This story is part of Newsday’s 2019 Extraordinary Seniors series showcasing 16 high school students from across Long Island with the vision and determination to transform their corners of the universe — and perhaps beyond. Click here to read more.
Manny Abreu epitomizes Benjamin Franklin’s legendary adage, “If you want something done, ask a busy person."
Throughout his four years at Kellenberg Memorial High School, a Catholic school in Uniondale, Abreu made community service an integral part of his life — regardless of the task, how messy or time-consuming it was and his own part-time jobs, which helped pay his tuition and expenses.
“I don’t know where he finds the time to do everything,” said Erin Ronan, Abreu’s college placement officer and junior-year math teacher. “He truly is a class act.”
An honors student from Roosevelt, Abreu, 18, juggled volunteering with after-school, summer and weekend jobs that included assisting with homework, computers and printers at the Roosevelt Public Library; doing maintenance and landscape work at Kellenberg; and serving customers at Ralph’s Italian Ices in Uniondale.
But faced with a finite number of hours in a day, Abreu left his library job last summer to start working as an emergency medical technician; it’s a role that dovetails with his enduring passion for making a difference in other people’s lives.
“My appreciation for service has guided me into giving back,” said Abreu, who is setting his professional sights on becoming a doctor or physician assistant. “It’s such a rewarding feeling to help someone.”
Early in his high school career, he learned what makes him tick: “The more I did, the more I felt complete,” said Abreu, a eucharistic minister who gives Communion to residents at a nursing home.
So, in between his varied jobs, Abreu participated in a school service group that caters banquets for athletic, faculty and parent gatherings, as well as cleans up afterward. And because he devoted 40 hours of his time in both freshman and sophomore years and 50 hours in his junior year to the food-service effort — more than double the annual requirement of 20 hours — Abreu was welcomed into a leadership club that organizes fellow students’ volunteer activities.
In his sophomore year, Abreu became a member of Founders Keepers, which is usually open only to juniors and seniors and entails traveling upstate over weekends to volunteer at the school’s Founders Hollow Retreat House. Abreu’s efforts encompassed everything from cooking and cleaning to chopping fallen trees and sprucing up flower beds with wood chips.
St. Martin de Porres Marianist School, Kellenberg’s sister school in Uniondale, also benefited from Abreu’s outstretched hand. Through his school’s Smart Club program, he voluntarily provided homework help and played games with the junior high school students.
And instead of recharging during this year’s February school break, Abreu — true to form — volunteered. From Monday to Thursday, he trekked, by bus and train, to Downtown Brooklyn to help the Sisters of Life refurbish St. Andrews’ rectory into a feasible convent and workspace.
“When meeting Manny, you instinctively know that his is a most generous soul,” noted Brother Roger A. Poletti, Kellenberg’s assistant principal of activities.
The fourth of five children, Abreu credited God, his Colombian-born stay-at-home mother and Dominican Republic-born father, a cook, as his inspirations for doing the right thing.
He became deeply aware of his parents “as the most selfless people I know,” he said, when he was about 6 years old and his mother invited a disadvantaged neighborhood boy to their home to eat.
Upon observing the boy’s happiness, Abreu came away with a sense of how he wanted to conduct his own life — “not look at my wants but to feel comfortable and help the most people I can,” he said.
HIGHER ED: Abreu will attend Albright College, in Reading, Pennsylvania, and major in biology and minor in business.
FRESHMAN YEAR: “I want to do more community service.”
IF I RULED THE WORLD “I’d make food and water more accessible to everyone.”