Cathedral Catholic students, siblings receive President’s Volunteer Service Award

Daniella and Gabriel Benitez

Two siblings and high school students each received The President’s Volunteer Service Award for their work with Build a Miracle, a nonprofit that builds homes for low-income families in Mexico.

“It was super exciting because it was a little reward for all the work that my brother and I do, and it’s cool to be recognized for that and also to be able to show other people and set an example that doing good things for others is important,” said Daniella Benitez, 16.

Daniella and her brother Gabriel, 14, attend Cathedral Catholic High School.

“It was a lot of fun to do all that volunteer work,” Gabriel said.

Gabriel and Daniel Benitez

The two of them have raised more than $200,000 for the nonprofit, which requires $16,000 to build each house. They have helped build 11 homes since they’ve been involved. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they kept track of the construction of a 12th house through FaceTime.

“A huge part of Build a Miracle is actually going down to Mexico and physically building, which is something we haven’t been able to do,” Daniella said. “It’s been a big focus of ours this year to work on spreading as much awareness about the cause that we can do remotely through social media or talking to our friends and family.”

Build a Miracle has constructed more than 300 homes since 1999, according to its website. The idea for the nonprofit started in 1985 when founders Chris and Julianne North met in Tecate, while they were painting the dormitory of an orphanage and boys home.

The President’s Volunteer Service Award came with letters signed by President Joe Biden, commending Daniella and Gabriel for the work they have done to “contribute to the public good,” and for “helping discover and deliver solutions to the challenges we face.”

Daniella first got involved at age of 12 while attending Notre Dame Academy, which was sponsoring construction of a home in Tijuana. She then assembled a 16-member group of mostly children her age to contribute $1,000 of cost of a fully-furnished home. Her brother got involved as well.

Building homes with Build a Miracle is “something that’s really changed our lives,” Daniella said, and she and her brother want to remain involved long term.

“Hopefully soon we’ll be able to bring these houses into California, if there’s any chance of doing that,” Gabriel said. “It would be such an amazing thing to do.”