10 years later, foundation launched in honor of Worcester woman killed in Haiti earthquake is changing lives

(WHDH) — Cherylann Gengel remembers her daughter Britney.

“I miss the talks just the small moments of being mom and daughter,” Gengel told 7NEWS.

10 years after her death, Cherylann Gengel still has Britney’s last text to her memorized.

“They love us so much and everyone is so happy,” it read. “I want to move here and start an orphanage myself.”

It would be the last text her 19-year-old daughter would send. Britney was in Haiti — on a volunteer trip with her college.

Three hours later, a massive 7.0 earthquake shook the island.

“It seems like yesterday, so many little details I can recall” Gengel reflects, “and then it’s really a lifetime ago”

In the hours after the quake shook, the family was desperate for information about Britney. But there was a call.

“We just got a phone call — our daughter was rescued in Haiti at the Hotel Montana!” Len Gengel yelled at the time.

The Gengel family rushed to the airport to head to Lynn University, where they planned to be reunited with Britney.

“It was relief. It was excitement,” Cherylann recalled. “It was, ‘Oh my gosh, of course she’s alive, we knew that was gonna happen.”

7’s Ryan Schulteis was with them on the plane with them back in 2010, but the story was about to take a tragic turn.

“We thought it was gonna be a great celebratory,” Cherylann said, “but we go and it’s very quiet.”

University officials delivered the awful news. Birtney Gengel was missing in the rubble of the Hotel Montana — there would be no reunion.

For 33 days, they waited.

“On Valentine’s Day we got that phone call from the State Department, ” Cherylann said. Britney’s body was one of the last recovered in the debris of the Hotel Montana.

But the family turned tragedy into action– all to honor Britney

“I think Brit’s text was a gift that was to help us have direction .. without her in my life.”

They started ‘Be Like Brit’ and built a 19,000 square foot earthquake-proof orphanage in the shape of a B for Britney.

Today 33 girls and 33 boys live at Brit’s home. The number 33 signifying the 33 days Britney was missing.

“It took us 33 days to recover her body and during those 33 days people from around the world sent us notes of inspiration and money and said make her wish come true!” said Britney’s dad, Len Gengel.

A decade later, Len is back in Haiti. 7News was there for his emotional journey.

“Our goal is to clear to raise the next generation of leaders in Haiti,” Len Gengel said.

Britney’s life was cut short but her dream and mission of giving back to Haiti lives on through her family and these children.

“I think she has her hand on all of us,” said Cherylann. “So, I think it’s working the way she wants it to”

In the next 10 years the be like brit foundation wants to build a hotel in Haiti to create more jobs and give more people a place to stay when they visit.

For more information visit https://www.belikebrit.org and https://www.belikebrit.org.

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