At just 12 years old, Julien doesn't want birthday presents. He just wants to make his dad's Crohn's disease STOP.
Most kids of that age would want a new bike or a cool new phone. But Julien is different. "It isn't just about raising money," says Julien. "A lot of people don't know much about Crohn's disease. It is important to raise awareness – not just for my dad, but for everyone with these diseases."
Julien Lamanna first learned that his father had Crohn's disease when it put him in the hospital. At 9 years old, Julien was starting to ask questions, and his parents had to explain what Crohn's disease was all about. After learning about the challenges that his father was facing, he insisted on making a difference.
At his next birthday, Julien made an unusual request – he didn't want any presents. Instead, he asked his friends and family to make donations to Crohn's and Colitis Canada. All he wanted at his birthday was to make a difference – to raise money for research, but also to raise awareness so that people like his Dad don't have to suffer in silence.
He has done this for each birthday since then. He continues to turn down presents – he would rather have the cash value put towards Crohn's and Colitis Canada. This year, Julien has raised over $1,715.00 on his 12th birthday, which was on September 30th.
"Although we have come a long way, public awareness of these diseases is low," says Julien's father Joseph. "We received a lot of questions from children and parents, so we created some info sheets that Julien could distribute."
In one case, Julien's fundraiser helped to start a conversation. Unexpectedly, a long-time friend shared his connection to the cause. "After we talked about my fundraiser, he told me that he had ulcerative colitis and his sister had Crohn's," Julien contributes. They were friends – had ridden bikes and played soccer together – but it wasn't until Julien's fundraiser that it came up. "That's the key to events like this," says Joseph. "Building awareness and helping people to feel comfortable talking about Crohn's and colitis."
Julien continues to forego gifts at his birthday – and now he is fundraising in his school as well. Last year he organized a ‘hat day', where students donated to the cause and got to wear a hat to school for the day. Julien distributed information to teachers and administrators, and even spoke about his fundraiser at an assembly. After a stunning success last year, Julien is working to expand the fundraiser this year – with one other school already signed up to participate.
Julien's isn't done there. He would love to see other kids get involved with their own fundraisers at school. "Just do it – and don't be afraid," is his advice. "You will feel good about it while you're doing it, and you will feel good about it after. You can make a difference, and make it fun!"
This November, join Julien and start a FUNdraiser in your school or workplace! We offer a number of fun ideas and fantastic resources to support local community initiatives. Click here to learn more!
If you would like to learn more or support Julien's very generous birthday fundraiser, click here.
Stay tuned for more from Julien throughout Crohn's & Colitis Awareness Month on social media!