Boston, MA — Last year, Britney Gengel of Rutland was among the approximately 250,000 people killed in the Haitian earthquake. The 19-year-old Lynn University sophomore was on a humanitarian mission in Port-Au-Prince at the time of the quake.
Shortly after she arrived in Haiti, Britney texted her mother Cherylann to tell her how much she loved the country. “They love us so much and everyone is so happy," she wrote. "They love what they have and they work so hard to get nowhere, yet they are all so appreciative."
In fact, Britney was so taken with what she saw that she told her mother her dream.
"I want to move here and start an orphanage myself,” she texted.
Tragically, hours after sending the text, the Montana Hotel where Britney was staying collapsed in the earthquake.
But Britney's family is not letting their daughter or her dream be forgotten. The Gengels have founded a nonprofit organization, Be Like Brit, dedicated to building the Haitian orphanage Britney dreamed about.
Some members of the Gengel family traveled to Haiti over the winter holidays to break ground on the orphanage’s construction site in Grand Goave, a small a fishing town an hour and a half from Port-Au-Prince. The town would have been the next stop on Britney’s itinerary before she died.
Once completed, the orphanage will be a 19,000-square-foot, two-story building shaped like the letter B, the first letter in Britney’s name. It will provide homes for 33 boys and 33 girls, symbolic of the 33 days that Britney was missing. Construction will cost about $1 million and will take a year and a half to complete. So far the Be Like Brit foundation has raised roughly $250,000 from small donations.
Boston-based architectural firm TRO Jung-Brannen helped design the orphanage. The firm traveled with the Gengels to Haiti in August to look at other orphanages in Haiti. The firm says the planned orphanage will “raise the bar” and provide children with more privacy than other orphanages provide. Jung-Brannen is working with a Waltham firm to make the building earthquake-safe.
A year after the earthquake Haiti is still struggling to recover. In the past few months, the country has been battered by Hurricane Tomas, a cholera outbreak and disputed presidential election results have sparked riots.