AUBURN | Emily Tortorici stood alongside her nephew Jackie Wilson III on Sunday afternoon, her right hand wiping her tear-stained cheeks, her left hand on Wilson's shoulder.
“All of his friends and family wanted to give him our love and support and a nice head start as he gets ready to go to college,” she said. “He lost everything and this is our way of trying to help.”
Jackie Wilson III, a 19-year-old Auburn High School graduate, has spent the last eight months trying to cope with the tragic event that took his mother's life.
On March 10, Wilson's mom, Rachel Harris-Curione died in a house fire. And although Wilson was not home, he lost everything including the one person who he said, meant so much to him.
For the last month or so, Wilson's family, including his uncle Robert “Bebop” Williams and Tortorici, have worked to coordinate a benefit to help their nephew.
On Sunday, their hard work paid off as people flocked to Falcon Lanes for a pasta dinner, raffle prizes and an opportunity to help a young man start over.
Wilson was nervous and overwhelmed by all the love.
“It's really special to see all of these people come here for me,” he said. “And I appreciate everyone coming together to support me and to also remember my mom. She helped me a lot.”
Red balloons — Wilson's favorite color — filled the room and nearly every person from child to adult had on a red T-shirt in memory of Harris-Curione. In black lettering, the words “Rachel Forever” spread across the front and on the back “Mama's boy.”
Wilson and his mother were close, he said. She watched him play football as a receiver for the Auburn High School football team and lived for the day to see her son graduate, his family said.
Despite his circumstances, and the tough semester he had in front of him, Wilson pulled through and graduated on time with his classmates making his entire family so proud, they said.
“I know that's what she wanted,” Tortorici said. “And I know that she's up there and really proud of him and everything he's done.”
Wilson's uncle, BeBop said it's been a challenge but everyone is getting through it and staying strong for his nephew. BeBop is comforted by the fact that his sister lives on in other people, he said.
Harris-Curione was an organ donor and many of them were donated after she died. And knowing that his sister helped others in need, makes him feel like she's still out in the world, he added.
"I'm really just so overwhelmed by the community's generosity and support for Jackie," BeBop said. "And we are so thankful to everyone who are sharing stories and carrying on Rachel's memory."
Despite a few tears, many reflected on the day to honor a life lost and support a young man moving forward.
“Jackie's done so well and we're all so proud of him,” BeBop said. “He graduated, he's on track and we hope that this will help him.”
As Wilson bashfully walked away to say hello to friends, Tortorici and BeBop stood together reflecting on the last few months and a young man who, they said, has shown so much strength.
“I just want him to know that people are here for him and they love him,” Tortorici said. 'It's been a struggle but we're taking it one day at a time.”