Nine-year-old Nathaniel Julian drew on his own experiences as a former foster child when he embarked on a project for the Build-A-Bear Workshop Huggable Heroes Contest.
And when he learned he was a semifinalist, he had a reaction typical of a 9-year-old: "I was like, whoa, that's just awesome!"
The awesome act that earned Nathaniel the honor involved collecting socks, underwear and shirts for foster kids.
"I asked my whole family and then they all came up to me and said they loved the project. Some gave me money, some gave me underwear, and stuff like that," Nathaniel said.
In fact, he took the nearly $350 he collected to a local store, where the manager heard the story and gave him a discount, allowing him to buy more for those in need.
"I helped a lot of kids," Nathaniel said.
He said he got the idea for the project when he saw his dad, Ted Julian, collecting gifts for a family his church adopted at Christmas time. He told his parents he wanted to collect pillows and blankets but his dad suggested they call Union County Children Services and see what items were actually needed.
"She said they need toothbrushes, toothpaste, hair brushes, underwear and socks," Nathaniel said. "Most kids, when they go to foster care, they mostly only take the stuff that they're wearing. I know that because we had nine foster kids and I used to be a foster kid."
Nathaniel and his little sister, Haley, were originally from Cuyahoga County. They were adopted five years ago by the Julians.
"He and his sister went into the system years apart," Ted Julian said. "He went in when he was 2. Haley went in when she was born and she's three years younger, but they both went to the same foster family."
The siblings have never been separated; they went together from foster family to adopted family.
Nathaniel is very matter of fact about his biological parents. "It was like three years ago my mom passed away and my dad is in prison in Florida," he said.
His biological mother died after he had a new family, but he is getting to know his relatives on her side of his family.
"That's been a wonderful experience for everyone," Ted Julian said. "We're going up there in a couple of weeks to celebrate their full-blood brother Marcus' birthday. They just met him last May. He's going to be 4."
Julian said Marcus was 1 when their mother was killed by a drunk driver.
"I can't believe a 1-year-old can go through that -- his mom passing away and he doesn't even know what's happening in the world," Nathaniel said.
His little brother was adopted by a biological aunt and uncle.
Nathaniel approves. "They're nice people," he said.
"Nice" seems to run in the family, as Nathaniel's project to help other foster kids was entirely his idea.
"He did the whole thing," Ted Julian said. "He wrote the letters we sent out. He went door to door, too, because he went to some of the neighbors. He was the one that sorted it all and delivered it.
"He's always been a very caring kid, always looking out for other kids."
In May, 30 finalists will be announced. The 10 Huggable Heroes winners will be named this summer.
Nathaniel said helping those in need just feels good and he encourages other kids to come up with more ways to help people."You should do it," he said. "It feels really good when you do it. You'll make kids have smiles on their faces."