Quake Victim Gets Final Wish: a Haitian Orphanage

Britney Gengel's parents honor her dream with home for kids in Grand-Goave
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 12, 2015 2:24 PM CST
In this picture taken on Dec. 21, 2011, Liane Dupuis, a social worker and volunteer, carries a young boy as they play at the construction site of the Gengels' orphanage in Grand-Goave, Haiti.   (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)
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(Newser) – Haiti has an immense orphan problem—UNICEF says there were 430,000 orphans as of 2012—and Britney Gengel had desperately wanted to help. Just a few hours before she died in the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the 19-year-old, who was on a missionary trip to aid orphans there, texted her parents in Massachusetts: "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," USA Today reports. Though their grief at losing their only daughter was tremendous, Len and Cherylann Gengel pulled themselves together and fulfilled Britney's dream. The 19,000-square-foot Be Like Brit orphanage now houses 66 children: 33 boys and 33 girls, to represent the 33 days before Britney was found under the rubble after the quake.

The Gengels cashed out Len's 401(k), sold other assets, and tapped into social media for volunteers and funds to start bringing her wish to fruition. Her dad, a homebuilder, supervised the logistics of the two-year construction project, while her mom planned how to manage the facility once it was complete; Britney's brothers Bernie and Richie dove into fundraising and bringing supplies from the US. A Haitian pastor helped them find land and navigate government red tape, while a Massachusetts engineering company volunteered to design the building—in the shape of a "B"—to endure a 9.0-magnitude quake. "This started being all about Brit, but now it's about the children of Haiti," Cherylann tells USA Today. "I don't think anything eases the heartache, but when I dance with the children like I used to with Brit, Bernie, and Richie, I realize I can make new memories. And that's exciting."

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