From Homeless to Science Champ to the State of the Union

samantha_garveyFrom Homeless to Science Champ to the State of the Union:
Samantha Garvey Doesn’t let her circumstances stand in the way of her dreams

Not one to let her family’s homelessness keep her form reaching for her dreams, New York teen Samantha Garvey was named as a semifinalist for the National Intel Science Competition.  Samantha was over the moon after learning she has a shot at the science competition’s $100,000 prize.

News of her story spread quickly, as many learned the story of the Brentwood High School senior who had been living with her family at a homeless shelter since January 1.   Samantha told radio station WCBS-AM that being homeless motivated her “to do better.” Adding, “I do well, and I pursue my passion because it’s what I have, and it’s a way out, you know, and it’ll lead to better things.”  Long Island Congressman Steve Israel heard her inspiring story and invited the teen to be his guest at the State of the Union address on January 24th.

Garvey is one of 300 teenagers nationwide named this week as semifinalists in the prestigious Intel science competition. She spent more than two years researching the effects of the Asian short crab on the mussel population in a salt marsh on Long Island, east of New York City.  Once sponsored by Westinghouse, the Society for Science and the Public has been running the science competition since 1942. Over the decades, contest finalists have gone on to some of the greatest achievements in science. Seven have won a Nobel Prize.  The finalists for the competition will be announced later this month, but in the mean time, Samantha, along with her two siblings, parents and pets, will be able to move into their new apartment.

Samantha was evicted along with her family from their home on New Year’s Eve. Her mother, Olga, a nurse’s assistant, was out of work for eight months following a car accident in February, and her father, Leo, could not keep up with the bills alone on his salary as a cab driver.  Leo said that after the eviction he took his family to a hotel for a week because he did not want them spending New Year’s in a homeless shelter. But he finally had to contact Suffolk County Social Services for help last week; they were then placed in a shelter.

Housing prices on Long Island are among the highest in the country, even in Brentwood, which has struggled with gang violence in recent years. A three-bedroom home there recently sold for $291,000, according to Lisa Kennedy, a broker with Eric G. Ramsay Associates. A three-bedroom ranch is renting for $1,800 a month, she said.

The Garveys will pay 30 percent of their monthly income to rent the county-owned property, officials said.

Gregory Blass, the county commissioner of Social Services, said the family was already known to officials because they were staying in a shelter, making them eligible to move into the house. He said the county works to place about 30 to 40 homeless families a month from shelters into apartments or homes. He insisted the Garveys received no preferential treatment because of Samantha’s celebrity.

Before the eviction, the Garveys had rented a home for six or seven years, Leo Garvey said. Before that, the family had also lived in homeless shelters from time to time; Leo Garvey described himself as a recovering alcoholic.

Samantha said that she had worried for several months before the eviction, knowing that her mother was ailing and money was tight.

“I ordered a senior picture and I said, `I don’t know where to send it. I don’t know what’s going to happen. What if we move, what if we get evicted,’ which we did,” she said. “You’re out in limbo. You’re like, `What’s going to happen to my mail, what’s going to happen to my college applications. Where are they all going to go?’ It’s scary.”

The teen says she hopes to pursue a career as a marine biologists after attending Brown or Yale.