Britney Gengel was a beautiful and fearless 19 year old girl from Massachusetts who believed that she could change the world. She protected the underdog, was a voice for those who didn’t have one and knew how to enjoy life. She’ll be remembered for how she could light up a room, bring people together, help the less fortunate and live life to the fullest. She was a beautiful soul, compassionate, intelligent, trustworthy and loving. She believed in and unconditionally loved the children of Haiti during her last days on earth and she was determined to help the kids of Haiti. Her last wish was to start an orphanage and that’s why the Gengel Family decided to start the Be Like Brit Foundation.
Britney and 300,000 people perish in the Haiti earthquake
Land Purchased in Grand Goave haiti
First Britsionary Trip, Becker College
(An award was also created called The Britney Gengel International Humanitarian Award and is now given out every year)
Len Gengel is Co-Founder and President of The Be Like Brit Foundation, Inc. Over the past 10 years, Len has dedicated his life to the children of Haiti at Brit’s Home in Grand Goave.
He started building the Orphanage with his son Bernie, nephew Ross and right-hand man named Gama, who is a Haitian American, back at Christmas in 2010. They finished Brit’s 19,000 square foot home at the end of 2012. Len made 39 trips from Boston, over a 2-year period, to Supervise the creation of a Block Factory to make US style block that were compression checked after each trip to ensure a Structural Sound Building. He also created systems and methodologies for the 100+ Haitian Employees who helped construct the 19,000 Square Foot Orphanage shaped like the letter “B”
Brit’s Home was built with the same Seismic Standards as San Francisco and was the first Certified Earthquake Proof Structure after the Horrific Earthquake. It was recognized in the Fall of 2013 by Engineering News of Record, an International Magazine (McGraw-Hill) for Engineers around the world. Len and Cherylann wrote their daughter’s book, Heartache and Hope in Haiti the Britney Gengel Story, where 100% of the profits are directed to Brit’s Home. Len has never, nor will he ever, take a salary from the Be Like Brit Foundation. His vision is clear: “To Raise and Support the Next Generation of Leaders in Haiti”.
Len is retired living in the Blue Ridge Mountains of South Carolina and travels to Haiti each month to oversee Haiti Operations. Len founded C&S Builders, Inc and worked 30 years in the home-building business, retiring at the end of 2012 after building 10 neighborhoods and 350+ homes. He was past president of his local and state Home Builders Association along with Greater Worcester Habitat for Humanity. Len earned two degrees in Business from Becker College (formerly Becker Junior College) and Central Connecticut State University. Len has also received honorary doctorates from Becker College and The University of Massachusetts Medical School and has given many college commencement speeches. Len’s Hobby are his two sons Richie and Bernie and his love of Black Bears that are his neighbors at his mountain top cabin. You can follow along with him at www.bleuridgebears.org to see and learn about his family of Black Bears. Len was Blessed growing up with 6 older Sisters and 1 older Brother and now has many nieces and nephews who also have helped honor Brit’s Memory in many ways.
Len’s contact information is: Len@belikebrit.org
Cherylann Gengel has devoted her life to her family: Britney, Bernie, Richie and now her 66 children at Be Like Brit in Haiti. Cherylann has always been very active in her community; she served as President of the Rutland Parents Teachers’ Organization, Treasurer of Rutland’s Youth Baseball, she helped create Rutland’s Recreation Committee, and served as a member of St. Vincent DePaul to name just a few. For more than 8 years, she owned and operated the popular Grand Slam Café in Rutland, MA, where the likes of David Ortiz, Trot Nixon, Doug Mirabelli, and Kevin Youkilis were known to stop by and say hello. In 2010, when tragedy struck and her daughter Britney was killed in the Haiti Earthquake, Cherylann along with Len, co-founded The Be Like Brit Foundation in honor of Britney. Cherylann serves as the Board Chair, runs the Operation Center in Massachusetts, provides leadership to the Program Committee which oversees the Guiding Principles, and leads all fundraising efforts. In the past 7 years, under the guidance of Cherylann, The Be Like Brit Foundation has raised over $4.6M. Cherylann is a member of the National Association of Professional Women (NAPW) and was profiled by NAPW in April 2012, in addition to being named one of the Top 25 Woman Changing the World in 2014 by Cyrus Webb. She was also featured in Woman’s World Magazine. She received an honorary doctorate from Becker College and The University of Massachusetts Medical School. Cherylann travels the country sharing her heart and providing inspiration to others as she shares stories about Britney and her experiences about the children of Be Like Brit and how she, along with the support of family, friends and total strangers; has learned to turn tragedy into hope.
