Greensburg teen raising money to build homes in Guatemala
Gabriel Shilobod, 13, of Greensburg originally asked for an Xbox One gaming system last Christmas.
That wish changed when he gave some thought to how less fortunate children might spend their holiday.
Since January, Gabriel has been raising money to build three houses in Guatemala through the humanitarian organization Unbound, formerly the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging.
He is more than halfway to his goal of $10,000, which he hopes to reach before the end of the school year.
“It's a lot harder than it might seem,” he said. “You've really got to get the word out.”
Gabriel, an eighth-grade student at Greensburg Salem Middle School, was born with a partial left arm. “Most of the time I don't even really notice it,” he said. “I was born with it.”
He felt inspired to pursue his fundraising project after reflecting on the life of a Guatemalan boy that his church, St. Stephen's Byzantine Catholic Church, sponsors through Unbound.
“I thought, ‘Is he even really going to get any Christmas presents?' ” Gabriel said. “I thought about it, and that's when I decided that I wanted to start a project to raise $10,000 to build houses in Guatemala.”
He brainstormed ways to gather donations with help from his parents, Adam and Leia Shilobod, who own and operate InTech Solutions, a technology support firm in Greensburg.
Gabriel said he has used Facebook, email and word-of-mouth to share his mission with friends and family. His mother included information about the project in her company's monthly newsletter.
“We had a lot of support from the church community, my business associates, some of our clients and some of my peers from around the country,” his mother said.
An employee at InTechSolutions, Jesse Henry, volunteered to help set up a website about the project, HelpGabeHelpKids.com. Henry was surprised to hear about Gabriel's ambitious undertaking.
“I thought it was pretty interesting, because he had been wanting that Xbox One,” he said. “Earlier that week, he was talking to me about that, and then Leia told me about the project over the weekend. ... He didn't want any presents; he just wanted to do this project.”
Gabriel provided Henry with what he wanted to include on the website, and Henry built it using Adobe Muse.
“I think it says a lot for him to really go out of his way and have a present-free Christmas to help these kids that are living in terrible conditions,” Henry said.
Gabriel is applying his knowledge of technology and computers to benefit the cause. He is setting up his own Minecraft server to generate donations. The popular online game enables players to create “virtual worlds” by building structures and landscapes, he said.
Gabriel will advertise his server on websites to attract players. Players on his server will be able to donate through PayPal to get additional perks in the game, he said.
“Once I get enough money to pay the monthly fees, the rest will go toward the project,” he said.
His mother said she hopes the project will help other kids realize they can make a difference.
“All it starts with is the idea and the drive, and if you have that, you can do it,” she said.
For Gabriel, the best part of his project has been watching the donation total on his website increase.
“I know that in not too long, I'm going to be able to build three houses for kids and their families,” he said.
He would eventually like to take a trip to Guatemala to see the impact of his fundraiser.
“It just feels like a good thing to make the world better,” he said.
Nicole Chynoweth is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2862 or firstname.lastname@example.org.