For 13-year-old Daniella Benitez, sacrificing an entire summer to raise $16,000 to build a home for a needy family in Tijuana was an easy decision.
"It was the least I could do," said the 8th grader at Notre Dame Academy (NDA) in Carmel Valley. "We are so lucky. If you have the chance to go out of your way to help someone, why wouldn't you?"
Daniella's first experience helping a family in Tijuana came in the spring of 2017, when her school worked with the San Diego-based nonprofit Build a Miracle (BAM), which builds home for families in Mexico. After that time working to build the house, Daniella decided she wanted to do more.
"I was thinking about how lucky I am and how unfortunate it is how these kids live, but they're still so happy," said Daniella. "Imagine how happy they would be if they actually had a warm place to sleep at night where rain isn't pouring in on them as they rest and where they don't all have to sleep on the floor on a single mattress. It was just so sad to see how they lived."
The morning following that first trip to Tijuana, Daniella told her mother that she wanted to raise additional money for BAM. She then began spearheading a campaign to raise $16,000 through community donations, a GoFundMe page, babysitting, chores and bake sales within three months.
A total of 16 families donated to Daniella's cause.
Deborah Simone, a member of NDA's guild who donated $1,000, said she admired Daniella for her efforts.
"The fact that Daniella was so touched and moved by her first visit then on her own decided that she would organize an effort to help another family was incredible," Simone said. "I didn’t hesitate for a minute when she reached out and asked my family to partner with her. I knew I had to support her passion and knew how it would inspire my own children to see Daniella as a role model changing a family’s life forever."
After successfully raising the money, Daniella and BAM went on three trips to Tijuana to bring the girl's goal to life, and to change the world for a family of five.
Prior to Daniella's project, the family she helped shared one mattress. They also had no toilet and had to shower with a hose outside.
"They didn't have anything," Daniella remembered.
Over three days in Tijuana, between Feb. 10 and March 3, Daniella and a team of BAM volunteers laid down the foundation, mixed concrete, cemented, painted and added furniture into a new home for the family using the money that Daniella raised.
She said she plans to commit to one project a year.
Julianne North, who runs BAM with her husband, considers Daniella "one of the most remarkable young persons" she's ever met.
"Just about everybody who comes down [to build a home] is moved by the experience and moved by the opportunity to change the life of someone, but what makes Daniella stand out, is that not only was she moved by the experience, but that she decided to do something about it and to do something big," North said. "It is truly remarkable that Daniella had that confidence as a seventh-grade student and did it on her own. ... I know she will do great things in her life wherever she is because she has such a passion for others and has learned at a young age that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. She gives me hope for the future of our country."
GG Benitez, Daniella's mother, said North referred to her daughter as the youngest person to raise a substantial amount of money for BAM.
She said she is proud of her daughter for taking the initiative to help others.
"Waking up the next morning and having Daniella come to me and say, 'That was great, but it wasn't enough' and be so emotionally moved ... makes me want to cry," Benitez said. "I just couldn't believe that Daniella had the maturity and passion to see this through. I can't think of anything more beautiful than having a child that's empathetic for others."
For more information about Build a Miracle, visit www.buildamiracle.net