News of her victory led to her first post-college gig with Untamed Science, where she gained on-camera and script writing experience, and learned how to explain science to young people. Now 25, Washington provides youth in her native Miami and surrounding communities with a similar exposure to marine life as CEO of the organization she co-founded with her mother. Through community programs and events, Washington works with roughly 1,700 students annually, encouraging them to become guardians of the planet by increasing their awareness and becoming more conscientious about environmental sustainability, and about their role as global citizens. “Since the oceans are the source for more than 50% of the oxygen that we breathe, food, and countless types of recreation, we must move forward in educating youth to protect this critical resource,” she explains.
Untamed Science helped prepare Washington for one of The Big Blue & You Foundation’s signature programs. The One Water Workshop is a five-day filmmaking program through a partnership with Miami World Cinema Center Inc., where students created their own public service announcements about water and worked on a mini-documentary about the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which won an award from the National Council for Science and the Environment.
Vilma Sooknanan, 17, first participated in the One Water Workshop in 2010 and recently became the chair of the foundation’s seven-member Youth Advisory Board. “With a program like this more kids my age will be interested in science. This in turn may change the career paths for individuals,” Sooknanan explains.
Sooknanan is just one of the more than 5,000 youth in South Florida that The Big Blue & You has worked with since its inception. There are also 10 consistent volunteers. Ideally, Washington would like to have five to seven staffers including a grant writer, marketing professional, and fundraiser to give the organization the power to expand. “With more staff we could work on multiple things at the same time and really expand our reach beyond South Florida to the rest of the United States,” says Washington, noting a goal of reaching youth in urban communities that may not be around large bodies of water.
In late September, Washington was one of 40 fellows who participated in the TogetherGreen Conservation Leadership Program, a five-year initiative sponsored by Toyota and the National Audubon Society, designed to help environmental leaders become more proficient. The selection also netted her $10,000 to invest in the foundation. “We believe that children hold the key to a brighter future,” she says, “and have the power to be the lead messengers of this ‘blue’ movement.”