Nine years ago, two families’ paths crossed, changing their lives forever.
Vicki Michela and her Niskayuna family made the decision to host a child from the Fresh Air Fund, a nonprofit agency that provides a summer getaway for children living in inner-city New York City.
The Michelas first began hosting Katirish Pintor when she was 9 years old and living in Harlem.
“They just took me in like family,” said Katirish. “There was never a dull moment. It was like another home away from home.”
Nine years later, Katirish now lives in the Bronx and is graduating from Marble Hill School for International Studies this spring. In the fall, Katirish will be attending John Jay College in New York City. After all this time, there’s still a strong bond between the Michela family and Katirish.
“It has been a very positive experience,” said Vicki Michela. “From the first year, there was never a rivalry between [Katirish] and our children. It was very smooth.”
Prior to getting involved with the Fresh Air Fund, the Michelas hosted a teenage exchange student from Spain. Because there was a significant age difference between the Michela children, who were 6 and 8 years old, and the teenage exchange student, the Michelas didn’t quite get the experience they were hoping for.
A couple of years later, the Michela family wanted to try hosting a child from the Fresh Air Fund. At the time, Katirish was 9 years old and in the middle of the two Michela daughters’ ages, Mia Gorla, 10, and Eleni Gorla, 8. For Vicki Michela, this was perfect.
“We wanted a child closer to our children’s ages,” said Vicki. “It was good that Katirish was 9 and between our two daughters in age.”
For Mia Gorla, now 18, it was nice having someone else close to her age around with her and her sister.
“[Katirish’s age] made it easier to bond,” said Mia Gorla. “It’s like we just added a friend.”
When the Michelas began hosting Katirish, it was for two weeks during each summer. A special bond began to form. Katirish was more than a child who the Michela family was hosting, but was more a part of the Michela family.
As the years passed, the Michelas hosted Katirish more often, sometimes for a week during the Christmas or April breaks. Vicki Michela even recalled Katirish’s mother, Gladys, sometimes called her during the year for advice on mothering.
As far as the relationship between the Michela children and Katirish, Mia Gorla remembered how excited she was when her family first started hosting Katirish. The two children would even fight for who got to have Katirish sleep in their room. They eventually decided to all sleep in one room on a “giant blow-up mattress.”
“I just remember being really excited for her to come,” said Mia Gorla. “We even made signs for her.
“We showed her parts of Niskayuna, parts that we’ve been to before,” said Mia Gorla. “We were rediscovering the parts around us.”
Even though Katirish has aged out of the Fresh Air Fund, the Michela family has continued to host her and go to the Bronx to visit her family.
This past fall, Mia Gorla started college at Barnard College in Manhattan, and is very close to Katirish and her family. Unfortunately, the two girls were never able to meet up during the school year due to the their busy schedules.
The Michela family visited Katirish and her family recently when they moved Mia Gorla out of her dorm room at the end her freshman year.
“When I was moving out of my room, I was like ‘Mom let’s go visit Katirish’ and we did,” said Mia Gorla.
The Michelas hope to have Katirish up to Niskayuna again this summer as long as both families’ schedules can work out and keep their 9-year-relationship strong.
“It was really smooth sailing from the beginning being with her,” said Vicki. “I think that’s why we’ve kept this relationship with her.”