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Hevelton junior makes strides abroad

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HEUVELTON – Cassandra J. Layng has always had a fascination with tall buildings and big bridges.

The Heuvelton Central School junior got the opportunity to see them up close last summer as part of a national mission and student exchange program, geared towards bringing “peace through understanding.” Ms. Layng received a letter from People to People, announcing her nomination for the exchange program in 2011. She said she believes that an unknown teacher or administrator nominated her for the program.

“I still don’t know who did, but I am very grateful,” she said.

The trip required her to spend six months raising $7,100 to travel with a group of fellow students to Greece, Rome and Sicily.

“It was a lot of work,” she said. “But it was worth it.”

She sold pizza with Little Caesars and chocolate bars, and held can and bottle drives and garage sales. She sold jewelry with her aunt, Myrna Barney, and donated half the proceeds to the St. Lawrence County Cancer Services Program in honor of Colorectal Cancer Month in March.

“I didn’t want it to just be about me,” she said. “I was given a great opportunity, so I wanted to give back.”

She also received donations through friends, family, teachers and Open Windows for Girls Program.

“Cassie was a great fit for the program,” said Faye W. White, Open Windows for Girls coordinator. “These kinds of programs are important for girls because it gives them opportunities they otherwise would not experience without some help.”

When she arrived in Europe in July, her first stop was the Parthenon in Athens, Greece, a place she had only read about in her history book that same year.

“My first thought was it’s so huge,” she said. “It was amazing to see it up close. You can actually see the many hands that it took to build it.”

She later traveled to the Sistine Chapel and, her favorite place, the Roman Coliseum.

Ms. Layng’s parents, who say they have been supportive of her from the get-go, didn’t even wince when their teenaged daughter said she wanted to go overseas for a month.

“We’re really proud of her,” Donald A. Layng, her father, said. “She does very well in school, and we were very confident in the program.”

Ms. Layng said while she was able to eat plenty of pizza in Greece and Rome, she was encouraged to try new things every day.

“It teaches you to come out of your shell,” she said. “I am now eating and trying new things all the time — stuff I wouldn’t have tried before.”

Ms. Layng said she hopes to continue her adventures this year as an ambassador in the program, helping to orient other students and teaching them about learning and understanding the world around them, in Australia.

“I’ve always wanted to go there since I was very little,” she said.

In addition to visiting the Sydney Opera house and seeing her first koala and kangaroo, she would like to learn about eco-friendly housing, which she hopes to design in the future as an architect.

Before the trip, Ms. Layng had only traveled as far as Canada and took a cruise to the Bahamas. While she said she considered herself pretty open-minded before the trip, she was surprised to see another world outside her own.

“It’s completely different from what I thought,” she said. “It’s amazing to see the kind of buildings I want to build someday — the ones that make you say, proudly, years later, ‘I built that and it’s still there.’”

She said she will use her experiences to help shape what she does as an architect. She has already visited several colleges and is now considering schools in Michigan, Rochester and Potsdam.

“I know now that I want to be an architect, and I am going to do it,” she said.

Donations to Ms. Layng’s trip can be made by calling 394-9032.

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