Be Like Brit was born out of pain and tragedy. And Philanthropy!
Britney (Brit) Gengel was a college student who went on a missionary trip to Haiti in 2010. While she was there, Haiti suffered a catastrophic earthquake of 7.0 magnitude. For the next 33 days, Britney’s family didn’t know if she was alive, or whether she was one of the 300,000 people who died. Sadly, on Valentine’s Day, they received the call that their beloved daughter was gone.
Rising like a phoenix from the ashes, Britney’s family rallied and decided to fulfill what ended up being Britney’s last wish, conveyed to them in the last text she ever sent, in which she said she wanted to come back and help the children of Haiti.
Brit’s Home — a 19,000 square foot orphange — was built in Grand-Goâve, Haiti just two years after Briney’s death, to honor her memory, her life and her commitment to serving those less fortunate. Their vision is to raise the next generation of leaders and provide hope and help in the very place Britney lost her life.
The sustainable orphanage serves as home to 33 girls and 33 boys (representing the 33 days that Brit’s family waited to hear news of their daughter). When the children arrived, they were ages 5‒18. As Brit’s Kids start to transition into adolescence and adulthood, Be Like Brit has had to create ways for these young people to continue being a part of the Be Like Brit family. They have built a transition home, and the youth receive support from staff, continuing education, help with making the transition to independent living, exploration of what it means to be a young adult, and assistance with negotiating the local workforce. Be Like Brit is committed to offering each child a lifelong commitment to supporting their future.
They established Brit’s Academy in 2016 to educate the 66 children in their care. Brit’s Kids participate in daily active learning experiences that encourage critical thinking through our Agile Mindset pedagogy, which focuses on empathy, problem solving, social emotional learning and an entrepreneurial mindset.
With access to new technology, Brit’s Kids and school staff have access to a global curriculum including our speaker series “Connect, Engage, Learn.” Speakers from all over the world are able to present to their eager students, building a bridge across the ocean from Haiti to other parts of the world. The children learn Creole, French, English and study the arts, music, chess and dance.
They’ve also built a home in which volunteers can stay while they help build homes for people in the community (more than 150 so far!), many of whom are living in lean-tos or other impermanent structures. This program is temporarily on hold, due to the current instability in Haiti.
Brit’s Home not only provides healthcare for its children, staff and their families, but operates a 1,150 square foot clinc. Prior to COVID, they offered medical clinics to the community and are currently providing as much medical assistance to the community when possible. In 2017, Be Like Brit became an approved pre-designated Landing Zone for the Haiti Air Ambulance, enabling them to facilitate emergency air evacuations by helicopter in the most desperate of situations. Given what’s happened in Haiti since the orphanage was built — more earthquakes and several hurricanes — the organization has played an important role in providing emergency care.
Since Brit’s Home opened in 2013, when possible, they’ve have distributed up to 1,000 gallons of purified water daily to local families. Less than half of the people in rural Haiti have access to clean water, and many die each year from water-borne diseases. In 2016, they expanded their wells and rain-water catchment basins, with the aim of increasing the daily distribution to 2,000 gallons daily (when possible), serving upwards of 75 families per day. With the average household size in Haiti being 6, they estimate that they’re serving between 450-500 individuals each day, when they’re able to offer water distribution.
They also provide employment opportunities to local residents. Be Like Brit is the largest employer in the area, with additional employees being brought in for special projects. This stems from the organization’s commitment to community and a collaborative approach. Local staff and community are involved in the development of policies, procedures and practices. Be Like Brit collaborates with other schools, children’s homes, missions and organizations in the area as often as possible. In a country where there is a 65% unemployment rate and hunger is a daily reality, the work that Be Like Brit is doing is instrumental in helping rebuild Haiti from within.
The Gengels transformed their tragedy and loss into transformation and hope. Now that’s the Power of Philanthropy!