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Online Donors Pay for Bronx Teen's Trip to the Presidential Inauguration

By Patrick Wall | January 16, 2013 8:53am

CLAREMONT — Marcela Pinos, a Bronx high school student, will stand on the National Mall next week and watch President Obama take the oath of office thanks to online donors who paid for her entire trip — including a New Jersey man who gave $1,765.

“It appeared she was going to fall short, so I decided to help her,” said Danny O’Shea, a Bronx-to-New Jersey transplant who found Pinos’ story online. “This girl seems to be busting her tail — all she needs is a little push.”

Pinos, 16, secured an invitation to the selective five-day High School Presidential Inaugural Conference — where students study government and leadership, listen to speakers such as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and watch the inauguration — through her membership in the National Society of High School Scholars.

But because she and her mother, an Ecuadorian immigrant who works at a supermarket, couldn’t afford the event’s $3,195 price tag, the teen launched her own fundraising campaign by writing letters to celebrities, selling cupcakes and joining a crowd-funding site.

At first, her online campaign drew little notice.

But soon after DNAinfo.com New York ran a story about her in December, Pinos said, donations started flowing in.

Within days, she had reached her goal.

When she and her mother saw this, they broke down into tears, then called Pinos’ grandmother in Ecuador.

“She had to calm us down. We were so, so happy,” Pinos said. “I thought I might get some money, but I didn’t think I’d get all of it.”

The trip will be her first to another state or the District of Columbia.

By Tuesday afternoon, 29 people — almost all of them strangers to Pinos — had contributed $3,290 in gifts ranging from $5 to $1,765, the amount O'Shea saw Pinos had left to raise when he donated.

O’Shea, a tech entrepreneur who grew up in Fordham, said he related to much of Pinos’ story.

His mother, an Irish immigrant, raised his two siblings and him single-handedly after her husband died.

In the hardscrabble Bronx of the 70s and 80s, O’Shea said, he learned that “opportunities can be few,” so he had to create his own — an attitude he recognized in Pinos.

“It takes a special person who is able to persevere and understand,” O’Shea said, “that you need to keep getting back up and fighting.”

The Bronx High School of Medical Science, where Pinos is a junior, did not offer her and some other students any math or English classes this semester.

So Pinos and a few friends met with teachers and administrators about the matter and finally went to the media.

Last month, they formed a group, Academics for All, to organize fellow students to push for classes they believe are their right.

“She definitely struck me as someone who’s compelled to move forward,” said Michele Giordano, a TV producer in Riverdale who donated $500 without ever meeting Pinos.

Joel Rivera, a Bronx city councilman, read Pinos’ story and recalled traveling to the nation’s capital when he was a teenager to witness Bill Clinton’s inauguration.

“I remembered how amazing it felt to be in Washington at that time — it changed my mindset,” said Rivera, who contributed personal, not city, funds to Pinos’ trip. “Once I saw Marcela had this ambition, I wanted to make sure that money would not be an issue.”

Pinos’ former teacher, now based in South Africa, also donated, as did a Bronx woman who said she had scrounged $20 for the teen.

“I don't have much; like your mother, I work in a supermarket,” the woman wrote on the fundraising site.

“I hope to read about you one day,” she said at the end of her message. “Good Luck!”