If you asked Daniella Benitez if tennis and “love” really do go together, she’d probably say yes.
Daniella, 14, was part of a Del Mar fundraising event Feb. 10 called Love Fifteen Tennis to build miracles for families in need, with tennis star James Blake making a surprise appearance and playing “Battle the Pro” with the kids attending.
With the help of her longtime tennis coach, April Bisharat, founder of Love 15 Tennis, she was able to raise $2,000 which will go toward helping to build a home for a family in Tijuana in April.
“We raised $2,000,” Bisharat said. “Double our goal! Now, I can support not only Daniella’s home but also for her brother Gabriel’s.”
Call it love
Daniella has been involved in Build a Miracle since 2017 and continues to be a force when helping to raise money for those in need.
That year, San Diego-based Notre Dame Academy had sponsored the building of a home in Tijuana, through the nonprofit organization Build a Miracle, founded by Chris and Julianne North. According to her mom GG Benitez:
“Our family, friends and I went down to help physically build that home. After returning from that trip, my then 12-year-old daughter, Daniella was so moved, that she told me she wanted to commit to heading up the building of one home a year, herself.”
She is currently raising money for her third Build a Miracle project. The proceeds from the tennis fundraiser will benefit her team’s next build, as well as one for her 12-year-old brother, Gabriel, a seventh-grader at Notre Dame Academy, who is heading up his second home.
“It was such a fun event and I’m always so grateful to have my friends and family there for support for something I really love and believe in,” Daniella said.
She’s also been playing tennis since she was 9 and considers Bisharat a “mentor.”
Bisharat’s Love 15 Tennis is a San Diego-based children’s and adult tennis program, with seven locations in the area with more than 150 enrolled annually. She also runs the official junior tennis camp of the San Diego Aviators (Pro Tennis Team), is the head varsity coach for girls, boys, and co-ed tennis at Cathedral Catholic High School, where Daniella is a student, and is on the tennis team and directs 25 USTA tournaments per year.
In 2018, Bisharat launched Love 15’s “First Ace: Finding A Way TO WIN”give-back initiative, which provides tennis clinic fundraisers for locally based charitable organizations such as Build a Miracle and Make Schools Safe Again. To date, 70-plus kids and adults have participated, and the clinics have raised more than $4,000.
“I have known Daniella since she was born; her mom and my aunt were best friends growing up,” Bisharat said. “When I was ready to transition from playing tennis competitively to coaching, her mom asked me if I would be willing to coach her two young children. Shortly after is when I launched my tennis program, Love 15 Tennis. I’m so proud to claim Daniella was my first student.”
Bisharat said she got involved after Daniella asked if she would be willing to be on her team to build a home.
“She told me she needed 16 families to donate $1,000,” Bisharat said. “She had 14 and needed two more. I have always wanted to use tennis as a vehicle to raise money. I told her rather than just giving her $1,000 I will run a tennis clinic and 100 percent of the proceeds will go to her cause; and if we don’t raise $1,000, I will contribute the difference. That day we raised $1,020. Ever since then I have seen her success with BAM just explode and I’m humbled to be a part of it.”
When Bisharat went with the Benitez family for the first time to help the build in Tijuana she was blown away.
“After financially contributing in the past, I finally went down end of 2018,” she said. “Let me tell you, it was life changing. I just wanted to hug the kids, I felt happy I was able to be a part in changing a family’s life, but more so I felt powerful that I could truly impact someone’s life. After that life changing day, I’m committed to supporting this foundation.”
She said because of that visit she felt she wanted to get more even more involved with Build a Miracle.
“Considering how life changing the day was, it inspired me to take my fundraising efforts to another level,” she said. “A spin off of my Love 15 Tennis program is called ‘First Ace.’ First Ace is the program I use to raise money through tennis, and we have raised $14,000 to date. I have run four fundraisers and this last one was a beaming success, not only because we doubled our previous year, but the energy set the event was unreal. I’m still on a high from that day.”
Of course, raising the funds was No. 1, but it was also amazing for Bisharat to meet one of her sports heroes like Blake.
“We were not 100 percent sure if he was going to be able to make it,” she said. “We were about half-way through and when I saw him walk down the L’Auberge tennis court stairs I was so excited. I have always looked up to him for being such an amazing tennis player, but he is so much more than that. He was so compassionate and great with the kids, he played against each child there, he is truly a class act and I hope to continue to have him come to our First Ace fundraising events.”
Bisharat said in terms of her own goals for her charitable arm of her tennis brand she wants to run bi-annual fundraisers.
“One, I am committing to BAM and the other will be another cause that maybe another student feels passionately about,” she said. “I want to involve my students especially. My goal is exposing my students to more than just tennis. We are so blessed to get to play a sport like tennis, it truly is a luxury. Tennis is an international sport and I would love to make my students more aware of what’s happening outside of our little bubble!”
The whole experience for everyone was everlasting, Bisharat added.
“I have gained the gift of giving, which is more than anything else,” she said. “Being able to help, how big or small it may be, is still changing lives. I’ve gained knowledge on how to run fundraisers and I will only improve my events from here on out.”