Find something that you are passionate about, passion and having your heart devoted to something makes it so much better.
Start small. Start doing small things and work your way up.
Put work in. Being a change maker takes time and effort. Make sure you’re ready to put that work in.
As part of our series about young people who are making an important social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing San Diego teen Daniella Benitez (16) and her brother Gabriel Benitez (14) who have dedicated the past four years fundraising and building homes for families living below the poverty line in Tijuana, Mexico through the nonprofit organization Build A Miracle (BAM). Build a Miracle was founded twenty years ago by Chris and Julianne North, having built close to four hundred homes, with each home costing 16 dollars. Thus far, Daniella and Gabriel have fundraised close to 200k dollars and have built 11 homes with their own hands for families who were either completely homeless or lived in makeshift shacks without running water, electricity, plumbing, bedrooms, or working bathrooms and kitchens, to give them a safer and better quality of life.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us about how you grew up?
Daniella: I am a Junior in High School, and live in San Diego with my parents and my little brother. My older sister, Alexis, lives close by, and we are a very close family, after recently moving out on her own. I have attended Catholic School my entire life. I like to play tennis, piano, and sing. I have grown up always spending time with my family and doing good things for others has always been important to me. I feel very blessed in my life, and I feel the happiest when I give back.
Gabriel: I live with my mom, dad, and older sister, Daniella. I also have another older sister, Alexis, who recently moved into her own apartment. I am a freshman at Cathedral Catholic High School. This year has been weird, and I have only been able to attend classes twice a week due to COVID. My parents work very hard to be able to provide my siblings and me an amazing life. I have played tennis since I was young, and I love to game. I was introduced to BAM when I attended my previous school, Notre Dame Academy, a few years ago, and we haven’t stopped being involved, since.
Is there a particular book or organization that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Daniella: The organization that made a significant impact of me is called Build A Miracle and it is a nonprofit that builds homes for families in Mexico, started by my real life heroes, Chris and Julianne North.
Gabriel: A couple of years ago, I went down to Tijuana, Mexico to build a house for a homeless family and other volunteers with the non-profit organization Build A Miracle. My school’s PE teacher had shown us the charity, and he got our school to raise 16,000 dollars to be able to build the home. When I went down to go build that home, I realized how much of an incredible charity BAM was, which led me to start building my own team homes, since then.
You are currently leading an organization that is helping to make a positive social impact. Can you tell us a little about what you and your organization are trying to create in our world today?
Daniella: My brother and I don’t lead Build a Miracle, but rather, we volunteer with it. It was started almost twenty years ago by Chris and Julianne North, when they had graduated college and decided to volunteer their own time living in an orphanage in Tijuana. They quickly discovered that many of those orphans’ parents were still alive, but had to give their kids up because of being homeless, so Chris and Julianne decided to start building one home a year to bring families back together under the same roof. That’s when they started Build a Miracle. Build A Miracle is a non-profit organization that takes 16,000 dollars to fully build and furnish an entire house. BAM strives to help those who cannot help themselves, and their main target are families in Mexico. A lot of people ask why is it in Mexico, and it is because it is very cheap to get the materials to build a home, and that is why it only takes 16,000 dollars to build an entire home. Build A Miracle is trying to create a world that every person can go to sleep with a roof over their head, not worrying about how the rest of the family is doing and if they can even get any sleep. They have an amazing community center that provides classes and support for the families, so that their entire futures are changed and they are given the tools needed to make better lives for themselves and their children.
Can you tell us the backstory about what originally inspired you to feel passionate about this cause and to do something about it?
Daniella: When I was in seventh grade, my school partnered up with Build A Miracle to raise money for a house. When my school asked, we obviously donated. But when it came down to who was going to actually go to Mexico for the day to build, I didn’t want to go. I had seen so much homelessness already in my own town, and I always felt super helpless ,so I did not want to go and see more people suffering. My mom forced me to go, and I couldn’t be more grateful that she did, because the moment we met the family and began to build, I felt such a strong connection to the cause. The next morning I woke up and told my mom I wanted to raise money for my own house with BAM.
