YULA Boys High School Students Buy Their Teacher a Car

August 26, 2022
Mr. Castro under a tunnel of his students (Photo by Moshe Darbish)

“I feel special. I feel grateful. I am speechless.”

These are the words Julio Castro, 31, math teacher at YULA Boys High School, told the Journal moments after his students presented him with a new car.

Castro, who just entered his fourth year of teaching at YULA, lives in Santa Clarita and gets up at 4:15 a.m. every day to take the bus to school. He returns home around 9 p.m., after his three kids have gone to bed. Castro works through lunch and stays late to tutor his students, so he really only sees his family on the weekends.

His dedication made such an impression that over the summer, Castro’s students, led by YULA senior Joshua Gerendash, 17, dedicated their summer to raising money to buy him a car.

Gerendash attributes his philanthropic nature to his Jewish upbringing.

“Personally, I find more joy in helping people than receiving things myself,” Gerendash said. “Mr. Castro has given so much of his time to helping me [and other students], I figured the least I could do was give back.”

Joshua Gerendash and Charlie Leeds talking with Mr. Castro’s girlfriend and kids (Photo by Moshe Darbish)

Gerendash and his friends, 12th graders Shimmi Jotkowitz, Charlie Leeds and Ben Ziv and 10th grader Josh Pachter raised more than $16,000 through local donations and two fundraisers. Gerendash’s brother David, 13 and an 8th grader at Hillel Hebrew Academy, also stepped in to help.

One of the school’s assigned faculty advisors David Pulitzer was a previous beneficiary of a secret student campaign. Two years ago, when the students noticed Pulitzer becoming more religious, they raised money to buy him his first pair of tefillin. YULA felt Pulitzer could truly appreciate the impact of this endeavor.

“As an educator, I am in awe, inspired, and proud of our students’ efforts to organize this project from start to finish,” Head of School Rabbi Arye Sufrin told the Journal. “This is what education is all about.”

The Change Reaction matched donations up to $10,000, and the “Dude. Be Nice” Project documented the process and also chipped in money toward the fundraiser. Galpin Motors, who helped the student find a special car for this beloved teacher,  donated to the cause, too. In all, around $30,000 was raised.

All the boys that came together to make it happen with the Dude Be Nice team that documented the journey (Photo by Moshe Darbish)

“Kids spending their summer working to raise some dough, so they can bless someone they appreciate is newsworthy,” said Brent Camalich, the founder and CEO of Dude. Be Nice. “We’re so thankful for The Change Reaction, this nonprofit group helping supersize giving across LA, [for making] this special surprise even bigger.”

On August 25, shortly after the school year started, YULA “staged” a Staff Appreciation Assembly, with Castro as one of the honorees.

After the presentation, Castro was led through a tunnel of cheering students and received a present from Gerendash: a llama-shaped pinata, which was a nod to Castro’s Peruvia roots. When he opened the pinata, a bunch of chocolate spilled out, along with a small wrapped present: the keys to a blue Grand Touring Mazda 3 Hatchback.

Mr. Castro in his new car (Photo by Moshe Darbish)

“Mr Castro, me and some friends spent an entire summer raising money so we could buy you a car,” Gerendash told him.

Castro, whose girlfriend and three kids were at he presentation, was surprised and overwhelmed – but most of all, thankful.

“Now I get to see them every morning, give them breakfast, take them to school and check their homework at night,” he said. “It’s not just a car. They gave me more time with my family.”  

“It’s not just a car. They gave me more time with my family.” – Julio Castro

This project will certainly change this dedicated educator’s quality of life and have an even greater impact on the students involved.

“This truly was an outstanding Kiddush HaShem that shows how big of an impact one can have regardless of their age,” Sufrin said. “This project was solely by the students and sends a clear message to all educators around the world how one can inspire students to grow as Bnei Torah, regardless of what subject they teach.”

Gerendash feels happy and relieved that this came to fruition. “I learned that if I really want to do something I can make it happen,” he said. “I feel so excited… that he has a car and that he will have a better life”

“What my students have done for me means the world to me,” Castro said. “Being part of YULA makes me feel like I’ve been accepted into a new family.”

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