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DukeEngage was one of the reasons Alex Sonageri applied to—and eventually chose—Duke. And more than five years after participating in DukeEngage-Guatemala, the experience is still impacting his life.

Sonageri applied to the DukeEngage-Guatemala program because of its combination of social entrepreneurship and education. “Further, it provided the opportunity to spend time at the grassroots level of the organization and better understand the needs of local communities,” said Sonageri.

During the summer of 2012, he worked with the Social Entrepreneur Corps, where he was introduced to Mayan Hope, a nonprofit that seeks to provide an education for the special needs children of Nebaj, Guatemala, through its special education school. He spent time with the school’s roughly 30 students, who are taught by a handful of teachers and a physical therapist hired by the government. The experience inspired him to continue working with Mayan Hope.

After graduating from Duke and starting a finance career in New York, Sonageri joined Mayan Hope’s board. He worked with other board members (including Javier Henriquez ’14, who Sonageri recruited) to develop a strategic vision for a new special needs school. “My DukeEngage experience led me to join the board of Mayan Hope,” he said. “We are working toward constructing a new school building for the children, and are in the process of fundraising for that project.”

Mayan Hope has partnered with other international and Guatemalan-based nonprofits to design the new school in Nebaj. Once the funding is in place, Mayan Hope and its partner organizations will begin construction and hope to complete construction in 2018.

Sonageri also received help from a somewhat unexpected partner: DukeEngage.

“There were a number of Duke students who came to Guatemala in summer 2017 through the same DukeEngage program that I went through,” he said. “They spent nearly a month in Nebaj and helped us tremendously by working with the teachers to identify areas of opportunity—such as additional training—and gather information to help with the Mayan Hope website, along with several other initiatives.” One Duke student, Olivia Bolwell ’19, was so enthusiastic that she has remained involved with Mayan Hope after returning to campus.

Along with serving on the board of Mayan Hope, Sonageri volunteers locally with other Duke alumni at the Dunlevy Milbank Center in central Harlem, as well as with the Food Bank for New York City.

Sonageri’s time in Latin America also influences his career to this day. He is an investment professional at Palladium Equity Partners, LLC, a middle market private equity firm that seeks to acquire and develop companies in partnership with founders, with a special focus on companies the firm believes will benefit from the growth in the U.S. Hispanic population.

For Sonageri, DukeEngage was an eye-opening experience that dramatically influenced his perspective and thinking. “The cultural immersion was tremendously rewarding, and my exposure to marginalized communities was humbling and helped me improve my sense of empathy.”