A Haitian orphanage to be built in memory of college student Britney Gengel is designed to withstand an earthquake like the January 2010 quake that killed her along with an estimated 230,000 people in Haiti, Gengel’s father told University students and others at a March 22 event.
Just over one year after the catastrophic earthquake, Suffolk University’s Center for International Education welcomed Britney’s parents, Len and Cherylann Gengel, to the University. They were joined by Britney’s brother, Bernie, a freshman at the Sawyer Business School and other family members.
Len and Cherylann Gengel described an orphanage that will be self-sustaining. But, Len Gengel added, “In Haiti, it’s not about self-sustaining. It’s about survivability. This orphanage will be built to survive an earthquake.”
Britney Gengel traveled to Haiti in January 2010 with fellow students from Lynn University. In their first days in Haiti, Britney and the other students had visited a senior center and an orphanage. On the day of the earthquake, the group visited two more orphanages, before serving lunch to guests at a rice kitchen. When the earthquake hit, Britney, three of her fellow students and two Lynn professors were killed. Britney Gengel was just 19 years old. Her body was recovered 33 days later.
Not wanting Britney’s dream of one day starting her own orphanage in Haiti to die with her, the Gengel family established a non-profit organization, "Be Like Brit", with the mission to serve the children of Haiti by establishing a safe, nurturing and sustainable orphanage. The Gengels are in the midst of building a 19,000 square-foot orphanage in Grand Goave, Haiti, for 66 children with an expected opening in 2012. The Gengels said the orphanage, designed in the shape of the letter B, will be as Brit would have wanted it, with computers, music, toys and outreach programs for the children.
Shortly before the earthquake, Britney sent a text message to her family.
“They love us so much and everyone is so happy. They love what they have and they work so hard to get nowhere, yet they are all so appreciative. I want to move here and start an orphanage myself,” the text read.
“We’re so blessed that our daughter’s last text left us with that sense of purpose,” Cherylann Gengel said. “You just fall in love with the kids. We were able to see what Britney saw, so we walked away a little bit more peaceful.”
Len Gengel said his family is making “a lifelong commitment” to the children of Haiti.
“Yes, we’re building a memorial to our daughter, but we are doing this to support the children of Haiti,” he said. “We are not walking away from Haiti.”