Local student celebrates 18 houses built in Tijuana, college sendoff

Daniella Benitez celebrated her 18th house built in Tijuana and her college sendoff.
(Courtesy of GG Benitez )

Shortly before leaving for college, Cathedral Catholic graduate Daniella Benitez built her 18th house for low-income families in Tijuana and received a surprise sendoff from some of the people she’s helped over the years.

“I completely broke down, which is kind of rare,” said Benitez, who is now a college freshman at Loyola University Chicago. “Even when we build houses and do the reveals, I rarely cry. Just to see everybody there with a smile on their face together, just as I’m about to leave for college made me feel like I’ve achieved some big things.”

Daniella and her younger brother Gabriel have both helped raise money and build houses in Tijuana through Build a Miracle, a San Diego nonprofit. The idea for Build a Miracle started in 1985 when founders Chris and Julianne North met in Tecate while they were painting the dormitory of an orphanage and boys home.

Daniella’s work with Build a Miracle dates back to 2017, when she participated in a class trip to build a home. She then started her own fundraising. At a cost of $16,000 to build each home, she’s raised nearly $300,000.

Build a Miracle has built more than 400 homes in Mexico since its inception in 1999, according to its website.

“We’ve gone beyond what we originally said we wanted to do, which is one house a year,” Benitez said, “and the fact that we’ve now done 18 since I was in seventh grade, that just shows me we’re able to do so much more than we think we can and it gives me a lot of hope with what I can do in college and if I can spread awareness and bring this charity to my friends here.”

Accolades that Daniella and Gabriel have received include the President’s Volunteer Service Award, which came with letters signed by President Joe Biden. Daniella was also recognized by “Marvel’s Hero Project” on Disney+, which dubbed her “Dynamic Daniella.”

Daniella is studying psychology with plans to focus on mental health and issues including homelessness.

“No matter what is in my future, I know it will be full of community service, especially with BAM, and I know I want to use my education to do even bigger things,” she said.

Daniella added that she wants to continue raising money and building houses when she’s home on breaks from school.

“We can still keep up with what we were doing before,” she said.

For more information about Build A Miracle, visit buildamiracle.net.