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USF-St. Pete student president raises funds for family

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Published:   |   Updated: December 8, 2013 at 02:56 PM

Mark Lombardi-Nelson's enthusiasm and goal-oriented way of thinking have brought him to circles not typically inclusive of 21-year-olds.

As student body president at University of South Florida - St. Petersburg and a university system trustee, he has overseen a budget of more than $3 million and initiated a new campus bus program.

But his leadership role on the St. Petersburg campus is only part of who Lombardi-Nelson is. He says any personal successes are grounded in the love of his 10-person Spring Hill family.

And, in that regard, these are difficult days.

Lombardi-Nelson's father died Nov. 12 of a heart attack compounded by a series of work-related health problems.

"Words won't describe the amount of pain you go through in that," the son said.

His father's death came one month after Lombardi-Nelson launched an online campaign to help his father and family. That donation page, which opened Oct. 13 and closed Nov. 28, went the full 45 days permitted by the website, and exceeded the $1,000 goal in three days to ultimately raise $4,274 for rent, utilities and food expenses with his father unable to work.

Lombardi-Nelson petitioned for help on the page, in part, through the lens of a 21st birthday wish: the peace of mind of being able to provide for the family while his father, Papi, focused on improving his health.

"It was sad, really, because everything we were doing - it was just getting better," Lombardi-Nelson said. "But it happens for a reason. He's not suffering."

The father of eight developed COPD as a lifelong painter, requiring him to be on oxygen constantly, Lombardi-Nelson said. Then his back broke from osteoporosis.

About seven years ago while working as a commercial painter, his father stepped on a rusty nail. The wound led to an infection that spread in his leg and eventually required amputation.

"Just back and forth from one thing to another," Lombardi-Nelson said. "His work was taken from him, and he had to try and recover from that . and couldn't recover the way he needed."

Lombardi-Nelson has three older siblings and is an older brother himself - of four brothers and sisters ranging in age from 6 to 16.

The donation website, in retrospect with the passing of his father, turned out to be a blessing, Lombardi-Nelson said. It allowed his family to memorialize the man who brought stability to the family, provided for them and was there for them inside and outside their home.

But online donations have stopped at a time when the family is facing new expenses and challenges, Lombardi-Nelson said. "To say we don't need help, I wouldn't be able to say that," he said. "It's something we're struggling with my dad, and I'm going to take care of it one way or another. We're always resourceful."

A couple of people have helped with Christmas gifts, Lombardi-Nelson said, and have taken down shirt sizes.

"Those are the things that give you hope," Lombardi-Nelson said. "There's a lot going on at home for the kids right now, not only being young, but going through what they're going through."

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