Daniel Blezio uses scuba diving to give local youths a path forward. Through a scholarship by Neptune Scuba Ventures, Blezio’s Key Largo-based company, the master scuba diver trainer provides vocational scuba training, equipment and leadership life skills to local kids. 

“I hear people complain a lot about kids these days, saying they are good-for-nothings with no future, but nobody is doing anything about it,” says Blezio. “If something’s wrong, I fix it.” 

Blezio is motivated by his past. From the rough Malvin Norte neighborhood in Montevideo, Uruguay, Blezio says, “I grew up in a third-world country, like a war zone.” He credits diving and coming to the U.S. with affording him a better life. “I didn’t have opportunities like this growing up. It would have made all the difference, so I want to help as many people as possible. It’s the right thing to do.” 

Blezio’s passion project focuses on dive training and life skills. The vocational program will allow the kids to work as professional divers anywhere in the world. The leadership and life skills will help them succeed in all aspects of life. “The most important thing I can teach them is accountability; be punctual, work as a team, be responsible for your work and attitude, and know the consequences of your actions,” Blezio says. “I want them to become skillful professionals and good citizens.”

The initial Neptune Project scholarships were fully funded by Kathe Davis, a regular client of Blezio’s. “The entire course, which will run over almost two years and result in dive master certifications for the kids, would usually cost between $5,000 to 6,000 per kid,” said Blezio. “The kids pay nothing.” Materials, instruction, full scuba equipment, and dive trips are covered by the scholarship.

The application process is simple: Blezio will meet potential students and their parents, the student will write an essay about how they would benefit from the program, and the student will commit to finishing the entire course. “It’s their first lesson in accountability,” said Blezio.

Blezio hopes to reach kids who don’t come from flourishing households, who have maybe gotten into trouble at school, and who have some sort of obstacle when it comes to getting ahead in life. “We want kids who can’t financially afford a career; we want to give those kids a chance.”

The first two recipients, Michael Midling, 16, and Austin Bailey, 15, began training in August and have since completed their open water and underwater maintenance certifications. This month, they will earn their advanced open water certifications. 

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Scuba students Michael Midling and Austin Bailey try on their new BCDs, fins and regulators. As part of the Neptune Project, each student receives the entire scuba diving equipment set for free. TIFFANY DUONG/Keys Weekly

Blezio has timed the course to be flexible with the boys’ school schedule and to give them time to practice their new skills. The program could be finished in 60 dives, but Blezio wants his kids to have double or triple that number before graduating. “That way, they have double or triple the experience,” he said. “They’ll be dive masters with so many other specialties under their belts.” The instructor hopes that those additions will enhance his students’ ability to get employment and work underwater because they’ll have a bigger resume than the average candidate.

Midling, a sophomore at Coral Shores High School, applied because he realized the opportunity would provide him with viable employment options if he can’t get a job after high school. “Without this, if I don’t go to college, it’ll be harder for me to get a real good job. So it’s great that this opportunity came up. Now I always have a backup plan.” Never having dived before the program, he is already dreaming of working on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. 

Bailey echoes his friend. “It’s a lot of money to become a dive master. I didn’t ever think I’d be able to do this. It’s hard having to learn at school and then come and learn scuba after school, but it’s all worth it in the end,” he said. “I know this will help me for my entire life, so I’m paying attention.”

More information about the Neptune Project is available from Blezio at 786-287-6196 or [email protected]. Blezio will be accepting his next student in June.

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Michael Midling and Austin Bailey surface after one of their certification dives. The scholarship recipients are on track to earn their advanced open water certifications this month. DANIEL BLEZIO/Contributed

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