Finding Joy in the Journey

This might sound crazy, but I’ve had a long journey. I was born in a large, dimly lit place with millions of brothers and sisters. Weekdays were crowded to say the least, and I was constantly being manhandled by gentle giants with dull matching outfits. They looked nothing like me though, as I was glowing in a bright shade of hot pink trimmed with jet black detailing. The gentle giants admired my colorful character and unique design, but that didn’t seem to be enough to keep me around. They mumbled to me, “just wait until you see what’s waiting for you. Your purpose is greater than you can imagine.” At the time, those words left me confused. My purpose, as I knew it, was solely to exist among my brothers and sisters. How could I possibly be capable of so much more? I’m only a backpack.


Photo courtesy of Cristina Alfonso

Tucked away in the heart of Little Havana, Shenandoah Elementary embodies the culture of Miami blended with the spirit of innovative education. The original school was erected in 1926, and it was later renovated in 1975 to provide a better learning environment for students and educators alike. The student population consists of approximately 1000, of which 96% are Hispanic, 2% are white, 1% are Black, and 1% are Asian.

Although Shenandoah Elementary has flourished with its diverse community, powerful values and tireless work ethic, the Title I School still faces its fair share of challenges. The District disburses Title I funding to schools based on the number of low-income children and poverty stricken areas, allowing the school to spend the funds on approved early childhood and exceptional student educational programs. There was still a yearning need for an important element in the educational mix: supplies. Once micro-philanthropist, Caty Villavicencio, caught wind of Shenandoah’s struggles, she decided to dedicate this year’s backpack and school supply drive to the elementary school and its thriving community. She agreed to collect supplies and raise funds to pull together 100 backpacks stuffed with fresh, new school supplies for the Shenandoah kiddos.


Photo courtesy of Cristina Alfonso

Caty, along with her supportive philanthropic team, met up with Principal Gloria Garcia a week before the first day of class to gift the family of backpacks to Shenandoah Elementary. The gates to the face of the school opened slowly, and Caty’s SUV pulled up into the welcoming driveway. Immediately, Principal Garcia was ready to greet Caty and her donations with bright eyes and a giant smile. She knew how much this project meant to her staff and even more so, to her beloved students. As they all transferred the backpacks to their temporary home in the main office, everyone couldn’t help but picture the little recipients faces when they would finally see their very own backpack. To accept these backpacks as a donation would mean to truly know generosity, humility and happiness.


Photo courtesy of Cristina Alfonso

Thanks to your charitable efforts, kind attitudes and open hearts, 100 children have had the opportunity to experience school in a different light. They were able to arrive prepared and maybe for the first time, excited about coming to class. These new backpacks and school supplies will be the finest tools to allow the Shenandoah kids to do more than just learn, but learn with a smile.


Photo courtesy of Cristina Alfonso

After many months of adventurous travels, I’ve finally landed in a strange, but comforting room. It has four freshly painted white walls, a steady flow of crisp, cool air, and some delightful sounds. Unfamiliar gentle giants surround me as they grab my brothers and sisters from the table we lie on. Where are they taking them? As this question begins to cloud my thoughts, I’m briskly picked up by a gentle giant and we head in the direction of my siblings. Reunited at last! The sounds become louder and the lights become brighter and… “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” These words flooded my soul as I was embraced by a teeny tiny giant with a smile larger than life. She exclaimed, “I’ve waited so long for you; this is the best!” In that moment I realized what I was told so long ago actually meant. I did have a purpose, and it meant more than being just a backpack, but a symbol of happiness – even to the tiniest of giants. My journey was now complete.


Photo courtesy of Cristina Alfonso

Words from Amanda Camejo

Shop ‘til You Drop Caty Villavicencio Style

There are several things a Miami girl knows well: the trending styles, the cultured hot spots and the best shopping deals. She is no stranger to all the different shops around the city, which allow her to bring home quality goods within her budget. This summertime, the crowds will swarm retail shops to snag the cutest bikinis, the newest tech gadgets and the strongest SPF sunblock. Caty Villavicencio, however, has only one retail department in mind: the school supply section.


Photo courtesy of Cristina Alfonso

After kicking off this year’s school supply and backpack fundraiser to support struggling Miami students, Caty and her team of dedicated micro-philanthropists decided it was almost time to start making purchases for their cause. Her goal began at $1,000, and within a week, enough funds were raised to fuel the shopping spree. Before they could hit the retail aisles though, Caty knew her team needed to come up with a plan to maximize their school supply shopping budget. Long nights of online researching, Sunday flyer stalking and coupon discovering led to a perfectly played out strategy to tackle the sales.


