Jamie Olivieri and Yennie Neal-Achigbu have been by each other’s side since the fifth grade. As adults, Jamie was there for the birth of two of Yennie’s three children, and has acted as a surrogate parent for the kids. They fondly refer to her as “Auntie Pasta.”

They’ve shared many happy moments and have also stood by each other through the passing of Jamie’s mom and Yennie’s husband, Alexander Achigbu. They supported each other through the grief of both losses, and even created new traditions in the midst of the sadness.

Photo: (Left to right) Zuri, Xoan, and Lyon Achigbu. Christmas 2014, Bronx, NY. Courtesy of Jamie Olivieri.

“Auntie Pasta’s Annual Christmastime Sleepover,” a tradition that started after Alexander’s death, is an eagerly anticipated Christmas celebration for Jamie, Yennie, and Yennie’s three children, Zuri (aged 10), Lyon (age 8), and Xoan (age 6).

After a tough 2020, Jamie and Yennie had a conversation using StoryCorps Connect to reflect on almost 30 years of friendship, and how they continue to find joy even in the most challenging of times.

Top Photo: (L) Yennie Neal-Achigbu and Jamie Olivieri, 1998. (R) Yennie Neal-Achigbu and Jamie Olivieri, 2012, Yonkers, NY. Courtesy of Jamie Olivieri.

Originally aired December 25, 2020, on NPR’s Morning Edition.