The sea has played an important role throughout the life of Steve Harris.
“I’ve always lived in beach cities,” said Harris, president of the Robert E. Harris Insurance Agency in Costa Mesa, California. “I was taught at an early age to love and respect the ocean.”
Yet despite its power, the ocean still is a fragile environment that requires care—and when Harris learned about the Ocean Institute from a longtime client and volunteer, he quickly saw that it was a natural fit for him to give back.
A coastal classroom
The organization in Dana Point uses the sea as a classroom for more than 100,000 K-12 students annually, according to Wendy Marshall, the institute’s president of education and operations. It provides a variety of programs, including immersive field trips that foster STEAM exploration, promote critical thinking, drive life-changing learning opportunities, and abide with Next Generation Science Standards.
“For many of these students, logistical, cultural, and economic issues prevent them from accessing the ocean,” she said. “Often, they experience it for the first time through our programs.”
Experiences for all—including the public
The institute also serves 5,000 teachers each year, helping them to meet the needs of their students and bring classroom subjects to life. The public is welcome as well, with family experiences and interactive tours available aboard the Pilgrim, in the institute’s dockside learning facility, and at its shark-focused marine-education center.
‘This was an opportunity to help ensure my children, and future generations, have the same opportunities to enjoy the ocean that I have.’
— Steve Harris, Robert E. Harris Insurance Agency president
“Before I dove in, I watched the activities and looked at the curriculum,” Harris said. “It became clear to me that this was an opportunity to help ensure my children, and future generations, have the same opportunities to enjoy the ocean that I have.”
Harris has been on the board for the last five years, including a term as vice chairman, and personally has raised over $150,000 for the institute. He and his wife attend several fundraising events each year, and Harris also created the first annual Ocean Institute Newport Harbor Cleanup—intended to show other communities that the organization is committed to ocean awareness not only locally, but up and down the coast.
An agency commitment to giving
At least 10 other Robert E. Harris employees have been involved in some way, including serving on the board and helping to raise awareness and funds, Harris added. It’s part of an agency giving approach that includes frequent support of various causes and events.
That dedication to community has earned a 2020 Make More Happen Award, which typically includes an initial donation of $5,000 and the opportunity to win another $5,000. However, Safeco and Liberty Mutual are immediately donating the full $10,000 to the Ocean Institute on behalf of Robert E. Harris Insurance Agency to provide support during this pandemic.
Staying engaged through video and virtual lessons
The institute facilities are currently closed, but it is providing video updates, organizing virtual lessons and staying engaged in other ways, Marshall said.
Harris sees that pivot as a testament to the institute’s commitment to students—and he knows it will continue to pay dividends. “These kids are empowered to learn and lead because of Ocean Institute programs,” he said. “What they discover here can set them on a course for a lifetime of achievement.”