1,000 Families Project: Stephanie, Ariana, Vikki, Gino and Mikahla

Orphaned after her father’s passing, this young woman has been embraced by her best friend’s family who treat her as one of their own.

Growing up in a predominantly Italian household, my family stressed from an early age that “blood is thicker than water,” and so I, in turn, thought accordingly. I protected this notion for many years until I realized that the majority of the people that surrounded me, impacted me and held great importance to me, were not just blood relatives but also friends and people that I met along the way who treated me and appeared to me like family. Soon after meeting my friend’s parents would I call them my parents, too, and this trend continued from my early teens to my early adulthood.

I was first introduced to the Iuele family seven years ago in high school when I became good friends with their oldest child, Ariana, and who I now call my sister. Shortly after meeting everyone I was invited to go to a mission trip to Haiti with them, which is where our bond deepened.

I was raised by a single dad, and so when my father died about a year ago, my sister and I were forced to leave our previous home to find belonging elsewhere. That was a tough time for me; I remember feeling completely alone and that losing my father meant my family was shattered. I also didn’t feel particularly comfortable living with relatives as I felt it was a burden on them to have me. While setting out to rent some place affordable, Vikki (Ariana’s mom and who I refer to as Mom) reached out to me, ensuring that their home was always open if I ever needed a place to live until I got adjusted and that it was no trouble at all to accommodate me. I felt a lot of love by their kind gesture and knew that I would not feel like a stranger in their home because they were not the sort of people capable of bringing on such feelings. I moved in May of last year and have enjoyed every minute of being a part of such an embracing and inclusive home.

Routines such as having dinner every evening and celebrating holidays with new traditions like Christmas tree cutting are all privileges that I never had before. I am so lucky to have the opportunity to experience with my new found family, the Iueles. They push me to step out of my comfort zone and explore different ways of connecting and spending time together. This past summer I went on my first ever hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington and Oregon. The trip proved to be such a beautiful and unforgettable experience trekking alongside the youngest child of the family, my “sister” Mikahla and Vikki a.k.a. Mom. There were days that we got on each other’s nerves and moments on high altitude that fear and frustration got the worst of us. These times, the love you have for each other will also push you through and that is no doubt what it did for us.

Family to me is much more than just “blood.” It is love, kindness and nurturing meaningful relationships by reminding those special people how valuable and important they are. I have learned so much from these people and I continue to learn every day what really makes up a family.

I had an irreplaceable bond with my father who passed. He was more than just a parental figure, he was my best friend and I am happy for our non-conventional relationship and for all the other non-conventional families I have maintained throughout my life. Without all these people that make up my family, especially the ones that don’t have my last name, I don’t think I would have been able to be so open, trusting and accepting of people outside of my ancestral kinships. Having felt what it was like to be accepted into a family so quickly, lovingly and naturally reaffirms my belief that blood is not always thicker than water and the people who mean the most to you will feel like family regardless of whether you’re related or not.

This is #1000families post number 193. Do you have a family story of your own to contribute to the 1,000 Families Project? Or do you know a family that might want to do so? Learn more about how the series got started and how to get involved here. You can find all of the #1000families posts here.
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Stephanie Finelli

About

Stephanie Finelli is currently studying Family and Community Social Services at the University of Guelph-Humber. She enjoys writing, dancing, travel, nature and being apart of a diverse culture.


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