Friday, January 13, 2012

'New beginning' for evicted LI family

By Joie Tyrrell and Jo Napolitano, from Newsday

Intel semifinalist Samantha Garvey spoke Friday of a "new beginning" for her and her family.

The same holds true for their spunky pit bull, Pulga, whom they were able to spring from a shelter thanks to an anonymous donor.

The family, evicted from their rented home on New Year's Day, will move from a homeless shelter to a three-bedroom, county-owned house in Bay Shore this month.

Garvey, a Brentwood High School senior who was among 61 Long Island semifinalists named this week in the Intel Science Talent Search, said she never thought her biggest worries would be eliminated in a day.

"I'm so excited," she said. "It's a new beginning."

Garvey said she wanted to cry upon learning the news but couldn't. She said her mother, Olga, told her: "Sammy, this is all because of you."

Her father, Leo Garvey, 60, joked about the Mega Millions winners, whose names were announced at the same time he learned he soon will have a stable home for his wife and three children. The couple also have 13-year-old twins Erika and Kenny.

"Today, I feel rich," he said.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced the family's new living arrangement Friday morning at a news conference at the high school. He said the family's pets, which include a cat and turtles, are welcome in the new house.

Until the move, Pulga will be kept in a kennel. But Garvey's mom and the twins had a joyful reunion with the pit bull when they picked her up from a Huntington shelter.

Tail wagging, Pulga jumped up, licking Erika's face, and climbed all over Kenny, whose pants soon were covered in her white fur.

"We missed you a lot, mama," Olga Garvey cooed, wiping tears from her face.

Bellone also offered Samantha Garvey an internship with Suffolk County to work on marine and fisheries issues -- the area of study that earned her accolades from Intel.

Garvey's parents fell behind on their bills and rent after a February car accident left them injured and out of work for months. They also had to shoulder unexpected funeral expenses for her maternal grandmother.

The home they'll soon move to is one of five owned and operated by the county after the charity that ran the properties went under. One of the homes came available last month after the previous tenant was evicted.

But the house was left in disrepair, which is why the Garveys can't move in sooner. Employees with the county Department of Public Works are readying it for occupancy.

The family's cohesion and earnings -- Garvey's father is a cabdriver/dispatcher and her mother is a nurse's aide -- make them ideal candidates, Suffolk County officials said.

Thirty percent of their gross income will go toward rent, and they'll also pay utilities, said Gregory Blass, commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Social Services.

No one was cast aside for the Garveys to be placed in the home, Blass said. He said the county doesn't keep lists of people in waiting.

The agency matches families and individuals with homes as soon as dwellings become available, based on a variety of factors, he said. The county transitions 30 to 40 families per month out of shelters and into more permanent habitation, he said.

"The key to the success of the program is that things have to move fast," Blass said. "We don't have the luxury of slowing down. It's like a haphazard system that works."

Currently, there are 506 families and 282 individuals in the county's shelter system, Blass said.

Garvey said her mother is in disbelief, having feared for years that the family would always struggle financially.

Now, she said her mom told her, "We actually have a house."

The high school senior, launched into the media spotlight after she was profiled in Newsday on Thursday, will share a bedroom with her 13-year-old sister.

"I know there are going to be people who say, 'Why do you a get a house and why don't I?' " Garvey said. "But it's just one of those things that happened out of luck, out of chance. I'm no more special than anyone. I didn't ask for a house, but it worked out that way."

Garvey, fourth in her class of 433 students, has applied to two Ivy League schools -- Brown and Yale universities. She was deferred at Brown.

Her Intel project focused on striped mussels and how their shells grew thicker and stronger in the presence of predators.

Update January 17, 2012 - The following article is from FOX News:

Homeless teen science whiz invited to State of Union

A homeless Long Island teen, who is in the running for a $100,000 national science prize, has been invited to Washington, D.C., to watch President Barack Obama's State of the Union address.

Samantha Garvey, an aspiring marine biologist currently living in a homeless shelter, will sit in the Capitol gallery for the Jan. 24 speech as a guest of her representative, Democrat Steve Israel.

"The State of the Union attracts the most powerful people on Earth, but I really think Samantha can teach them all a lesson in perseverance," Israel, who is head the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told Newsday.

"She is the epitome of the American dream. She worked hard and she is a story that I want to share with my colleagues and even with the president of the United States."

The Brentwood High School student, who just turned 18 on Monday, "can't wait" for the big day, her father told Newsday. "She deserves it. She needs to meet people like that," Leo Garvey, a taxi driver, told the paper.

The teen's inspiring story made headlines this month after she was named one of the 300 semifinalists in Intel's prestigious national science competition for her research project on mussels.

Both of her parents were seriously injured in a car accident, which put them temporarily out of work, and the Garveys became homeless on New Year's Day when they fell behind on their rent.

As part of the outpouring of support in response to the girl's story, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced that the teen and her family will be able to secure a three-bedroom, rent-subsidized home in Bay Shore.

They are due to move in later this month, along with their array of pets including a pit bull named Pulga. Garvey had feared the dog would be put down after her family was forced to bring it to a shelter when they were evicted.

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