Imagine this: You’re a gifted, 17 year old high school senior, determined to fulfill your childhood dream of becoming a marine biologist and driven by the desire to help your family have a better life. Your parents both work hard – dad drives a cab and mom is a nurse’s assistant. They make just enough for the family to get by. A car accident suddenly leaves your parents both severely injured, and your mom has to stop working for 9 months, but your dad can’t manage to make the bills, including the rent, on his salary alone. You don’t want your studies to slip, especially your research, but you try to find part-time work to help out. None of the places you apply offer you a job. Then, on New Year’s Eve, as most other families are celebrating, yours gets evicted and you’re homeless, forced to live in a shelter. You worry, wondering how you, your parents and two younger siblings will all survive.
Samantha Garvey doesn’t have to imagine this scenario because this is the metaphorical heap of lemons that life dumped on her and her family. But, thanks to the Long Island, New York teen’s dedication to her studies and focus amidst this kind of unthinkable turmoil, those lemons quickly and unexpectedly turned into a massive pitcher of lemonade for them all.
In early January of this year, while Samantha and her family were still living in the homeless shelter, she received the news that she was named a semi-finalist, one of only 300 teenagers nationwide, in the Intel Science Talent Search, America’s oldest and most prestigious pre-college science competition. This meant she was in the running for a $100,000 semi-finals’ prize and possibly on her way to a spot in the finals where she could compete for over $1.25 million in awards and scholarships. Things were looking up.
What got her to the semi-finals? Samantha spent more than two years – after school (8-12 hours per week), on weekends and through the summer at Long Island’s Stony Brook University – on an original marine science project studying the effects of invasive Asian short crabs on the native mussel population in a salt marsh on Long Island. Her research showed that the mussels quickly responded to the chemicals emitted by the crabs by growing stronger and thickening their shells for added protection against the unfamiliar predator. It was an intriguing contribution to marine science that was published in a specialty magazine last year. The essence of her findings also proved to be a reflection of Samantha’s own survival response to being confronted with several heavy challenges at such a young age.
Though Samantha didn’t make the Intel finals, her inspiring story earned her lots of local and national attention, which contributed to life taking a much more positive turn for the entire Garvey family. Samantha’s parents have found work again, which made the struggling family eligible to move into a rent subsidized, 3 bedroom house owned by the Long Island County where she goes to school. The family of five moved in to their new home this past Saturday and can stay in the house for as long as they need to with their rent capped at 30% of their monthly income. According to the New York Daily News, a local Marriott donated some furnishings for the house, a local contractor installed donated carpets and a new roof for free, and Sleepy’s donated four beds to the family. Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres presented the now 18-year-old Samantha with a $50,000 scholarship from AT&T to the college of her choice, which may be Yale or Brown. There have been several additional offers to help her pay for college expenses. Samantha also made an appearance on The Today Show and attended the President’s January 24th State of the Union address as a special guest of Long Island Congressman, Steve Israel.
Her perseverance paid off and the thick skin Samantha developed made her spirit impervious to adversity. We’re certain there is so much more to come for and from this young Woman You Should Know. Keep inspiring us Samantha!