WOODBRIDGE, Va.—Being in over his head is nothing new for U-Haul Customer Service Representative (CSR) Les Burke. In fact, it’s a way of life for him.
Prior to his work at U-Haul, Burke served 33 years in the U.S. Navy, primarily as a diver. As part of small Navy dive teams, he learned to be versatile, well-rounded and dependable, skills he has since transferred over to working as a CSR at U-Haul Moving and Storage of Potomac Mills.
Outside of U-Haul, Burke is also a professional diving instructor and an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland, where he teaches for the scientific and academic diving programs. In his 31 years teaching scuba diving, Burke has certified more than 1,500 divers at all levels.
“Working with the university is one of my primary, have-to jobs, but the job I love doing and am most proud of is being the founder of my youth program, which teaches scuba diving to disadvantaged youth,” Burke said.
He is the founder of Junior Scientists in the Sea, a nonprofit organization that provides young people in urban and rural areas with a meaningful, educational program combined with on-the-job training, hard work and fun.
The first part of the year-round program involves training students to become certified scuba divers. Once that is completed, they are exposed to marine and ecological programs with the intention of applying their new skills towards helping secure the future of the planet’s oceans and waterways.
The organization currently has six programs throughout the East Coast and has partnered with several other organizations, schools and aquariums during the last nine years, in order to expand its services and allow students to dive year-round.
“These opportunities go beyond teaching youth to dive, stay active and learn about sharks,” Burke noted. “They actually get to dive with sharks, which is an experience that changes them forever.”
Upon completion of the training program, the junior scientists are invited to participate in one of two summer camps in Florida, to further their marine experience and conservation education.
Burke believes he is training the next generation of stewards to care for our oceans, bays, rivers and lakes.
“We protect what we love, love what we know, know what we understand and understand what we are taught,” Burke proclaimed.
In addition to volunteering his time, Burke also donates 50-75 percent of his U-Haul salary to Junior Scientists in the Sea.
“Several companies provide services and gear in-kind, and that really helps, but this year I’m embarking on grant writing because I’ve outgrown what I can finance on my own,” Burke explained.
Junior Scientists in the Sea has been so successful that other countries want to become involved as well. Burke has been asked to bring the program to Mexico, Fiji and Curacao, to help train their next generation of ocean stewards as well.
You can learn more about the organization at jrscientistsinthesea.com.