Kids Board Member, Daniella Benitez Is Building Hope

In 2017, as a 7th grader at Notre Dame Academy in San Diego, our P.E. Coach Petro had introduced our school to a special non profit organization called Build a Miracle started by Mr. and Mrs. Chris and Julianne North to help bring families back together under one roof in Tijuana, Mexico that had been torn apart because of poverty. He got our school involved in raising money to sponsor one home, which takes $16000 to build a fully furnished home with running water and electricity. Our school raised the money through students’ families’ donations, and my mom forced my family to actually go down to Tijuana with a group of volunteers to help physically build this house.

At first, I wasn’t interested in going down, because I knew it was going to be sad, and I usually get uncomfortable seeing people suffer. But, when I was there, I realized that I wasn’t uncomfortable, because I was there to help and not just passing by people who were suffering doing nothing. After surprising our “adopted family” with their new house, I realized that I wanted to do this more often and that I couldn’t let people just live like that. So, the next morning, I told my mom that I wanted to head up the building of my new house, and committed to doing at least on a year moving forward, and that I would start working on it that day! By the end of that day, I already had a bunch of families willing to help!

Some of the first text messages I sent out, asking for each participant to commit to raising $1000 by the end of that summer, were: my aunts, The Zakar Family, The Grillo Family, The Simone Family, The Konecke Family, my cousin Tony, The Kalil Family, The Johnson Family, and The Fogliani Family. Along the way, we recruited other families to help, and we came up with the $16,000 by the end of that summer, as planned.

We built my first team’s home in February and March of this year, through a couple of different build dates. The first day, a bunch of us went down to Mexico and actually mixed the concrete and poured the foundation, after meeting our new family. A lot of the kids that were on my team came with us, and we had such a fun time bonding over the experience. The family whose house our school had built previously also came to help us, and read us letters that were translated into English about how much better their lives had become after we build their home. We could see the difference in their smiles. It was such a cool experience. During the final build date, the BAM volunteers, including our friends and family, painted the house, added furniture, and surprised our new family. It was a very special bonding experience with my family and friends, as we were making beds for the little girls and putting together their new bathroom with all essentials, knowing that they were going to finally sleep on real beds under real roofs, get to use real bathrooms instead of the dirt floors, and get to take showers instead of using a hose outdoors to clean. Our adopted family and us all hugged each other and cried, and I knew that I was never going to stop doing this!

This year, am I doing this again, and my little 12-year-old brother Gabriel was so inspired, that he decided to head up the building of his own house, too. So, Gabriel used the steps I used to recruit people, and even got brave enough to ask a few celebrities through my mom’s phone, and was able to get Mario and Courtney Lopez, as well as Phaedra Parks, to each donate! Within 5 hours, he had raised over $7000, and already had all 16 participants committed to raising $1000/each, so he had enough to do his own home. Not only that, but a friend of my mom’s, who wants to stay anonymous, saw my Instagram posts and matched my brother and me up to $16000, so this October, November and December, we will be building 3 more homes!

I’m really proud of all of my team members who helped raise money, as I couldn’t have done it all alone. Every member was responsible to raise $1000/each, and I’m so proud of all of these kiddos that worked so hard this summer.  Please check out my Instagram (@daniellamariebenitez) to see the interviews with these kiddos and what some of them did to raise their share of the money

– Daniella Benitez, Kids Board Member 2018