Britney’s beloved brother, Bernie, has contributed his compassion, innovation, and technical assistance to The Be Like Brit Foundation. Bernie has expertise in Search Engine Optimization, Website Development, Ideation, Fundraising and Non Profit Strategy. In addition to building and maintaining The Be Like Brit website, Bernie implements the online marketing campaign through Google grants. Bernie has been instrumental in the building of Brit’s orphanage; he traveled to Haiti for the first time in August of 2010 with his mother, Cherylann, and Aunt Jodi. In September of 2010, Bernie and Len went to Haiti to purchase the land for the orphanage in Grand Goave, and in December of 2010, Bernie and Len traveled to Haiti for the ground breaking. Bernie continues to keep his sister’s spirit alive. His dream is to improve Haiti’s economy by developing businesses there such as (but not limited to) agriculture, manufacturing, shipping and earthquake-proof hotels.
Dr. PJ McDonald began his career with 3M Corporation in Minnesota and New York before joining Eagle Hill School in June of 1993. In 1998, PJ was appointed Headmaster of Eagle Hill School after five successful years as the Director of Admission. Dr. McDonald has long been connected to the Gengel family and is very dedicated to The Be Like Brit Foundation as Bernie and Richie both graduated from Eagle Hill School.
Dr. McDonald received his Bachelor’s Degree in Organizational Leadership from Purdue University, a Master’s degree in Educational Administration from Cambridge College, and a Doctorate of Education in Educational Policy, Research, and Administration from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. PJ has been published in national journals and is a frequent speaker at national conferences on both leadership and education, including the National Association of Independent Schools, The Association of Boarding Schools, and the Independent Educational Consultants Association. PJ also serves as a consultant to independent schools, colleges, and non-profit organizations across the United States in the areas of governance, strategic planning, and fundraising. In addition to The Be Like Brit Foundation, PJ is a trustee at numerous non-profit organizations throughout New England. PJ and his wife, Kathryn, live in Holden, MA, with their three children, Griffin, Reagan, and Tucker.
Christine Steinwand is Britney’s “Auntie Chrissy.” This special relationship segued into one of the six members who founded The Be Like Brit Foundation. Christine sits on the Board of Directors and is the Chair of the Program Committee. She also provided leadership in writing the Guiding Principles and the Program Manual for the foundation along with the help of the Program Committee. Prior to her contribution to The Be Like Brit Foundation, Christine worked for 42 years in the field of education as a Child Development Specialist and a Family Therapist. Christine holds a Bachelor’s degree from Our Lady of the Elms College in Sociology, Education and Religion. She also earned a Masters Degree in Child Development from Wheelock College. Christine began her career in Hawaii as a teacher in the Catholic Lay Apostolate. After returning to MA, she directed a child care program in an inner city project, directed a teen parent program, counseled students in public schools for 22 years, and taught in the graduate school at Wheelock College for 18 years.
Jodi Sweeney is Britney’s aunt and godmother and had an extremely close relationship with Britney. Jodi has been instrumental in the fundraising efforts at Be Like Brit. She has designed and run many successful fundraising events, such as our annual Gala. Jodi is currently Vice President of professional services at Click Software Prior to joining Click Software, Jodi worked at several multi-national companies including Altisource Labs, Avid, GTECH Corporation, Compaq Computer, and Digital Equipment Corporation. She has breadth and depth of experience in managing professional services and customer support operations, developing channel strategies, implementing Customer, advisory boards, evaluating mergers and acquisitions, developing corporate strategy and driving high levels of customer satisfaction. Jodi has an MBA in Finance from Northeastern University of Boston, MA.
Susan Wornick, Emmy award-winning anchor and reporter, recently stepped down from the ABC affiliate, WCVB-TV Boston news desk in February 2014. Wornick was named anchor of WCVB-TV Newscenter 5 Midday newscast in February 1989. During that time, NewsCenter 5’s noon broadcast remained the top-ranked and most watched news program in that time period. Wornick joined WCVB in 1981 and has won many awards during her tenure including the 2012 Embracing the Legacy Award, by Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps, for children at the Kennedy Library in recognition of her work in protecting children. Most recently, she was honored with the State of Massachusetts’ Certificate of Appreciation, the state’s highest honor for consumer advocacy, never before given to someone not working in state government. In addition to her award winning work in radio and television, Wornick spends a tremendous amount of time volunteering with many notable charities in the New England area.
Susan and Britney quickly bonded in the summer of 2007 when Brit shadowed Susan for a day at WCVB. Brit went home and told her family, “I could party with her,” while Susan was telling coworkers, “that’s one smart, bright light “. Susan covered the earthquake extensively for WCVB and traveled with Len and Cherylann to Florida when they first had errant reports of Britney being rescued, and stayed for the heartbreaking days that followed. Susan has been dedicated to Brit’s story and has taken every opportunity to ensure the New England area is kept apprised of the building of BLB through her stories on WCVB. Susan was in Haiti for the groundbreaking and opening of Brit’s Orphanage and the subsequent arrival of the children. Born in The Bronx, New York, and raised in Natick Massachusetts, Wornick now resides in Needham Massachusetts. She is a graduate of Boston’s Emerson College, where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree.
