Samantha Garvey, Homeless Intel Science Competition Semifinalist, Is Dedicated To Helping Her Family Overcome Hardship (VIDEO)
New York -- America is slowly taking notice of the inspirational details that mark the life of a young woman from Long Island named Samantha Garvey, who learned she was a semifinalist in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search while living with her family in a homeless shelter.
"My daughter is a blessing," said her proud mother, Olga Garvey Coreas, who came to this country to escape El Salvador's civil war in the early 1980s. "I never tire of thanking God for giving her the talent she has. She lives dedicated to her studies -- nothing stops her."
On Tuesday, Garvey is expected to sit in the House of Representatives chamber as President Obama delivers the State of the Union address. She will be a guest of Long Island Congressman Steve Israel, who believes Garvey's story should make all Americans ask themselves how a middle class family with a gifted child could end up homeless.
For Garvey and her family, 2012 got off to an inauspicious beginning.
On New Year's Day, they were evicted from their home because they could not pay the rent. They spent a week in a hotel before moving to a homeless shelter in Bay Shore.
Days later, however, Garvey's smarts and hard work brought news which began to change the family's hard luck path. She learned that she was an Intel science competition semifinalist, meaning that she's in the running for a $100,000 prize against 299 other top students.
Her story moved Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone to make available a three-bedroom, rent-subsidized home for the struggling family, which includes parents Leo and Olga, 13-year-old twins, Kenny and Erika, and Samantha. Bellone also offered Garvey an internship in Suffolk County to work on marine fisheries issues.
"You have inspired us," Bellone said last week, calling the story "an inspiration to millions of families in our country."
And just today, it was announced Garvey will be presented with a $50,000 scholarship from AT&T.
Garvey is in her final year of high school. In 2010, she was a semifinalist in the Siemens national Competition in Math, Science & Technology. That same year, she started a study of the mussel population in a Long Island salt marsh, focusing on the effects of the ribbed mussel on the bio-systems of some species in swampy areas along the coast. Her research was published last year in a magazine specializing in marine life.
More recently, Rebecca Grella, Garvey's science research teacher, provided her access to the Stony Brook University laboratory, where Garvey conducted the research on mussels and other mollusks affected by the Asian short crab, an invasive species.
Her research concluded that mussels exposed to the Asian short crab grew stronger, with thicker and heavier shells to protect them from predators.
"Her life's dream is to be a marine biologist," her mother Garvey Coreas told The Huffington Post. "Since she was 5 years old, she would tell her father that she wanted a pool in the yard to have a pet dolphin or a shark."
Garvey Coreas emigrated alone to the U.S. from El Salvador in 1981. She met Leo Garvey in 1990, while they both worked in a hospital. They married a short time later. Garvey, who is of Irish ancestry, was born in North Carolina.
According to her mother, Garvey is a very simple person, leading the life of any girl her age, but with a clear notion of her responsibilities.
"She's very sensible, a homebody who loves her siblings -- and her pets -- very much. Samantha was suffering greatly because at the shelter, we couldn't keep Pulga, her dog, or her cat, Spike, nor her two turtles," Olga said.
Pulga, a 4-year-old pit bull, was turned over to an animal shelter. Samantha feared the dog would be put down if it wasn't adopted. Spike was able to stay with a family member in Queens. The turtles went to work, so to speak, with her father at his taxi dispatch office.
Now, the pets will be rejoining the family when they move into the county-owned home this month.
Like so many Americans, Garvey's family has been through hard times in recent years. Her parents lost their home and moved several times, hoping to find an affordable place.
To make matters worse, Samantha's parents were hospitalized after a car accident last February. Their earnings eroded.
Accident-related injuries left Garvey Coreas out of work for nine months. Leo Garvey recovered and returned to work as a cab driver.
Garvey said she and her siblings attended three different schools in one year.
"My family's setbacks are a source of motivation. I want to get my family ahead, which is why I do well in school," Samantha told Newsday.
Karin Feil, a counselor at Brentwood High School, said, "Samantha's will is unsurpassed. She has overcome more obstacles than any other student I've ever seen."
Feil said Samantha maintains a 3.9 grade point average, and her faith lies in the fact that education will bring her -- and her family -- a better life.
Samantha is president of her school's chapter of the National Honors Society, is ranked 4th out of 433 students in her grade, and hopes to attend Brown or Yale universities. She also takes courses in Italian and music; her favorite instrument is the violin.
"We are confident that she can continue on in the career of her choice and have better opportunities in life," Garvey Coreas said, adding that her daughter "never fails at what she sets out to do."
"In the summer, her vacations are spent as an intern at the university laboratories," she added. "She only visits us on the weekends."
Garvey Coreas said Samantha hasn't let the media attention change her and that she remains proud of her roots.
"At home, her favorite foods are still beans, tamales, pupusas [the Salvadoran version of tortillas] with rice and plantains. She's told me she eats sushi with her friends."
The struggling mother said parents shouldn't leave their children alone and always support their goals.
"Leo worked nights and I worked days," she said. "The fact was that we never left them alone; we were always there to help them with their homework. I believe that good communication is the basis for guiding our children."