We Should All Be Like Brit

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By: Ali Kaufman, founder & schoolhouse director, Space of Mind Special to the Boca and Delray newspapers

“For of those to whom much is given, much is required” has always been a driving mantra in my life. President-elect John F. Kennedy paraphrased Luke 12:48 when he reminded Americans that “courage, judgment, integrity and dedication” define our core values. As an educator, these values are also foundational in the framework of the learning experience my team and I create within our schoolhouse.

Students must also infuse their own perspectives with other vantage points so that they can understand not only themselves, but their place within the greater world they each share. For this reason, travel and service-based learning are important components of a well-rounded curriculum – and core components of the Space of Mind program. This year, as part of our year-long theme to explore the countries and cultures of “The Emerging World,” our students are partnering with Be Like Brit, an orphanage in Grand Goâve, Haiti.

Founded by the Gengel family in memory of their beloved daughter and sister, Britney Gengel, who perished there with her Lynn University peers and professors in the 2010 earthquake, BLB is a haven for 66 children who are being educated, nurtured and inspired to become Haiti’s future leaders. The Be Like Brit mission is rooted in Britney’s own core values, which centered around her compassion, as well as the courage, judgment, integrity and dedication her family steadfastly exemplifies.

We are planning to visit BLB with a group of Space of Mind students and staff this coming April, so one of our Humanities coaches and I recently traveled there to advance the trip. When we landed in Port-au-Prince, Haiti as “Britsionaries” with an incoming group of Be Like Brit travelers, we got some important advice from Len Gengel, Britney’s dad. He told us that in order to understand Haiti, we had to leave our core values on the plane. This was advice given to him by a nun years prior, and it proved to be as right for our group as it was for him.

I didn’t at first understand what that meant, but throughout the weekend, it became clear: there are many layers to the problems Haitians face, and I needed to detach myself from my American-ness to fully grasp each one.

As we barreled through an impactful weekend, we bonded with the children who live at BLB, built a home for one of their treasured employees (over 1200 BLB “Britsionaries” have built over 100 homes in the area on similar trips), toured the town’s schools and medical clinic, visited a Voodoo temple, experienced a Sunday church service, shared incredible laughs with new friends, swam in a crystal clear ocean and most of all, reflected with one another on the complexity of this spirited country and the survival mode it can’t escape from.

My connection to Haiti is more personal now, and it will take me some time still to understand exactly how that will change me and those around me. The easy things are already happening:

Upon returning, we shared our experiences with our Space of Mind students, families and coaches

I sponsored Katharina, a BLB child who just absolutely captured my attention and my heart (I challenge you to sponsor one of these magical kids, too!)

I’m writing this article to share my experience with you.

I plan to reach out to a core group of my friends and family to join me on a future trip.

The harder things will take a while:

How will I not fall back into my bubble that removes me from the sensory experience I had in Haiti?

How will I reconcile my birth lottery now that I’ve experienced another level of survivalism that I hadn’t ever seen up close?

Who will I choose to be now that I know what I know?

Did you know Be Like Brit has a Delray Beach office? If youre interested in traveling to Haiti – or want to learn more about supporting Be Like Brit – you can visit them at the Delray Beach Green Market every Saturday from 9am-2pm or reach out to them at (561) 523-0160.