends...and the clouds were in strange shapes and we saw a blue jay.”
With Orlando at the helm, the future is looking bright as Thrive Outside forges a new trail.
Sheila Dobbyn is Thrive Outside's Teacher Professional Development Director