Photo courtesy of Cristina Alfonso

As a bargain shopper, Caty knew there was more than one right way to go about this school supply shopping experience. Being familiar with local wholesalers, her team was able to purchase 100 backpacks for under $4 a pop. Not too shabby, huh? The remainder of the budget was to be spent between two other retailers, Target and Walmart. Not only did these stores provide weekly school supply discounts, but freebie rollbacks using Target’s Cartwheel App and tax-free week perks made the trip even sweeter.


Photo courtesy of Cristina Alfonso

Target truly set the scene for the easiest, and by far most colorful, shopping experience. Since it was their first official stop, and the excitement was at all-time high, the Target shopping trip called for collecting most of the school supplies in bulk. Between four team members, two ruby red shopping carts and countless good vibes, Caty was able to stock up 100 packs of crayons, 100 scissors, 100 packs of markers, 400 pencils, 200 glue sticks, 100 pencil pouches, 200 highlighters, 100 erasers, and 300 folders for the drive.


Photo courtesy of Cristina Alfonso


Photo courtesy of Cristina Alfonso

Once Target was taken care of, Caty and her team visited Walmart to collect the final details of the haul. The troop gathered 100 rulers and 288 notebooks, as the other 12 notebooks were donated previously by generous drive participants. The 600 packs of paper, however, will be purchased at a local retail store to complete the school supply load. In total, each of the 100 backpacks would contain all of these school supplies:

  • 3 notebooks
  • 3 folders
  • 6 packs of paper
  • 1 pencil pouch
  • 1 ruler
  • 1 pack of crayons
  • 1 pack of markers
  • 2 highlighters
  • 4 pencils
  • 1 scissor
  • 2 glue sticks
  • 1 eraser


Photo courtesy of Cristina Alfonso

With the new school year just around the corner, Caty’s supportive team of micro-philanthropists will be organizing, stuffing and distributing the backpacks asap. This year, all the backpacks and school supplies raised by Caty’s drive will be received by Shenandoah Elementary, a Title 1 Miami-Dade County School with a student population of approximately 1,000. So, what did we learn Miami girls? It just goes to show that a little retail therapy can go a long, miraculous way.

Words from Amanda Camejo

Meet Caty Villavicencio: A #BeLove Micro-Philanthropist

1606921_988313811195651_1563504792602187781_n (1) Photo courtesy of MDB Concepts, LLC.

Most children eagerly await the start of each new school year and all the excitement that comes along with it. An 11 year-old Caty Villavicencio would be no exception. During the summer of 2010, Caty would be starting at a new school. She wanted brand new school supplies, preferably all in her favorite shade of pink. Her mother, Annie, wisely reminded Caty to be mindful of the costs of all these matching pink supplies, as the expenses were mounting quickly; uniforms, a new laptop required by the school as well as tuition costs all piled on. It was an opportunity for Annie to gently remind her daughter of how fortunate she truly was. Annie pointed out how many children go without the simplest of necessities because their parents can’t afford one thing from the long list of school supplies. Caty had never really realized some kids may not even show up to their first day of class with so much as a pencil case.

  12 year-old Caty Villavicencio (Fall 2011)IMG_1427Photo courtesy of Caty Villavicencio

In that moment at the Target school supply section, Caty had her “epiphany.” She asked her mother if she could give some of her stuff away, and that’s exactly what she did. She took it one step further and started collecting donations by reaching out to friends, neighbors and family members. That summer, her ultimate mission became clear. She surpassed her goal of helping just a few students and collected enough resources to donate 15 backpacks filled with supplies. Now 17 years old, her resolve is the same: to provide children with the basic materials to start the school year prepared.

As parents, we have the incredible ability, in the most unimposing way, to positively influence our children. In turn, it is magical how our children, in their innocence, influence us back. So why did Be Love chose to support Caty’s school supplies and backpack drive, using her service project to launch the Be Love Movement? The answer is simple… we were inspired. The idea that just a few backpacks can impact change is perhaps idealistic; but having the conviction to believe it can actually do just that is refreshing. It is an idea that renews hope, is rooted in love and serves a sole purpose of spreading love. Individuals like Caty are the very reason Be Love was created. It is our desire to highlight those individuals within our community who are choosing to be the “light” in someone’s life and do so with such humility that they often go unnoticed. It is our hope and our mission that these unassuming heroes who are “light” be brought to light and by doing so fulfilling our vision: a world filled with faith, restored by love.

   16 year-old Caty Villavicencio (Fall 2015)FullSizeRender    Photo courtesy of Caty Villavicencio

I am happy to announce Caty’s annual school supply and backpack drive is in full gear! Caty and her team are accepting monetary donations as well as school supply donations until the end of this summer season. As always, even the smallest amount of your generosity and kindness will make the biggest difference for a child in need. For more information on how you can be a part of the drive, please check out her GoFundMe HERE or contact Be Love at

Give Love, Spread Love, Be love

Words from Cristina Alfonso