Julian Berzon-Castrillon is your typical 8-year-old. He likes to play with his classmates at Castlebay Lane Elementary in Porter Ranch, spend time with his mother Julie, and is shy around strangers.
But as the holiday season approaches, and as kids begin to make long lists of what toys they want to get, Julian is instead giving to others.
It’s the way he and his mother give thanks for what they have, and try to make the world a better place.
Last year on his own, Julian – who lives in Granada Hills – took it upon himself to start a toy drive. He and his mother went to a posh area of Santa Clarita to knock on doors, visiting about 50 homes.
“He gave a little speech to every person and left them a bag for an unwrapped toy. Seven days later a lot of people had dropped toys in the bag,” Julie recalled.
She said many people actually gave them two or three brand new toys in each bag.
“People want to give and they get a toy for a boy, they think ‘I should just get one for a girl as well,’” Julie said.
They also asked for donations from friends and family. In the end, they were able to collect more than 200 toys.
Then came the decision of what to do with them.
Julie, who is studying for a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy, thought a good place would be the San Fernando Valley Community Mental Health Center, where she was planning to do an internship.
“There’s a lot of kids in there. We thought it was a great place to donate a toy,” she said.
Helping Youth and Adults
The Center, located in Van Nuys, is a nonprofit agency that helps improve the mental health of individuals and families. It offers services to children, adolescent and transitional age youth with serious emotional disorders, as well as adults with mental illness.
The agency is a first line of defense for abused or mistreated children, for whom a toy can be a lifeline to normalcy.
So Julie and her son dropped off the toys at the clinic and the agency did a lot of the wrapping and took charge of the distribution.
“We received a bunch of testimonials on their newsletter. It was really great,” Julie said of the response.
So great that Julian decided to do it again this year.
But instead of knocking on doors, he’s been saving the money he receives for his allowance and also what he earns for doing chores to buy the toys. In addition, Julian has received donations from people they know.
Every once in a while he and his mom head to the 99 Cent Store to buy books, stuffed animals, teddy bears and whatever else he can afford. They have three huge boxes full of them in their house and they’re not done yet.
They also have a box at the North Hollywood Police Station for donations as well.
They’ll be taking everything to the Center once again in the first week of December, so they can make children happy this holiday.
Making Others Happy
When asked why he does it, Julian first says “for charity,” then adds “to make them (children) happy.”
“So the whole world can be in peace,” he said.
Julie couldn’t be more proud.
“He’s an amazing 8-year-old. My child is a very generous, caring child,” she said.
Julie, who is divorced from Julian’s father, said she and her son “love to give and love to help,” by helping and making as many donations as they can to the Jewish Temple they attend.
“Hopefully he got it from me,” she says of Julian’s generosity. “He’s being raised that way.”
They hope this becomes an annual tradition.
“I would like it to be. It’s a wonderful thing to do. It’s wonderful for any parent to teach their children to give and not just receive,” Julie said.
She notes that children today have so many toys, clothes and gadgets, to a point where they “are so spoiled.”
“It’s almost too much,”Julie said, adding that parents should instead teach their children “to think of others besides themselves.”
And contrary to what you may think, she’s the first to tell you they’re not rich.
“My son is definitely not lacking in anything,” she admits, before saying that they’re thankful for what they have — each other and their health.
What they’re doing, she said, is simply “trying to put a smile” on other children’s faces.
“It’s very important to instill such gestures to children, to make them much more aware of what they have versus what others don’t have. I think parents should be much more mindful of that and always teach their children to help, to give to others, and make sure that a child doesn’t go unnoticed,” Julie said.
That’s exactly what the the San Fernando Valley Community Mental Health Center is asking people to help them do.
It serves approximately 1,500 kids of all ages and wants to provide a toy for each of them. While Julian’s charitable work helps, it does not provide for all of them.
So officials at the center are asking for donations to help match Julian’s campaign, dollar for dollar.
But what does Julian want for this holiday? After all, every child wants something and he’s no exception.
The boy — who wants to be a veterinarian when he grows up — doesn’t want a video game, toys or new clothes.
He just got a baby turtle and now wants a miniature pig.
Whether he will get it…well, that’s another story.
If you want to help the Center purchase toys for needy children, visit http://www.sfvcmhc.org/about-us.