Teen Granted Wish to Visit NYC, 9/11 Memorial Museum

Michael Varisco, a teenager with a life-threatening illness, and his family members stand by the Last Column during their visit to the 9/11 Memorial Museum.
Left to right: Joseph Tran, Margaret Varisco, Nicholas Varisco, Michael Varisco, Katherine Courtien, Anthony Gardner, Christina Varisco, and Peter Varisco (Photo by Anthony Palmeri).

As a 9/11 Memorial Museum employee and a 9/11 family member, some of my most fulfilling moments have been watching visitors discover a connection to and a compassion for those affected by the events of Sept. 11, 2001. It is particularly special when in turn, visitors have inspired me with their stories of adversity. This happened recently when Michael Varisco, a young man battling a life-threatening illness, visited the memorial and museum with his family.

As a lover of history and food, 16-year-old Michael from Tampa Bay, Fla., wanted nothing more than a trip to New York City. The Varisco family’s visit to NYC and the museum was arranged through the Children’s Dream Fund, an organization focused on “fulfilling dreams for children ages three to 18 who have been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.”

A 9/11 family member and Vice President of Community Engagement for the 9/11 Memorial, Anthony Gardner, created a unique experience for the Varisco family. Anthony and I, along with two volunteer docents who also have personal connections to 9/11, led the family in a private tour.

Anthony Palmeri, a Ground Zero recovery worker for the New York City Department of Sanitation, and New York City Fire Department Rescue 5 first responder Bill Spade both helped us make this visit exceptional. Meeting the Variscos was truly a wonderful experience. We all shared our personal 9/11 experiences, emphasizing how the story of 9/11, while tragic, is also about community and courage.  

A few days later, Gardner received an email from Michael’s father, Peter Varisco, stating, “Bill, Anthony, Katie and yourself made a deep impression on all of us…It was very moving and very appropriate for Michael in his own challenge for courage and perseverance. The whole experience reinforced our belief in people's goodness and in the spirit of our country and that ultimately God and goodness will triumph over evil. We can't thank you enough." 

We are so honored that the Variscos chose to spend their time in New York City with us at the 9/11 Memorial Museum. It was an experience that will stay with each of us for many years to come.

By Katherine Courtien, 9/11 Memorial Museum Docent Program Manager

Previous Post

Educators Learn 9/11 Teaching Strategies at Gilder Lehrman Institute Seminar

Professor James Young speaks about Holocaust memorials in Germany as students watch on.

Teachers are often challenged by how to approach educating students about the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

View Blog Post

Next Post

Photographer Tells Story Behind Mobile Memorial "Johnny’s Hot Dog Truck"

Johnny Perna’s hot dog truck sits at a bus stop on Staten Island in 2003. The truck features a decal of an American flag and the Twin Towers.

Hot dog stands, food trucks and street cart vendors are all part of New York City’s vibrant landscape.

View Blog Post