When PROaupair host mom Rachel Schulenburg first decided to welcome an au pair into her family’s home, she was hoping for someone that could help with the children and make the family’s life a little easier. As she wrote in her nomination essay:

“What we got with Julia Mertins, with 100% certainty, is a permanent member of our family.”

The Schulenburg’s oldest son, Luke, is a sweet 12-year-old boy that has special needs. Luke is diagnosed with autism and is completely non-verbal, non-communicative, and non-potty trained.

“To say it is challenging, loud and extremely messy to care for Luke is an understatement. I get frustrated, tired and often complain. Julia may get frustrated and tired but I would never know for she NEVER complains. She is a joyous, happy person that lives life in the most positive way.”

Julia’s impact on Luke’s life has been significant and a bond has formed between the two.

“From day one, Julia has made Luke her first priority. Luke has trouble sleeping, often jumping on the bed, banging the walls and making his unique sounds. To help him sleep, Julia will lay down next to him, calming him down with her amazing singing voice. When she stops, Luke takes one finger and touches her face to indicate that he would like her to continue.”

Julia’s singing is important to Luke.

“To get him to stay on the toilet, hoping for some success, she again sings. For Luke’s Christmas gift this year, Julia took her time and money to go to a recording studio and sing perfect versions of Luke’s favorite songs. The note on the CD says, ‘No matter how far apart we are, this gift makes us always seem to be around somehow. #happypoopsforever Love, Julia.’ As the songs played and Luke rocked back and forth to the music, everyone in the room cried. Luke has never received such a meaningful gift. It doesn’t matter that Luke cannot communicate. She knows him better than anyone. She knows his heart.”

Julia’s positive impacts on the family are not limited to Luke. She also has endless energy and time for Bennett, the family’s 10-year-old son.

“With our younger son Bennett, she never runs out of energy or activities. They create elaborate pillow forts, paint rocks into spiders, pumpkins or monsters. She has endless patience for his explanations of the Lego creations, stick ‘laser shooters,’ or any other creative item he dreams up. She disciplines him when necessary and loves him endlessly.”

For Rachel, Julia is a mix of daughter, little sister and friend.

“She is fun to be with, making the days when my husband travels less lonely and more fun. We jam in the car to music and swear we will one day make a lip-sync video. She rolls with the crazy of our family and loves to participate in everything we do. Most importantly, she seamlessly takes over for us when we are gone, keeping our kids safe and cared for. When my older son Luke broke his arm during our last day of Christmas vacation in California, we knew we could send Julia home to Chicago with Bennett by themselves, without any concern. The relief for a parent of not having to worry about one child, while taking care of another, cannot be overstated.”

Even the local community has benefitted from Julia’s time in the U.S.

“Outside the home, Julia is equally active. She took an acting class at college last year. When the Emergency Medical Tech class needed someone to ‘act’ as a patient, Julia went. She enjoyed the group so much she volunteered with them for the rest of the year without any credit, compensation or benefit to her. She did it to be part of the community, meet people, and most of all help. She made lasting friends with the class and had the most hysterical stories to tell us each time.”

For the Schulenburg family, Julia is more than their au pair of the year.

“Although I might not be able to express to you how much Julia helps us, does for us, and most of all means to us, she is – to our family – the Au Pair of the Century.”