When Len and Cherylann Gengel awoke on the morning of January 12, 2010, they had no idea that their lives and the lives of their family would be changed forever. Their daughter Britney, a student at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, was on a a college mission trip to Haiti when she and 316,000 others perished in the massive 7.0 earthquake that decimated Haiti. Hours before she died, she had visited a local orphanage and texted this message to her mother:
“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.”
Hours later, Britney was buried in the wreckage of the Hotel Montana, which collapsed during the quake, The ensuing chaos was unimaginable and every parents’ worst nightmare. For days, Len and Cherylann agonized and worried as they waited for news and information about Britney.The most heartbreaking news of all? They were led to believe that she had survived and was on her way home to them. This information proved false and finally 33 agonizing days after the earthquake, Britney’s body, and that of three students and two Lynn professors, was pulled from the ruins of the hotel.
There are many scenarios that could have played out for the Gengels after they lost Britney and while the Gengel’s could have understandably sought private refuge to recover from their grief, they instead chose to dedicate themselves in a selfless act of service. They chose to honor their daughter and build an orphanage in Haiti. According to Len Gengel, Britney’s father, “We had an obligation as parents to honor our daughter’s last wish.”
Soon after the tragedy, they established the Be Like Brit Foundation, whose current goal was accomplished by building a sustainable, earthquake proof orphanage in Grand Goâve, Haiti. The orphanage is complete and the Gengels have chosen to share their inspirational and amazing story in Heartache and Hope in Haiti: The Britney Gengel Story (January 12, 2013, TriMark Press). Heartache and Hope in Haiti: The Britney Gengel Story is a book that begins with devastating loss then transcends that loss and in turn becomes a powerfully affecting story of love and resilience. The book, whose publishing date coincides with the anniversary of the earthquake, allows readers a rare window into the inner circle of the heartache and pain of parents who have lost their child.
The book begins on the day Britney was killed and brings readers full circle as Len and Cherylann navigate their way through bureaucratic red tape on their often frustrating and always painful journey to recover their daughter’s body and fulfill her last wish.
Heartache and Hope in Haiti is an eye-opening lesson in the ability of sheer determination and never losing hope. By the end of the book, readers share the Gengels bittersweet triumph as they realize their daughter’s legacy of building an orphanage in Haiti. Heartache and Hope in Haiti: The Britney Gengel Story is a simple, yet profound story told with the raw emotion of parents who are grieving, but choose to let the world know they will not let anything or anyone defeat them!
The Be Like Brit Foundation is a registered 501(c)3 Non-Profit that operates a Non-Adoptive Orphanage in Grand Goave, Haiti.
Britney Gengel was a compassionate 19 year old from Massachusetts who decided to travel to Haiti with her college, Lynn University, for her first humanitarian mission. Tragically on the second day of her trip a catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, killing an estimated 300,000 people, including Brit.
Just hours before the earthquake, Brit sent the following text to her Mom:"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."
Not allowing her to die in vain, her family decided to fulfill her last wish and built a 19,000 square foot, earthquake proof orphanage, shaped in the letter "B", for Brit. Today, 33 boys and 33 girls call Be Like Brit Home (symbolic of the 33 days Brit was missing in the rubble of her hotel).
Be Like Brit is more than an institution – it is a family. The children, who are living and thriving in a loving and secure environment, are OUR children. Each child has their own bed, three balanced meals a day, attend local schools, and access cutting edge technology and software, such as ABCMouse.com and the Library For All digital library. All of this and more is made possible through charitable donations!
We are a grassroots and family operated organization who have dedicated our lives to helping the children of Haiti. With the hundreds of volunteers from Canada and the USA who have visited us in Haiti and helped builddozens of homes, to thethousandsof gallons purified nano-technology filtered water given to the community daily and the hundreds of local US volunteers whose lives have changed for the better, we are more than just an orphanage. We are a family!
Just finished Heartache and Hope in Haiti. An incredible story. Very well done. I feel like I just spent the last few days talking with them about the whole experience. It is very authentically Len and Cherylann's voice and the imagery and emotions are so real and vibrant. I actually found myself laughing out loud at times but more often reading through sobs and tears. I can't imagine the strength it took to get through not only to this point of their journey but getting it all down so comprehensively. I hope it was a healing experience. I'm keeping it in my read again stack in my night table!!! ♥
Be Like Brit I GET IT!! For 3 years I have been captivated by your family and your strength through such heartbreaking circumstances. I have often wondered how you all were able to continue on in the wake of such tragedy with such overwhelming love for Haiti. I understood about the text message and thought there has to be more. After finishing Hope and Heartache in Haiti I get it. I saw Brit through your eyes and felt the love and compassion she had for all things. Such an inspiration....I loved the book!!
I wish this book had never had a reason to be written. I feel almost uncomfortable giving 5 stars to such a tragic story, but it is a GREAT book.Unlike some of the reviewers here, I do not remember the Britney Gengel's story, but now I will never forget it. The writing is excellent. The separate voices of Len and Cherylann show their grieving process and the tolerance each had to respect the different ways to grieve. Their combined views brought forth a full picture of Britney's personality and I could feel her presence throughout the book. It is also a story of inspiration. The Gengels found a way to honor Britney's life and fought hard to bring it to fruition. This is a must read. It teaches us to be grateful for what we have and faith to get us through the difficult times.
The Gengels have quite literally worn their hearts on their sleeves since January 12, 2010. In all that they do, they are real and genuine. Nothing is forced or artificial. Through this book, the Gengels give us insight and perspective into just how dramatically the events of that day have changed their lives and the lives of their family. They introduce us to the beautiful girl they so tragically lost and one can easily imagine her as their very own daughter, sister, cousin, or friend. This is why the story resonates. A true inspiration, and a job well done. Give this book as a gift, share it, promote it - the only lives it will enrich is those of the children in Haiti who call Be Like Brit home.
When I opened this book, I braced myself for an emotional read, but I couldn't have predicted what it had in store for me. Inevitably I'd be moved by this intimate look at the Gengels' grieving process, interwoven with a portrait of Britney, her brothers Bernie and Richie, and the inspiring story of how Brit's intention for an orphanage in Haiti blossomed with the support of so many. Expecting to see it from a parent's perspective, I never anticipated that I'd end up experiencing it from a daughter's. This book blessed me with a depth of understanding and forgiveness that I can't put into words. I am so grateful that I read it! May each reader discover a kindred "surprise" blessing in these pages.
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