STUDENT PROFILE: Lucas Metropulos Starts Nonprofit to Teach Kids to Fish
“Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime,” says the proverb. Through his nonprofit, Fishing for Families in Need, Lucas Metropulos PPS’15 not only found a way to help kids and families, but the environment too.
Metropulos founded the environmental education program in his hometown, Boca Raton, Fla., as a 15-year-old high school student. At first, he worked with six low-income children, engaging them through the sport of fishing and showing them how to fish properly and safely while protecting the marine environment. Now, Metropulos’ nonprofit has branches in Boca Raton, Miami, Durham, N.C., and Nassau, Bahamas, and a prospective program in New Orleans, providing mentorship and safe educational activities to hundreds of children.
To get the venture going, Metropulos had to overcome resistance related to his age.
“In the beginning, all I needed was someone to donate six fishing poles for me to use with the children, but because I was only a teenager, potential donors didn’t take my goal seriously. It was discouraging, but I reached out to my local paper, The Palm Beach Post. They published a profile about my project, and Fishing for Families in Need began to gain momentum,” he said.
Metropulos has never taken a salary as director of the nonprofit; he finds the greatest reward in working with the children.
“Every dollar donated goes straight to the project,” he said.
Fishing for Families in Need gave Metropulos important experience for his next social entrepreneurial project. After completing an independent DukeEngage project in Nassau, where Metropulos witnessed immense poverty and juvenile crime, he has committed to building a community center to provide education, mentorship and opportunities to more than 300 children in the area. He plans to create a foundation called Lend a Hand Bahamas to own and operate the future center; Metropulos will serve on the board alongside Nassau community leaders.
“This area is so impoverished and is deeply in need of support. There is a great deal of senseless violence, and working with the kids, I have seen so much lost potential,” said Metropulos. The community center will be the first in the immediate area and will operate on renewable energy sources and serve as a hurricane shelter.
Last December, he returned to Nassau and secured the land for the center, which was donated by Edmund Dorsett, a local minister. He is continuing to raise funds for the project.
“If it wasn’t for Duke Engage and the Research in Practice Program-Engage Summer Fellowship, my nonprofit work would have never evolved into this much-needed community center project,” Metropulos said.
Metropulos intends to produce a documentary about the community he is working with and the progress of the community center. He is also writing a book that he hopes will inspire other young activists to follow their goals despite their age.
When Metropulos first began his nonprofit work, he thought he would focus on marine biology in college. At Duke, he studied oceanography and economics before deciding to major in public policy studies with a minor in history.
“I love studying public policy. It is so interdisciplinary, and I enjoy learning about something that I know can influence society,” he said.
Metropulos has been most inspired by Professors Kristin Goss and Bill Adair.
“Professor Goss’s civic engagement course was great. She genuinely cares about her students inside and outside the classroom. Also, Professor Adair has been very supportive and is invested in the success of his students.”
Metropulos spent the spring of 2014 in Washington with the Duke in D.C. - Public Policy Program, where he interned in the office of Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV).
“I had an awakening this semester working in D.C. I had had a partisan view of government and was frustrated by its inefficiency in getting things done, but seeing the senatorial staff work so hard changed my views about government. It was incredibly rewarding and built up a positive view of public service for me,” Metropulos said.
Metropulos has been awarded numerous honors for his nonprofit work. He was named one of Ten Outstanding Young Americans in 2013 and has been featured in dozens of local and national media outlets, including an appearance on the cover of USA Weekend Magazine. In April 2014, he received the Sea World Outstanding Environmental Educator of the Year Award for his commitment to instilling a passion for marine conservation and education in the next generation of environmental leaders.
So, what else is on Metropulos’s growing to-do list?
“I plan to continue my nonprofit work while in law school where I hope to study environmental or maritime law possibly. I’ve also considered pursuing a master’s degree in public policy,” said Metropulos, who hopes to attend Duke Law School.
“I would ideally find an occupation that can complement service. For example, there is a lot I could do with a law degree in terms of environmental policy and social justice.”
Eventually, Metropulos plans to run for government office in Florida.
“I have been working to improve the lives of others and the environment and now realize that by holding government office I would be able to bring about positive change on an even greater scale,” he said.