Gabriel: When I was in fifth grade, my old P.E. teacher presented Build A Miracle to my old school, and it inspired all of us, my sister especially. She was in seventh grade at the time, and she decided to take it upon herself to raise the 16,000 dollars amongst 16 families, and go down and build her own team home! I had originally thought it would be impossible to raise that much, but she proved me wrong. The next year, I found 15 other families to get each commit to raising 1,000 dollars each, and get as many people as I can to come down with me to Tijuana to pour the cement for the foundation, and paint plus furnish the house. When I saw my first house finished, I realized how much of an impact I was able to make, which then led me to continue building one house per year!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
Daniella: My story is told in my own Marvel Hero Project episode, where I was surprised with my very own comic book and 10k dollars towards another home, which we will be finishing up this month. Although we won’t be able to go down and physically build this house, like we usually do, we will be watching the reveals on FaceTime through the local volunteers. You can watch my segment on Disney+.
Gabriel: On June 12, 2019 I went to New York to be on “The Today Show”. They had invited my sister and me to be interviewed about our project. They asked us many questions about Build A Miracle and what made us want to start, why we do it, etc. At the end, they told us they had a surprise for us. Someone came out with a huge sign with giant lettering saying 16,000 dollars. The roofing company, GAF Roofing, decided to team up with the Today Show and surprise us with the money for an entire BAM house. That was one of the most exciting days of my life!
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Daniella: The most interesting story from my involvement with BAM is the story between my little friend Maria and me. It was my first house I had ever built, and one of the little girls from the family immediately attached to me when we met. She followed me around, and we instantly were like sisters. That girl is the reason I build homes with BAM every year. She inspires me and reminds me that I have someone looking up to me across the border. I got to watch Maria open the door to her first house and to a new life, and even pulled funds to help for some of her schooling.
Gabriel: My cousins Ashton and Alana have come to almost all of our builds with BAM, and have always loved doing it. They both were also so amazed by the non-profit that they decided to also raise the 16,000 dollars to build and furnish a complete house. They had so much fun raising the money and building the home, and they try to build as many as they can as well!
How do you define “Making A Difference”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Daniella: “Making A Difference” is helping out others in any way that you can. It can be doing something as small as feeding a homeless person, but if you are going out of your way to do it you’re making a difference.
Gabriel: “Making A Difference” to me is doing something in your community that helps one or more person. “Making A Difference” is when you are able to see that you did something good and that you have a feeling where you feel like you have done all you can do to help someone other than yourself.
Many young people would not know what steps to take to start to create the change they want to see. But you did. What are some of the steps you took to get your project started? Can you share the top 5 things you need to know to become a changemaker? Please tell us a story or example for each.
Daniella: The steps that I took to get my project started were being inspired, finding something that would drive me, and setting a goal. When you put your mind to something, anything is possible.
1. Find something that you are passionate about, passion and having your heart devoted to something makes it so much better.
2. Step out of your comfort zone. The best things happen when you step out of the box and do things that are out of the normal.
3. Start small. Start doing small things and work your way up.
4. Do not listen to others. Sometimes people may not completely see your vision or believe in you and that’s ok. To be a change maker you need to believe in yourself.
5. Put work in. Being change maker takes time and effort. Make sure you’re ready to put that work in.
Gabriel: I created a GoFundMe to help me be able to share just a link and have my entire story there and have anyone who feels like BAM is something they want to be involved with be able to donate! I one time went on my GoFundMe to see about 1,000 dollars total from many people who couldn’t commit to an entire grand, but still wanted to help out. I made an Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter just for my charity work so I would be able to get the word out there. I have had about four people reach out to my from just social media to ask me if they could commit to an entire 1,000 dollars! I used to do lemonade stands and babysit to be able to raise the 1,000 dollars I needed to raise for part of the sixteen grand. I did a fundraiser at my school where I sold stuff so that I can use that money
What are the values that drive your work?
