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Daniella Marie Benitez, 14, left, started volunteering in Tijuana, Mexico, with the nonprofit organization, Build A Miracle. Photo by Kimberly Mufferi
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Carmel Valley teen with ‘heart of gold’ helping Tijuana families

CARMEL VALLEY — You don’t necessarily have to be older to be a Good Samaritan.

Take Carmel Valley resident, Daniella Marie Benitez, 14, who is not your average teen. Daniella is helping Tijuana families have roofs over their heads — one family at a time.

It began in 2017 while she was volunteering for Build A Miracle and building a home for a family in need in Tijuana, Mexico. Daniella found it so fulfilling that she spearheaded building another home with the support of her family and friends.

To date, she has raised $32,000 for her cause and recently headed to Tijuana to begin building her team’s second home.

“It has been an incredible experience,” Daniella, a freshman at Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego, said. She learned about Build A Miracle through her previous school, Notre Dame Academy.

“To see the families smile and be happy and have roofs over their heads is amazing,” she said.

What is Build A Miracle?

Build A Miracle is a nonprofit organization, founded by Chris and Julianne North, that takes a family in need from a shack, to a new home with running electricity, plumbing, bedrooms, kitchen and a bathroom. It has built more than 350 homes since 1999.

During this most recent trip to Tijuana, Daniella and her team poured the foundation for the second new home. Additionally, she used her other volunteering position as a member of KIDBOX’s Kids board of directors to help distribute $10,000 worth of brand new KIDBOX clothing to families in the community.

KIDBOX is the first social mission-based kids’ style box that offers premier brands and significant savings. Due to Daniella’s philanthropic efforts, she was selected to be on KIDBOX’s Kids board of directors, where she can advise the company on kids’ fashion while also learning firsthand from top executives in the industry, participating in meaningful social good projects, and being supported in her Build A Miracle efforts.

“It is very special to get to spend time and create bonds with other kids who enjoy helping others with KIDBOX,” Daniella said. “I love fashion, so it’s so cool to be working with a charitable fashion company. Also, the KIDBOX family are such good people, and have helped with so much, such as donating $10,000 worth of clothing to my BAM community’s kids, which I handed out with my fellow BAM volunteers on Oct. 13, during our last build date in Tijuana.”

Daniella, a freshman at Cathedral Catholic High School, has appeared on talk shows such as “Good Morning America,” but said she continues to volunteer both locally and in Mexico to “stay humble.” Photo by Kimberly Mufferli

Between BAM and KIDBOX, the busy teen said she isn’t about to stop helping others anytime soon; in fact, it’s something she treasures.

“I’ve been working with BAM for about a year and a half,” she said. “I got involved at the end of seventh grade when my school, Notre Dame Academy, sponsored the building of a school sponsored home; my mom forced my family and me to go down to TJ to actually help build the house.”

“We had gone down for the second part of the build dates, where we got to paint, furnish and surprise the family with their new home,” she said. “Meeting the family and seeing their reactions when they walked into their new home was priceless and is what inspired me to keep doing this.”

Daniella said she felt like she needed to do something to help those less fortunate.

“After my first experience, my eyes were opened to not only how bad other people have it, but also to how lucky I am,” she said. “It made me want to do more to help others. I decided the next day to commit to raising enough money to build at least one house a year.”

“I remember she came and told she was going to do this, but I had my initial doubts,” GG Benitez, Daniella’s mom, said. “We are so thrilled by what she has accomplished through her passion and leadership. Daniella truly has a heart of gold.”

So, has Daniella taken to using a hammer herself during the building process?

“Well, not a hammer,” she said. “But, we mixed cement and poured it to lay the foundations. We painted the inside and outside of the houses. We furnished the houses and it was really fun.”

Daniella said she hopes to continue serving as a volunteer even after she finishes high school and perhaps college.

“These projects are important to me because I want to stay humble and want to help other people who are struggling,” she said. “I feel very lucky for the life that I have, and if I have the ability to help other people, I’d like to do it for as long as I can.”

Courtesy photo

How she raises money

As for raising the money that went toward building the home for the first family, Daniella has helped raise $16,000 by asking other families and friends to raise $1,000 each. She herself has raised money via various jobs.

“I’ve raised $16,000 twice now by gathering 15 other families, who are each in charge of raising $1,000,” she said. “For my portions, I babysat, started a GoFundMe, did chores and bake sales.”

With the help of her mom, the teen was even able to get radio personality Ryan Seacrest, actor Mario Lopez and celebrity Phaedra Parks involved in the Build A Miracle projects.

“My mom had reached out to Sisanie from ‘On Air with Ryan,’ who wanted me to share my story on their radio show,” she said. “They donated $1,000 for my next home. With Mario Lopez, my little brother, who is 12 years old, recently headed up his own team to raise $16,000 for another house and reached out to Courtney Lopez. Mario and Courtney Lopez donated $1,000 and are having me on their radio show next week. Gabriel also asked Phaedra Parks to help, who sent $1000 and is planning to bring her sons to help build a home with us soon.”

She also appeared on several news shows including “Good Morning America” and “Headline News” talking about her Build A Miracle projects.

But in the end, it is all about the bonds she has been able to forge with a variety of people from her fellow volunteers, Build A Miracle, KIDBOX and the families she has met in Tijuana.

“I’ve created a bond with so many different people because of this, and it makes me look forward to working with them every year and getting to see all of the kids in Mexico,” she said.

School, hobbies

In school, Daniella is “mostly an A student,” and said her favorite subject is English “especially when I get to write creative essays and debate.”

Her volunteerism and philanthropic spirit has also rubbed off on her younger brother, who is going to start building his own team’s house through Build A Miracle on Nov. 3. He has headed up his own team, which raised $16,000 this past summer, and an anonymous donor has matched Daniella and Gabriel’s fundraising with $16,000 to build even an additional home this year, according to Benitez.

As for the rest of the family, Daniella has an older sister, Alexis, 25, who she “looks up to.” Her dad is Mexican-American, and “a big part of why she does this in Mexico.” Her mother is Arab-American, and “is one of my biggest inspirations.”

In her spare time, the teen is on the Varsity B Tennis Team at Cathedral Catholic High School, likes to sing, and volunteers locally, in addition to working with Build A Miracle.

Once high school is finished, Daniella said she hopes to go on to college and to study to work as either a psychologist or an attorney.

“And, I will continue my volunteer work and pass it onto my future family,” she said.