Press Releases

Outward Bound Education Center and Thompson Island to be Named in Honor of Cathleen D. Stone for a Lifetime of Environmental Activism, Community Service, and Commitment to Equity and Education


Boston — Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center (TIOBEC) today announced a $12 million unrestricted gift, the largest in the Boston-based nonprofit organization's history, from the James M. and Cathleen D. Stone Foundation.

For more than four decades, TIOBEC has provided experiential learning opportunities to thousands of children, teens, and adults each year. This transformative gift will allow TIOBEC to enhance its programs and partnerships, expand its team to meet the growing need for hands-on climate change learning, and create new educational opportunities for students and visitors alike.

In 1833, a group of concerned Boston citizens established a unique educational institution on Thompson Island. Since then, the Island has continuously served as the site of innovative programs that have influenced the lives of young people from the city’s under-resourced communities in ways that are tangible and long lasting.

Today, TIOBEC provides Boston Public Schools students with the opportunity to build academic, life, and career skills, from natural resource management and environmental conservation to scientific research, and carpentry. The nonprofit’s immersive, evidence-based programs blend STEM and social-emotional learning, leveraging the Outward Bound methodology, which emphasizes experiential learning and bringing out the best in every individual through challenge and discovery. TIOBEC also offers programming to youth groups, the business community, visitors, and area residents.

This contribution comes at a time when TIOBEC is finalizing its bold new strategic plan, which includes a significant emphasis on climate education and the adoption and promotion of a Green Economy.

“Climate change disproportionately impacts communities of color, and its negative effects are evident on Thompson Island, one of the area’s most biodiverse coastal habitats,” said Sylvia Watts McKinney, CEO and President of TIOBEC. “I believe that expanding our programming to include climate resiliency education will prepare Boston Public Schools primary and secondary school students for careers in the green sector and inspire a new generation of Black and Brown environmental activists.”

The Stone Foundation gift will also allow TIOBEC to renovate existing structures, build new facilities, and care for the Island ― all with an emphasis on climate resiliency ― and create new exhibits to showcase often untold stories of indigenous communities and the Island’s social, historical, environmental, and political impact on Massachusetts.

In recognition of Ms. Stone’s contributions to the creation of the Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park, her dedication to environmental stewardship and civic engagement, and her support for TIOBEC, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to rename the organization the Cathleen Stone Island Outward Bound Education Center and the island Cathleen Stone Island.

“I can’t think of a more appropriate way to honor Cathy’s vision, investment and impact on the Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park as a classroom and living laboratory for generations of Boston’s youth, past, present, and future,” said Kathy Abbott, President and CEO of Boston Harbor Now. 

“For centuries, women have made significant contributions to the Commonwealth and the City of Boston, yet few have been acknowledged in such a prominent way,” said Mark Keating, Chair of the TIOBEC Board of Trustees. “Throughout her distinguished career and as an environmental activist, philanthropist, child advocate, and tireless volunteer, Cathleen Stone has been a changemaker who has had a profound impact on individuals and institutions. By redoubling our efforts in climate education and conservation efforts, we will honor Cathleen’s legacy and inspire others to create positive change.”

Cathleen D. Stone was of counsel and a past partner of the Boston law firm Foley, Hoag & Eliot, where her practice encompassed environmental and administrative law issues. In 1994, she was appointed the City of Boston's first Chief of Ecological Services. In this role, Ms. Stone helped launch "Sustainable Boston" and was a part of the team that created the Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for Boston Harbor Now, the Wilderness Society, and as a member of the Honorary Committee of the Museum of African American History (MAAH) Stone Book Award.

She served as a commissioner for the Boston Water and Sewer Commission for over twenty-five years. She also served as Chair of the Board of Directors for the Museum of African American History and as a member of The Nature Conservancy, National Public Radio, the Supreme Court Historical Society, WBUR, and MATCH Public Charter High School boards. In 2006, Ms. Stone received the prestigious Eleanor Roosevelt “Following In Her Footsteps Award,” and in 2017, she received the “Norman B. Leventhal Excellence in City Building Award.”