Joane Buteau Dumont was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where she is one of seven owners of the Karibe, Kinam and Servotel Restaurants and Hotels in both Port-au-Prince and Petion-Ville Haiti. Joane earned her BS at Ithaca College and Hyde-Park, NY from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). In 1991, Joane lived in Paris where she married Bernard Dumont before moving to the United States. In a twist of fate, Bernard Dumont was a life-long college friend of Len Gengel and has been a trusted advisor since the Haiti earthquake. While in the US, Joane worked at a shoe store and studied at an art school where she developed an interest in abstract painting. In 1995, Joane had her daughter, Alexa, and stopped everything to become a stay at home mom and continued after her son, Nathan, was born in 1999. Joane currently serves as an adviser for the family business back home in Haiti, which has been in the family for more than 50 years.
Born and raised in Milford, MA, Fr. John Madden has degrees from Holy Cross, Boston College and the Gregorian University in Rome. He was ordained in 1984 and has had assignments in Holden and Clinton, Massachusetts and at Holy Name Jr. Sr. High School before becoming Pastor at St. John’s Church in Worcester, Massachusetts in Feb 2004. Fr. Madden has been a dear friend and faithful advisor to the Gengel family for the last decade as their pastor at St. John’s Church in Worcester. He blessed Britney before her journey to Haiti and presided over her funeral when she was laid to rest. Fr. Madden gives guidance in the faith-filled raising of this next generation of leaders in Haiti at Be Like Brit.
Paul F. Scully serves as President and CEO of Country Bank in Ware, Massachusetts. Paul is also a Director of Old Sturbridge Village as well as a Director at Wing Memorial Hospital. Highly involved in his community, Mr. Scully is a Corporator for the Greater Worcester Massachusetts Community Foundation. In 1988, the Gengels received their first mortgage from Country Bank. Paul has been committed to the mission of Be Like Brit and has been a great supporter. He visited the Be Like Brit orphanage in Haiti in October of 2012 to help complete the orphanage and returned again in March of 2013 to build a home for a local family. Paul earned a BS at Bentley College and an MBA at Suffolk University. He resides in Sturbridge Massachusetts.
Steve Helle has been the President and COO of Granite City Electrical Supply since 1999. Granite City Electrical Supply is an electrical distributor serving New England based contractor, industrial and commercial construction. From 1986 through 1999, Mr. Helle held multiple management positions at Capitol Light and Supply out of Hartford, CT including Vice President of the Electrical Division upon departure. Mr. Helle has been married for 23 years to his wife Meghan and has two teenage daughters: Danielle and Jacqueline. Steve and Danielle traveled with Len to Haiti in April of 2014 to meet the children and staff at The Be Like Brit Orphanage.
Eileen Terry serves as the Global Head, HR Program Management for Takeda Pharmaceuticals. Eileen has an extensive 20 year background in the field of Human Resources. She’s held senior level HR positions at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Oxford Global Resources and Randstad Holdings. Eileen has also worked in the field of cancer care and treatment for the past 12 years and has depth of experience in the bench-to-bedside life-cycle in both profit and non-profit organizations. Eileen is from the Boston area and was Len and Cherylann’s neighbor in New Hampshire for many summers. She comes from a large family and enjoys spending time with her many nieces and nephews. Eileen has a passionate commitment to charitable work. In addition to her involvement with the Jimmy Fund and The Be Like Brit Foundation, Eileen runs a non-profit organization which raises money for non-medical expenses for families of children battling brain tumors.
Richard Gengel owes a lot to his sister, Britney. He says Brit was one of his best friends and helped open his eyes/heart to a world full of laughs and kindness. She also showed him how being different in our world doesn’t mean something bad but something amazing. Richie works for a multinational software company "Citrix" focused on bettering the future of work for companies and more specifically New England State/Local Governments.
With Citrix he has been able to take all that Brit has shown him and help implement the strategies imagined by New England Governments to keep state employees safe and working during the COVID pandemic. Now back in Massachusetts with his wife Sarah Ortiz-Gengel, he can't wait to do even more for Be Like Brit to keep his sister's last wish alive. Richie has made it his goal to grow Be Like Brit and touch the lives of children there, the way his sister touched his own.
Michael J. Rezuke is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with over 30 years of experience in public accounting. Mr. Rezuke is a Partner at KPMG LLP in Boston, Massachusetts. KPMG is a global professional services firm providing audit, tax and advisory services and is one of the Big Four auditors. As an audit partner at KPMG LLP, Mike is focused on serving multinational companies in the industrial markets and health care industries. Mike earned a Bachelor of Science degree at Assumption College in Worcester, MA. Mike and his wife, Janice, reside in Shrewsbury, MA, with their three children, Kathryn, Kristen and Joseph. Mike and each member of his family are great supporters of Be Like Brit having traveled to Haiti and the Be Like Brit Orphanage multiple times over the past several years.
