‘What she started, we will finish’: Rutland family keeps quake victim’s mission alive for a decade

WORCESTER, Mass. — When a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti on January 12, 2010, Britney Gengel was volunteering at an orphanage. The 19-year-old Rutland resident was a college student at Lynn University.

“I think she found her purpose in life to help Haiti, the poorest of the poor,” her mother Cherylann Gengel said.

For 33 days, her parents prayed she would be found safe. Finally, they got the devastating phone call: Britney was gone.

“I remember the moment I found out that she had died, and I didn't know how I was going to get through the day. I can't believe I can say that we survived 10 years without Britney,” Cherylann told Boston 25 News anchor Vanessa Welch.

Two hours before the quake hit, Britney texted her parents a message that would anchor them in their grief:

“They love us so much and everyone is so happy. They love what they have and work so hard to get nowhere yet they are so appreciative. I want to move here and start an orphanage myself,” the text read.

“That text message…I really feel that was a gift to me, to our family. It’s the reason I get out of bed every day,” Cherylann said.

She and Britney’s father, Len, made it their mission to make sure Britney’s final wish came true. Within months they started the Be Like Brit Foundation.

Over 10 years, they’ve raised more than $10 million dollars.

Related: Be Like Brit Foundation set to honor 10-year anniversary of local teen’s death in Haiti earthquake

The foundation built “Brit’s House of Love” in Haiti. The earthquake-proof orphanage, shaped like a ‘B’, is home to 33 boys and 33 girls. Those numbers include many siblings and 19 families in all.

“It does ease the pain a little because the kindness of people is overwhelming. People want to help, people are good. They really are making a difference, and so it really does help my heart to heal,” Cherylann said.

In recent years, the foundation expanded the orphanage to include a school. So-called 'Britsionarys’ take regular trips to Haiti and have built 145 houses for the homeless there. Roughly 1800 people have made the journey, with each one taking a 50-pound bag of supplies to help the cause.

The foundation is headquartered in Worcester, where the Be Like Brit team works to raise money and donations all the while keeping Brit’s spirit alive.

“I hope she would say ‘really good job mom and dad’ and her brothers Bernie and Richie. I hope she’s proud of us. I hope that she’s happy and I hope that she realizes that we’re not done. What she started, we will finish,” Cherylann Gengel said.

There many ways to help the Be Like Brit Foundation, you can sponsor a child, volunteer at their warehouse and make donations.

Here’s the foundation’s 'wish list’ for supplies. The Be Like Brit warehouse in Worcester is having an open house Saturday, January 11 to learn more and help mark the anniversary. You can learn more here.