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Samantha Garvey overwhelmed by LIers' help

Samantha Garvey, an Intel semifinalist whose family is

Samantha Garvey, an Intel semifinalist whose family is homeless, and her father Leo Garvey at Village Video studios in West Babylon where they were interviewed by HNL news, affliate for CNN news. (Jan. 12, 2012) Credit: James Carbone

Intel semifinalist Samantha Garvey, whose most pressing goal is to help her homeless family, said she was overwhelmed Thursday by the outpouring of support from Long Island and beyond.

"I never expected this much attention," the aspiring marine biologist said. "This is amazing!"

One of her wishes was fulfilled when an anonymous donor stepped forward to arrange to kennel and vaccinate her beloved dog Pulga, a 4-year-old pit bull, which she feared would be euthanized in a shelter.

"It is the nicest thing anyone has ever done," Garvey said. "I'm so happy people were willing to help."

The Brentwood High School senior, 17, appeared on "NBC Nightly News" Thursday night and is to appear Friday on Fox 5's "Good Day New York." School officials also have fielded queries from "The Ellen DeGeneres Show."

Garvey, who lives with her parents, brother and sister in a Bay Shore shelter, is among 61 Long Island high school seniors named semifinalists Wednesday in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search. Her project focused on how striped mussels change in the presence of predators.

Dana Watson, a spokeswoman for Intel, said Garvey has a solid chance in the competition. Finalists are chosen not only on the merits of their work, but on their leadership abilities, she said.

"It is really about finding the best, well-rounded scientific leaders who will shine in the U.S. and solve tomorrow's problems," Watson said. "That is what they're looking for. When she speaks about her research and her life, her grace and her poise shine through. She is going places."

At her high school Thursday afternoon, Garvey stood smiling and composed after a day of interviews, calling the experience "unreal."

Her mentor and science research teacher, Rebecca Grella, couldn't believe the frenzy.

"I'm awestruck," said Grella, who shepherds students' Intel involvement. "I knew that this was a district that had the potential to rise above. Seeing Brentwood in a positive light is a dream come true. There are so many wonderful people in this district and community, and this is a gift to them all."

Garvey's mother, Olga, said she is relieved that she won't have to worry about the dog any longer. The family's plight -- behind on rent after a series of personal upheavals, they were evicted from their home on New Year's Day -- resonated with Long Islanders who also came forward to offer food and money.

"It's the kind of story that makes you realize if you've got a job and a roof over your head, you've got no problems," said Mary Perlowsky of Coram, who wrote to Newsday asking how she could help. "What determination this girl has to keep pushing forward. It seems certain she'll reach her goals."

The high school received several calls with offers to help Garvey with education costs, principal Richard Loeschner said. "We had no idea it was going to be this big," he said. "People have a sense of goodness and want to help."

Lily Fagin, 17, a senior at North Shore High in Glen Head, understands the dedication it takes to compete in Intel. Also a semifinalist, she said Garvey's story helped put her struggles in perspective.

"I felt like it was hard enough for me with all of the things I had going on while I was trying to put together a science research project, like after-school activities, and, 'Oh, My God, I have a test tomorrow,' " she said. "To hear about her problems -- which were so much more profound -- it was very humbling."

Garvey's father, Leo, a taxi driver and dispatcher, said he was heartened by Long Island's response.

"It's unbelievable," he said. "People care. People say a lot of bad things about New Yorkers, but there ain't no place like New York."

He posted a thank you to well-wishers on newsday.com, saying Samantha has grown to be "one giant of a woman."

"Many times I have been ready to throw in the towel and give up and wallow in self-pity," he wrote. "She gives me the reason to keep on going, along with her brother and sister. I live for them."

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