Since forming a partnership between Becker College (Worcester, MA) and the Be Like Brit Foundation, Dr. Debbie Pallatto-Fontaine has visited the Be Like Brit Orphanage numerous times since 2012. She brought the first group of Becker students on a service trip to help build and paint the orphanage and continues to bring volunteer groups to Be Like Brit once a year. In her volunteer role of Professional Development Advisor and Facilitator, she offers staff development for the day and evening staff three times per year. Training topics have included positive discipline and behavior management, emotional and social intelligence, sex education and talking about touching, creative teaching methodology, experiential learning activities, conflict resolution, child/adolescent development, and effective communication. In this role, Debbie also offers program guidance and development and is the point of contact for long-term Britsionary applicants.
When Debbie is not at Be Like Brit, she is a professor and the Executive Director of Global Initiatives at Becker. In this role, she oversees global education and programming, leads service learning trips, develops strategic partnerships, and helps in leading the new Yunus Social Business Centre @ Becker College. She also coordinates and teaches the Women’s Emergent Leadership Institute (WELi) at Becker.
Debbie has a passion for intercultural learning and service and has spent significant time teaching in China, South Korea, and Ghana before serving in Haiti. She is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ (UCC) and serves as spiritual/faith advisor for Be Like Brit.
Rev. Debbie Pallatto-Fontaine, Ph.D.
Professional Development Advisor and Facilitator
Mark H. Leff brings more than 30 years of professional involvement in the housing and banking industries to his position as Senior Vice President of Construction Lending at Salem Five Bank. In his over twenty five years of service he has continued the Bank’s longstanding tradition of providing innovative construction lending products to builders, developers, and consumers. Mark leads a department that distinguishes itself by providing real estate lending expertise combined with excellence in customer service. These products have consistently generated $100 million in loan production on an annual basis over the past ten years. Prior to joining Salem Five Bank in 1992, Mark served as Director of Public Information for the Massachusetts Industrial Finance Agency from 1980 to 1984. Mark worked in project management for a residential and commercial developer from 1986 to 1991.
Mark has played a leading role in a number of major housing initiatives. He was appointed in March 2001 by Governor Cellucci as a member of the Governor’s Special Commission on Barriers to Housing Development, whose members were charged with making recommendations to reduce unnecessary regulation in an effort to provide needed housing. He served as President of the Home Builders Association of Massachusetts in 2007-2008, and served as the organization’s Public Policy Committee Chairman from July 2001 through June 2007.
Mark was presented with the Eugene L. Tougas Associate Member of the Year Award by the association in June 2002, and was named 2011 Member of the Year. In 2017, he was presented with the “Legend of the Industry” award by the Home Builders Association of Massachusetts, the only banking professional to achieve the highest honor of this association.
He also authored a quarterly column for MassBuilder magazine for five years focusing on economic and regulatory issues related to creation of housing, and has written for Banker and Tradesman. He has been interviewed on WRKO's The Financial Exchange regarding housing economics.
Mark served as the organizing force of a major research project undertaken by the Pioneer Institute for Public Policy Research and Harvard’s Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston, unveiled in 2006. This effort generated a data base of local land use regulation for 187 communities in Massachusetts, and analysis by Harvard economist Edward Glaeser, Ph.D., correlating the regulation to increased housing prices. Mark organized most of the private funding for the landmark effort, a nationally first-of-its-kind research project.
In 2014, Mark was honored to be appointed to the Transition Committee for then Governor-Elect Charlie Baker and Lt. Governor-Elect Karyn Polito. He served on the Economic Growth and Jobs subcommittee, focusing on strengthening the Commonwealth's Infrastructure. Since 2013, Mark has served as the Chairman of the Utilities Subcommittee of the Home Builders Association of Massachusetts. In this role, he has worked with the Department of Public Utilities to facilitate improve service to home builders from the utility industry. Mark received his B.S. from Boston University's College of Communication in 1981, and received his Master of Business Administration, with honors, from the Boston University Graduate School of Management in 1986.
Mark grew up in Malden, Massachusetts and served ten years as a member of the Malden Historical Commission. He was a representative of the Massachusetts Bankers Association on a private sector task force that negotiated changes to the state’s mechanics lien law in 1996. He served on a special committee in 2010 to advise the Ipswich School Committee on a proposed condominium sale of land on Little Neck held in trust for the benefit of the Ipswich Public Schools. He also coaches Babe Ruth baseball.
Mark, his wife, Karen, and their two sons, David and Daniel, make their home in Rowley, Massachusetts.
To learn more about Mark, visit his webpage at www.salemfive.com/markleff