Nearly 13 years after Britney Gengel died with 300,000 people in the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, her family and loved ones continue to keep her legacy alive through the foundation created in her name.
“Words cannot describe how grateful we are to the people who have helped us and continue to help us, it is extremely humbling,” said her mother Cherylann Gengel, co-founder and executive director of Be Like Brit. Foundation. “It’s truly overwhelming the kindness that people continue to show us.”
Born in Worcester and raised in Rutland, one of Britney’s last wishes was to start an orphanage in Haiti. She went there on a mission trip in January 2010 during winter break during her sophomore year of college in Florida to give back to those less fortunate. The Wachusett Regional High School graduate told people she wanted to move there to dedicate her life to helping children.
This desire inspired her parents to launch Be Like Brit, and eight months after Britney’s death land was purchased in Grand Goave to build her orphanage.
Construction began in December and the orphanage, Brit’s Home, was completed on December 31, 2012. Six months earlier, a group from Becker College had made a British mission trip to Haiti, following in Brit’s footsteps, and in the years who followed. the foundation continued to raise funds and support the children of Haiti.
All proceeds from her parents’ book, “Heartache and Hope in Haiti: The Britney Gengel Story,” go to reading initiatives at Brit’s Home and Brit’s Academy, the school built in Haiti by the foundation, headquartered at located in Pullman Street in Worcester.
The foundation is currently hosting a clothing drive to benefit children in Haiti, in partnership with Savers in Worcester, at 490 Lincoln St. People can donate clothing, and Savers, in turn, will donate money to Be Like Brit per book of clothes collected by 9 September.
“This is the first time we’ve had this type of drive,” Cherylann said. “These funds we receive will help us buy basic necessities for our children like medicine, soap, deodorant, toothpaste, etc., and of course cake mixes.”
Cake mixes are necessities? They are when there are more than 60 children involved. The cake mixes are used to celebrate the birthdays of children living at the orphanage and school built in Brit’s memory, helping her generous spirit continue.
When asked about their hopes and goals for the future of the foundation, Cherylann was quick to say, “We’re going to bring in more kids to live at Brit’s Home which is very exciting. .
“Be Like Brit began to honor our daughter Britney and her last wish to help the poorest of the poor,” Cherylann said. “Over the past 12+ years, it has become our life’s mission to not only honor Brit, but to help the children and people of Haiti. We see what Britney saw. We hope she’s proud of us.
Upcoming events for the foundation include a Delray Beach Glow tennis event on Oct. 27 in Delray Beach, Fla., where the foundation has purchased land to build a house where some of their Haitian children will come for a three-month internship or possibly to go to university. The foundation’s annual gala will be held Nov. 5 at Mechanics Hall in Worcester, returning in person this year, and the second annual Holden Turkey Trot is scheduled for Thanksgiving morning.
Last year, more than 1,100 runners, walkers and strollers took part in the Turkey Trot, and Cherylann said they “expect even more this year”. Information about these events and more can be found at www.BeLikeBrit.org.
As for the continued support from people near and far, Cherylann said they are grateful to be able to carry on their daughter’s name while doing good, just like Brit did.
“We know life has been harder for everyone over the past few years, so we feel even luckier that people are still helping out,” Cherylann said. “Covid, the assassination of the President of Haiti, another earthquake, political unrest and gang violence are making life more difficult for those living in Haiti. That is why it is so important that we continue our training the next generation of leaders in Haiti.