By: Dale King Contributing Writer
In the waning late afternoon sunshine of Jan. 12, parents, relatives, friends and colleagues of four Lynn University students and two faculty members killed in a horrible earthquake 10 years ago in Haiti wept new tears for their loved ones who never returned from the humanitarian mission called Journey of Hope.
In all, 12 students and their instructors left the green and quiet Boca Raton campus on a journey to help the poor and bring hope to hard-bitten Haitians with visits to a children’s handicapped home and an all-girls orphanage.
Without warning, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince at 4:53 p.m. on Jan. 12, 2010. It devastated the island and stole the lives of four of the 12 visiting Lynn students and both faculty members. Eight students did return to the U.S.
Each year, the university remembers Dr. Richard Bruno, an assistant professor in the College of Liberal Education; Dr. Patrick Hartwick, dean of the Donald E. and Helen L. Ross College of Education and students Stefanie Crispinelli, Britney Gengel, Christine Gianacaci and Courtney Hayes with a ceremony that begins at the moment the earthquake hit.
“We are so very proud of them, for their acts of goodness,” said Lynn University President Kevin Ross, addressing a crowd standing in the shadow between a building to their rear and the monument to the teens and elders taken much too soon on that terrible day a decade ago.
In 2012, the university constructed and dedicated Remembrance Plaza on the campus – a place of reflection and inspiration where a short story of each Journey of Hope mission member who died in the disaster is written on glass panels adjacent to falling water from the top on the memorial to an adjacent pond.
After Ross’ address, visitors slowly walked the memorial where flowers were placed in front of each glass panel. Mourners, including parents of the young women who perished, hung together, held each other close and experienced the memorial with deep thought and prayers.
“Many of you never had the opportunity to meet these remarkable six individuals, but you know their story through this memorial, which stands not only to remind us of their service, but to inspire us as well,” said Ross after ringing of a bell six times for Lynn’s own who never came home.
“After the earthquake, members of our Lynn community gathered in this area to hold candlelight vigils, and they made sure those luminaries glowed brightly every single evening until we had found the last missing member of our Lynn family,” Ross said. Britney Gengel, whose parents have created the Be like Brit Foundation which built and operates an orphanage in Haiti, was located in the rubble of the collapsed Hotel Montana 33 days after the quake hit.
“Families carry on the legacies of their loved ones in many ways,” Ross noted.
Len and Cherylann Gengel, parents of Britney Gengel, founded the Be like Brit Foundation in honor of their daughter. Shortly before her death, she texted her mother, describing how much the work she was doing meant to her and how she wanted to start an orphanage in Haiti.
“They love us so much and everyone is so happy,” said Brit in her message. “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.”
Inspired by Brit’s text, her parents went ahead and built the orphanage. The 19,000 SF structure – signifying that Britney was 19 years old when she died – is shaped like a B, her first initial, and is home to 66 children – 33 boys and 33 girls, recalling the 33 days that passed before Britney’s remains were located. The facility is non-adoptive, so it is a permanent home for the children.
This year, the Gengel family also released a documentary video marking the 10th anniversary of the earthquake that demolished Haiti and killed hundreds of thousands. Len and Cherylann Gengel speak of their loss in the video, as do their two sons. They also discuss the development of the orphanage, which is shown in detail.
Visit belikebrit.org for information on the Foundation and to view the documentary.
Ross said the university also honors the Journey of Hope legacy through its annual Knights Unite Day of Caring, a single day of service that began Jan. 12, 2011, and the Citizenship Project. Over the past three years, participants packed and delivered 2,000 Comfort Cases for children in foster care.
Since 2011, Lynn has partnered with 38 different organizations and completed more than 40,500 service hours as part of the Citizenship Project. This year, 34 classes are participating in 110 service experiences with Big Dog Ranch Rescue, Boca Helping Hands, Boca West Medical, Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, Paint Your Heart Out and others.
“Together, we have done so much good work over the past decade as we carry on Stephanie, Britney, Christine, Courtney, Dr. Hartwick and Dr. Bruno’s spirit of service,” said Ross. “We are proud to share their story with future generations through this memorial and the acts of goodness they will continue to inspire us to do.”