She earned her B.A. and J.D. from American University and an L.L.M. from Georgetown University Law Center.

“The historian John Hope Franklin once said, ‘the establishment of a national park is an expression of faith in the future… a pact between generations, a promise from the past to the future.’ We are grateful to Cathleen Stone for her passionate advocacy, vision, and faith in the future for the Boston Harbor Islands,” said Michael Creasey, Superintendent of the National Parks of Boston.  

TIOBEC CEO and President Watts McKinney believes this generous gift will make an enduring impact on the lives of Boston Public Schools students and the broader community by expanding the organization’s reach, building a team that reflects those it serves, safeguarding the Island's natural treasures, eliminating barriers, and promoting innovation within historically marginalized communities.

"This gift is an investment in our future that will accelerate our growth and development and change the trajectory of our organization," said Watts McKinney. “We are inspired by Cathy and buoyed by her belief in the work we do. Through outreach and education, we will continue to improve the lives of children and young people and help create a more equitable, healthy, and just society.”


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About Thompson Island

Thompson Island, located in the Boston Harbor Islands National Park, is one of the largest and most ecologically diverse islands in the area. Spanning across 204 acres, the Island boasts mature forests, meadows, freshwater, marine wetlands, and salt marshes. Beyond its natural beauty, it also features campsites, a campus with dormitories, a dining hall, classrooms, lab space, auditoriums, a gymnasium, outdoor challenge courses, and climbing towers.



BOSTON, MA. (February 28, 2023)The Board of Trustees at Thompson Island Outward Bound announced that Sylvia Watts McKinney has been appointed as the new President and Chief Executive Officer. Watts McKinney is a leader in the non-profit education space and her experience and passion make her the perfect candidate to usher in a new era of delivering hands-on, experiential education to Boston’s young people.

Watts McKinney succeeds Arthur Pearson, following his 18-year stint at the helm of the organization. The first woman and person of color to lead Thompson Island Outward Bound, her appointment follows an extensive, nationwide, selection process. She will start her new position in May.

“We are delighted to welcome Sylvia to the team,” said Mark Keating, Chair of the Board of Trustees at Thompson Island Outward Bound. “Her extensive leadership background and her deep understanding of the educational landscape, alongside her unwavering commitment to equity and transformational change, make her the right person to lead our organization. We are excited for the energy and vision she will bring to help us grow, as we continue to serve Boston Public School students and the wider community.”

Watts McKinney comes to Thompson Island Outward Bound with over two decades of experience in education and mission-based work. She currently works as the Executive Director of Summer Search in Philadelphia, a non-profit mentorship program for promising high school students facing unjust obstacles.

Having previously served as the Executive Director of the Museum of African-American History in Boston, she has a deep knowledge of the city, as well as strong connections with the communities that live here.

“I am thrilled to be returning to the great city of Boston, and to guide Thompson Island Outward Bound as it continues delivering award-winning educational programming to young people,” said Watts McKinney. “Whether I have been in the private sector, government, or nonprofit spaces, I have achieved much joy in working on behalf of those who want to advance humanity.  I am excited to work with colleagues who share my passion to provide Boston Public Schools’ middle schoolers with activities and challenges that will help them to thrive academically, while also developing essential life skills.”

McKinney received a BA in Political Science from the University of South Carolina, a Masters in City Planning from MIT, and she completed an Executive Program – Leading Differences for High Performance, at Harvard Business School. In addition to her Summer Search responsibilities, she plays a leading role in her community, raising funds for a local school and church.


About Thompson Island Outward Bound

Thompson Island Outward Bound’s core mission is to build stronger, more equitable school communities by delivering free experiential learning programs that boost academic success and foster personal growth. Working in partnership with Boston Public Schools, our research-based programs blend STEM, social-emotional, and challenge-based learning, giving students a unique opportunity to build life skills alongside academic ones.

Thompson Island Outward Bound is a proud member of the network of 10 Outward Bound schools in the U.S. with a shared mission to change lives through challenge and discovery.