Teenage Environmental Advocate Uses Storm Drain Stenciling to Combat Water Pollution

Daily Point of Light # 6065 Aug 14, 2017
Liam Dao (left) stencils an anti-pollution message on a storm drain with a member of his Paint The Drain team./Courtesy Liam Dao

Seventeen-year-old Liam Dao is a volunteer with Love A Sea Turtle, a nonprofit dedicated to marine and ocean conservation awareness. The organization engages students in environmental stewardship through year-round service projects and conservation activities, and it provides nature-based summer programs for underserved youth.

Liam serves as a senior volunteer counselor in Love A Sea Turtle’s summer camps. He also leads the Paint the Drain project to educate people about the perils of dumping debris into storm drains, which leads to the contamination of local rivers. Liam is today’s Daily Point of Light, and he spoke with Points of Light about what inspired him to become a changemaker for the environment.

Liam helps a camper put on waders in preparation for an outdoor on water science and quality./Courtesy Liam Dao

What inspired you to volunteer with Love A Sea Turtle?

I originally heard about Love A Sea Turtle through my mom’s friend who had kids volunteering in their summer camps. The summer camps interested me because it was about helping underprivileged kids and giving them the opportunity to bike, kayak, and learn about nutrition and water quality, which might not have been available to them if not for this camp. My passion for working with kids developed from coaching a little league team. As the year progressed, I became more involved with the Love A Sea Turtle by becoming a senior counselor, participating in their leadership program and leading a project based on water quality — Paint the Drain.


Why do you think it’s important that more people donate their time and talents to helping the environment?

The basic needs of all life are food, shelter and water. All three of these are strongly affected by the environment around them. Without a healthy environment, water can become contaminated by pollution which can then contaminate food sources such as animals and plants. A polluted environment can also damage important supplies used in building shelters, like trees. Since all the basic needs of life are so strongly influenced by the environment, I think it is important for people to help maintain a clean environment.

Liam paints a storm drain with an anti-pollution message to caution people from using it for waste disposal./Courtesy Liam Dao

How does stenciling storm drains educate people about the environment?

Contrary to popular belief, water from storm drains does not run through a treatment plant which means that whatever goes down the drains (bags, wrappers, trash, pollutants, etc.), goes straight into your local rivers. Paint The Drain spreads awareness about the lack of a treatment facility by stenciling storm drains with the label, “Do not pollute. Flows directly to the river.” By doing this, we inform people to pick up and prevent debris from entering storm drains. An instructional video on Youtube and a PSA that plays on local channels have also been created to help educate people on storm drains.

Describe your current volunteer role at Love A Sea Turtle.

Through Love A Sea Turtle, I volunteer as a senior counselor during summer camp, serve on the Student Advisory Board, and lead the Paint The Drain project. During the summer camp, I fill in on any job that is needed of me which so far has consisted of being a kayak leader, bike leader and team head counselor.

As the coordinator for Paint The Drain, I lead a team of younger students to carry out any tasks related to the project. We created an instructional video on Youtube and a PSA informing the public about Paint the Drain to go with the posters, stickers and t-shirt designs that we created to market upcoming events. We also planned storm drain stencil events, including three that are coming up on October 28th, November 18th and January 15th.

Liam teaching one of the Love A Sea Turtle campers how to ride a bike./Courtesy Liam Dao

What’s been the most rewarding part of your volunteer work?

The most rewarding part of my work is seeing how happy the campers are. I have really enjoyed working with the kids, teaching them new things and really establishing a connection with them that they might have never previously experienced. When the campers tell me that experiencing camp was the best day they have ever had and then they hug me, it makes me see how influential I can be in other people’s lives. It makes me happy to know that I can make a difference for them.

What do you want people to learn from your story?

I want people to look at me and realize that just plain and ordinary people can make a positive change. The smallest of good deeds is still a change in the right direction. Anyone can make a difference.

Do you want to be a chagemaker in your community like Liam? Visit All For Good to find local volunteer opportunities.

Jia Gayles