Daniella: My compassion drives my work. I care so deeply about other people and that is what drives me everyday. I know that I was put on this earth to help other people and so that is what I will do.
Gabriel: I like to see that here is change in the world and that I can do something about the fact that some people go to sleep without a roof over their head. This drives me to make a difference so I can help people who are unable to help themselves.
Many people struggle to find what their purpose is and how to stay true to what they believe in. What are some tools or daily practices that have helped you to stay grounded and centred in who you are, your purpose, and focused on achieving your vision?
Daniella: I think that people are constantly changing and evolving so I honestly am consistently finding myself, but know that my passion for helping others is always there.
Gabriel: Everyone has a purpose and it definitely may be hard to find it. If you believe in something, you should go for it no matter what. Some tools you can do to fulfill you purpose is to work on it everyday. I stay centered on who I am by always doing what I love to do, which is Build A Miracle.
In my work, I aim to challenge us all right now to take back our human story and co-create a vision for a world that works for all. I believe youth should have agency over their own future. Can you please share your vision for a world you want to see? I’d love to have you describe what it looks like and feels like. As you know, the more we can imagine it, the better we can manifest it!
Daniella: To me, a perfect world is one full of compassion. There is way too much negativity and hatred in the world, and if we spent more time being kind and loving, the world would be a better place.
Gabriel: I want to see a world where people don’t have to be ranked based on their financial status like rich, poor, middle class. I don’t like people being treated being differently based on their belongings and what they have. I want to see a world where everybody is treated the same and not be treated differently because of who they are.
We are powerful co-creators and our minds and intentions create our reality. If you had limitless resources at your disposal, what specific steps would take to bring your vision to fruition?
Daniella: I WOULD BUILD AN ENDLESS AMOUNT IF HOMES OF COURSE!!! Ending homelessness would most definitely be the first step I’d take if I had endless resources.
Gabriel: I would take away the fact that everything in the world is so expensive. I think that a lot of things that people need, especially homes, are too expensive these days and many people aren’t able to afford them. I want everyone to have running water in their home and proper insulation so everyone can live comfortably.
I see a world driven by the power of love, not fear. Where human beings treat each other with humanity. Where compassion, kindness and generosity of spirit are characteristics we teach in schools and strive to embody in all we do. What changes would you like to see in the educational system? Can you explain or give an example?
Daniella: I would like to see the education system shift how they view success in students. Instead of making hard classes and perfect grades the standard, education should be defined beyond school smarts. As someone who as always struggled with school, I would love to see these changes.
Gabriel: I think that schools should completely redo the way that they work. A lot of the things that they teach don’t set us up for being successful in our future. I have never learned things like how to properly buy a home or how to do my taxes. I am not an adult yet, but those are things I will need to know. We should be taught things that are more important these days, rather than what has been the same thing taught for decades.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Daniella: I would say to follow your heart. I know that may sound silly, but when you’re drawn to something you know you’re meant for, stick with it. BAM is what I am drawn to and it is what I love to do! I also would say to be the good you want to see in the world.
Gabriel: I would say to just do good in the world. Even if it isn’t something huge, if it impacts someone in a good way, you should do it. I spend most Christmas Eves with my family passing out things like blankets and toothbrushes and water bottles to our local homeless communities. Do something good in the world!
Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Daniella: Billie Eilish. She’s someone I look up to when it comes to character because she is extremely down to earth and she really does not listen to what other people say. She also is an amazing musical artist and I LOVE her music.
Gabriel: I would say someone like the anonymous donor who has donated over 32,000 dollars to build homes with Build A Miracle. I know who he is, and I know that he is an extremely generous person. He is a very successful person who also does a lot of good in the world, and I want to learn how to be more like him!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Gabriel: You can follow me on my social media platforms! I post everything I do there and updates on more BAM houses! My Instagram is @gabrielnaseembenitez, my Facebook is @gabrielnaseembenitez, and my Twitter is @givebackgabe!
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!