Britney Gengel after meeting children she would work with in Haiti, January 2010.
Last week, Cherylann Gengel described her daughter Britney Gengel as fabulous, kind, and fun-loving. Britney tragically lost her life in the 2010 Haiti earthquake, but her spirit and drive to help others live on through the Be Like Brit (BLB) organization.
In the two and a half years since the earthquake, Britney’s family, friends, and many communities from all over have come together to fulfill a mission: to make Britney’s dream a reality. Located two hours from Port-au-Prince in the fishing village of Grand Goâve, where Britney was to have traveled to serve children, an almost finished orphanage now stands on a hilltop property looking over the Atlantic. It will have the capacity to house 33 girls and 33 boys, symbolic to the 33 days Britney was missing after the earthquake.
The orphanage is slated to be completed in December. Cherylann and her husband Len expect to open the doors to children in January 2013. Even before the devastating earthquake, children’s need for shelter was dire in Haiti. Almost three years after the disaster, the village of Grand Goâve and its children eagerly await the orphanage’s opening.
“This is a place where children will live. It will be their home. We will start with a couple of children, learn their routine, and then take in more,” said Cherylann Gengel. “I’m Italian, and I’m a mom. They will be our children down here. These 66 children will receive love, encouragement, an education, and the freedom to be fun-loving kids—the same as the three Gengel children.” The selection process will be difficult, but the key to the children’s success is having room and the individual attention to grow.
Safety is the orphanage’s top concern. The orphanage will contain both a medical infirmary and a dental clinic that will be staffed with medical volunteers and fully capable of meeting the needs of the children. Most of the children have dealt with trauma, so a trauma team will train the staff at the orphanage. The children will attend Mission of Hope School, which educates about 800 kids. “After school, they will come back, have lunch, and enjoy some downtime riding bikes, using computers, playing sports, and just being kids.” They will have the opportunity to learn English as a second language at the orphanage. They also will have enrichment classes.
Britney loved fun. She loved to dance, to the point of wearing flip flops to her prom under her elegant gown so she could “really dance.” The floors, walls, and entire interior of the orphanage will be decorated to spur the children’s imagination and creativity. Two weeks ago, as soon as Cherylann and her two friends Moe, a civil engineer who designed the septic system for BLB, and Kim, an architect who helped design BLB, had finished spray painting colorful ribbons on the cement dining hall floor, a worker’s little girl, Fon-Fon, began skipping on top of the ribbons. The three women high-fived. That joyous spirit is what this home is about.
“This is all about the people coming down and helping out,” stressed Cherylann. “Thousands of people have helped to make this happen. We are humbled and feel so blessed and honored. We started out with a closet of Advil and Tylenol at home and now we have a five-room clinic. Kids from Becker College moved stones, painted walls, and poured concrete, and the Tyska Family raised $6,000 and then traveled to Haiti to build a house for one of the BLB workers.”
The Britsionary program is a missionary program dedicated to continuing the compassion of Britney Gengel. BLB welcomes volunteer medical teams, people who want to share their knowledge of science and other subjects, and athletes who want to share their love of a sport with the children. The Britsionary program allows high school and college kids the opportunity to visit the location of the orphanage to help with various projects.
The organization’s first official fundraiser is the BLB Boston 5K Walk on Saturday, September 8, at DRC Artesani Park, Brighton. A fundraiser to finish the orphanage, the Boston 5K Walk will be filled with Brit’s friends, live music, and an appearance from Wally the Green Monster. The 1st Annual BLB Fall Gala follows in November, every dollar supporting Britney’s dream. Both events are “about people getting together,” according to Cherylann. About $300,000 is needed to complete the orphanage.
“A year from now, we should be up and running at 100%,” said Cherylann. “Hopefully, the children will be thriving and comfortable where they are. We hope they can be the best they can be.”
For more information on Britney Gengel’s cause, visit BeLikeBrit.org. Have you visited Haiti or Grand Goâve? Continue the discussion by commenting on our blog, and connecting with us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
By Andrew Cantella
University of Denver