‘Clothed in Cullman’ – a mother’s pain turned into triumph in her son’s memory

Ashley Wilson (Amy Leonard for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Ashley Wilson and her sister-in-law, Helen Lewis, chose the Saturday before Mother’s Day to hold their first Clothed in Cullman fundraiser with great intention in 2019. It was to be a day for community members and Curt’s Closet supporters to gather with their mothers, families and friends.

The fundraiser was then in limbo during the federal shutdown due to the COVID pandemic. This year’s event was held on an exceptionally bittersweet day, the fifth anniversary of Wilson’s precious son Curt’s untimely passing.

Upon realizing the date on the calendar which this year’s event would fall, Wilson said she “initially felt that deep down pain in my soul that I get so often and that I wish on no one. But, in that same instant, I honestly felt so much joy.”

Looking to her sister-in-law, Wilson concluded, “It will be a day of celebration, a celebration of a life lived. The lives Curt touched in his short 15 years with us. More importantly, the countless lives that he continues to touch and change. All because of one very special boy that chose to be kind, giving and accepting of all. My Curtis.”

Saturday’s celebration saw hundreds of women and their families communing at the impeccably decorated Loft 212 and dining on lunch provided by Chat and Chew.

The celebrants placed their names on countless silent auction items provided by many giving local merchants. Generous gift bags were provided to each attendee ensuring that all ticket buyers left feeling special.

East Elementary School principal and emcee of the event David Wiggins spoke of his connection with Curt and the importance of giving back to Curt’s Closet.

“I had the great pleasure and joy of being Curt’s elementary school principal and had five years with that dynamic child. Being a baseball fan, I got to see him play ball growing up. I was here at the first Clothed in Cullman as a bidder to support the organization. Seeing what Curt’s Closet has done for kids in our school, for people in the community in need, when Ashley asked me to take part this year, of course I said yes. I am delighted and honored to be here to support Curt’s memory and Curt’s Closet.”

Ashley Wilson expressed her gratitude for attendees and supporters at Saturday’s Clothed in Cullman silent auction and fundraiser benefiting Curt’s Closet.

“Beauty from ashes. It wasn’t until the past few years that I knew the meaning. Beauty from ashes. It invokes a sense of comeback, of a phoenix rising from destruction. Five years ago, today I was spending my last moments with my son, Curt. By 6:00 p.m. on May 7 of 2017, my entire life as I knew it was incinerated into ashes. But today as I stand before you all I look around and I see nothing but beauty. Curt is more loved today than he ever was when he was here with us.”

From the ashes the determined mother worked diligently to make sure her son’s name would never be forgotten. In its first year of operation, 662 children were clothed at Curt’s Closet, Wilson’s non-profit clothing store where children aged 19 and younger shop for clothing for free.

In 2021, the organization clothed over 1700 children, 22 housefire victims, 72 foster families and another 140 individuals in emergency situations.

“I promised my precious baby that I would do everything in my power to make sure that his legacy and his name would always be continued. I promised that every child in Cullman County felt the love, acceptance and self-worth that he gave to everyone who knew Curt,” Wilson shared through her tears.

In 2021 the organization began Curt’s Christmas and provided 300 area children with at least six new items from their wish list, new outfit, new pair of shoes and new coat along with household items for families. This year they expect to grow to 500 children.

Wilson’s motherly love is evident with every child who walks through the door of Curt’s Closet.

“These children that come in are truly the innocent victims of life’s circumstances. They cannot control what their parents decide to do, and they are all so worthy of self-confidence, self-worth, knowing their identity in Christ. When they are in my presence, whether it be 10 minutes or an hour at Curt’s Closet, I try to make sure they know they are worthy and can accomplish anything. I hope when they leave, they have pride and confidence that they can walk down the halls at school a little bit taller.”

The nonprofit partners with many local agencies including Victim Services, The Link of Cullman County, DHR, Unsheltered, The Reid House and Wellstone.

Wilson expressed her gratitude to the audience with, “I feel like I’m up here bragging and I am. I’m bragging on y’all. I couldn’t do it without each of you here—through your clothing donations, your volunteer hours, your monetary donations and being here today at events like this. This is what keeps us going.”

Ashley Wilson with Connell Award recipient Cathie Drake (Amy Leonard for The Cullman Tribune)

Continuing to pay homage to her supporters, Wilson gave out the inaugural Connell Award, aptly a coat hanger, to Rick and Brenda Connell. The award was meant to be given at the 2020 celebration. With the moniker of “The Underwear King and Queen” the Connells have been stalwarts of the organization since day one.

Cathie Drake was the recipient of the 2022 Connell Award.

Wilson spoke with great affection of Drake, sharing, “This lady came to Curt’s Closet as a volunteer and quickly became a best friend. Today, she is family. She’s quick to make a joke to bring a smile to your face, sing a random song or remind you of God’s promise to encourage you. She has taught me a lot in her short time at Curt’s Closet. She has a gentle soul and a giving heart. I can’t imagine my life without this beautiful lady.”

Wilson concluded, “Curt’s Closet has tremendously grown since March of 2018, and we have no plans of stopping.”

To schedule an appointment with Curt’s Closet, please call 256-735-4557.

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