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John Jay Student Builds House in Nicaragua

LEWISBORO, N.Y. - After Athena Manzino helped build a house for a family in Nicaragua, she started to truly appreciate her own.

“It was so nice to sleep in my own bed,” said the sophomore at John Jay High School. “I definitely felt very lucky and blessed.”

The South Salem resident is a member of Bridges to Community, a cultural-exchange organization bringing volunteers to work and learn in developing countries. Last April, Manzino and nearly 20 of her classmates worked with natives from the Nicaraguan community of Tae Kwon Tepe to build two houses.

She wasn't just using a hammer and nails, though. The group mixed the cement themselves, and laid rock, dirt and cement blocks to ensure stability, Manzino said.

“You think about poverty and how people live and then you go and spend whole days with them. It was truly life changing,” she said.

The locals also didn't speak English, which might have presented a language barrier for Manzino, but she said she was able to understand what they were saying through body language.

“It’s interesting how when you’re working with the families and kids, you learn a lot about them even though you don’t speak the same language,” she said. “They are so full of life and such hard workers.”

The members of Bridges to Community had been fundraising for their trip to Nicaragua since last September. They sold cups of coffee and bagels, hosted live music performances and held a silent auction at John Jay High School.

Manzino hopes to continue working with Bridges for Community for the rest of her high school career.

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