If asked one year ago whether or not she could imagine herself at the White House with President Barack Obama watching a short film she had made, Erin Benning would have most likely laughed.
However, that’s exactly what the Hilmar High School student did.
Her first ever video, “The Impact of Giving Back: Karing for Kaiden,” was selected from over 1,500 submissions worldwide as one of the 15 short films shown on Friday during the 2015 White House Student Film Festival.
“I was so surprised when I heard the news that I was selected to attend the White House Student Film Festival,” said Benning. “There were over 1,500 entries, all amazing and inspiring stories, so I never thought I’d be one of the selected finalists.
“The thought of being selected makes me so incredibly happy because Karing for Kaiden means so much to me and being able to share that story with others is such an amazing feeling."
To demonstrate the theme for this year’s festival, “The Impact of Giving Back,” Benning decided to feature a fundraiser she kick started last year, Karing for Kaiden, for eight-year old Kaiden Pacheco who has been diagnosed with Stage 4 rhabdomyosarcoma.
“I decided to start Karing for Kaiden in April 2014 when I heard about Kaiden’s diagnosis. Although I didn’t know Kaiden at the time, I wanted to do something to help,” said Benning. “I began planning in April, met Kaiden around May, and the first fundraiser was in June.
“Through this whole journey, Kaiden and I have become the best of friends,” said Benning.
With Karing for Kaiden, Benning has witnessed firsthand the impact of giving back not only to Pacheco and her family, but on the community and herself.
According to Benning, what initially started out as a fundraiser at Pizza Plus that raised $40,000 to help with Pacheco’s treatment expenses caused a “chain reaction” that resulted in a benefit dinner, mud volleyball tournament, and a minor league baseball game for Pacheco and her family.
Overall ,Karing for Kaiden has raised approximately $100,000, allowing Pacheco’s mother to take a leave of absence in order to be with her during treatments and assisting the young patient’s family when it comes to paying medical bills.
Pacheco herself has begun noticing the impact of giving back as she has raised over $700 for the Valley Children’s Hospital “Wig Fund” where she is being treated. According to Benning, this will help pay for wigs for cancer patients just like Pacheco, which can cost around $350 to make.
“This is the largest donation the wig fund has received thus far and Kaiden and I are working on another project to raise money for this fund,” said Benning.
During her time at the White House, Benning was given an opportunity to hear a speech from President Obama, meet a number of celebrities and watch the other entries which were selected in addition to “The Impact of Giving Back: Karing for Kaiden.”
To view “The Impact of Giving Back: Karing for Kaiden” and more of the official selections shown during the 2015 White House Festival, visit wh.gov/filmfestival.
“I hope that my short film inspires others to give back because it may cause a chain reaction,” said Benning. “One small act of kindness can turn into something huge.”