By: Marisa Herman Associate Editor
After 12 years, Fishing for Families in Need has a new name— Marine Education Initiative— and plans for the future.
The Boca-based nonprofit started after Lucas Metropulos returned from a vacation in Nassau where he volunteered with under-privileged kids and taught them about fishing.
He brought the concept of working with kids back home to Florence Fuller Center in Boca.
Initially, the program worked with six students. Then it grew to 25 kids. Now, there are programs in other cities like Bimini, Nassau, Durham, Miami and the Virgin Islands.
Now, the nonprofit is led by Lucas’ young brother, Nicholas, 20.
It is known for two programs, responsible angling education and the fishing tournament donation program.
The angling education program began as an eight-week course that taught kids all about fishing and how to do it responsibly.
Now, that program lasts 30 weeks. It is still taught at Florence Fuller. The goal is to teach kids about taking care of their local environment and the importance of conservation. Each month covers a different theme from ocean pollution to over fishing.
It is also geared toward exposing kids to careers in conservation and marine biology.
“The main thing from that program is the reach of the program doesn’t stop with the kids,” Nicholas Metropulos said. “They go out and teach their family and friends how to fish and respect the local environment.”
Metropulos said about 2,300 kids have participated in the program. At the end they receive a tackle box and fishing rod to use. The program includes a trip to a nature center to learn more about conservation and an actual fishing trip.
“We try to tie both fishing and marine science into the program,” he said.
Florence Fuller’s compliance manager and Glenn Fleischer said the program introduces life skills and concepts to the kids that they may not receive in the classroom or at home.
“It’s a really cool program,” he said.
The students learn how to tie knots, cast a net all while learning about topics like overfishing, plastics in ocean, fishing rules and regulations and more.
“It definitely gives them a different perspective on ocean conservation, life skills, protecting the ocean,” he said. “It is something they wouldn’t necessarily learn in school. It really sheds a different perspective for our students.”
The nonprofit also has its fishing tournament donation program. It was created in 2012. The group partners with local fishing tournaments and gives participants the option to donate their catch to a local soup kitchen. Marine Education Initiative cleans the fish and delivers it to the kitchen. Since the initiative started, 4,100 meals of fresh fish filets have been donated.
Last month, the Initiative attended the Waterstone Wahoo Classic in Boca and collected fish donations for the Boca Helping Hands Soup Kitchen.
Metropulos said he decided to change the name to add more advocacy to the program.
He wants to host a conference and invite youth from around the world to discuss issues related to marine conservation, marine biology and environmental degradation.
He also wants to offer a college for high school students in the program who are interested in pursuing a career in the field.
Participants range in age from 6-18 years old. He said the middle school age group receives the most benefits from the program because they are “still trying to figure out what their interests are.”
In Boca, the program is for 9-12 year olds.
Metropulos is finishing his studies in Boston and will continue to run the nonprofit. He began volunteering with the kids when he was 12 and became executive director in 2015 when he was a sophomore in high school.
Under his leadership, the nonprofit was a finalist in the Impact 100 grant under the environmental category two years ago.