PLATTSBURGH — Britney Gengel was a 19-year-old communications major at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., when she decided to travel to Haiti with several other members of the college on a “mission of hope” to visit orphans of the impoverished nation.
The gesture of humanity turned tragic; however, when Britney and six members of her party perished during the January 2010 earthquake that claimed an estimated 230,000 people.
Three hours before the earthquake struck, Britney had sent a text message to her family in Massachusetts describing how she was touched by the children of Haiti and wanted to return there after college to dedicate her life to those children.
It was the last time her family would hear from her, but it was just the beginning of their efforts to continue her dream by constructing a new orphanage to provide refuge for the children left decimated by the tragic quake.
Be Like Brit is the nonprofit organization created by the Gengel family that has resulted in a full-service orphanage in Haiti. The facility is scheduled to open in early January with Plattsburgh native Jonathan LaMare hired on as program director.
“Everything about this orphanage is symbolic of Britney’s desires,” LaMare said of the past two years’ efforts to complete the project. “It’s a dedication to the person she was and all that she wanted to do.”
For instance, the orphanage itself is built in the shape of a “B” and was constructed on the land where she and her colleagues were going to visit before the earthquake hit.
The orphanage will also officially open on the third anniversary date of the earthquake, LaMare noted.
“It’s absolutely incredible,” he said of the Gengel family’s efforts to bring this project forward. “You can’t help but feel impressed with what this organization has done.”