My return to Haiti with Be Like Brit

Sun contributor Danielle Cutillo, 23, a Holy Name grad and lifelong Worcester resident, is back from Haiti, where she volunteered at an orphanage built in honor of Britney Gengel of Rutland, killed in a 2010 earthquake. The story of Danielle’s trip involves hugs, hopes, a newly built house, and deep feelings of luck and love. It was a success. [with photo gallery]

Being like Brit: Reflections on finding hope in Haiti

“My experience travelling to Haiti for the first time is still difficult to put into words. Even though Haiti is such a poor country, it is so rich in faith, hope and love.”

Rainbow Readers offers new chapter for Worcester LGBT community

“Back in November, I was frustrated because I knew of book clubs nearby, but none that interested me. So I decided I might as well start my own.” Sarah Slocum said she discovered the closest LGBT book club was in an Arlington library some 50 miles away. Now, though, folks like Sarah only have to make their way to James Street. New Sun contributor Danielle Cutillo takes a closer look at one of the city’s newest LGBT resources.

My return to Haiti with Be Like Brit

“Haiti? Why would you want to go back there?” is the response I got from many when I explained I was headed back to the island nation to volunteer at my favorite organization, Be Like Brit.

After I explain the story of Britney Gengel — a college student who perished in the 2010 earthquake while on a mission trip, whose parents created an orphanage in her honor — many are eager to learn more about my travels.

Be Like Brit is a family. Once you’re in, you’re in for life.

Once again, it is difficult to put this experience into words. It is hard to explain the sadness my heart ached for, the love I felt, and the hope that I saw.

Selfie with the BLB kids -- Mirna and Shilove.

Courtesy Danielle Cutillo

Selfie with the BLB kids — Mirna and Shilove.

Landing in Haiti, at the airport in Port-au-Prince, I only felt excitement. It was a very different feeling than last year. This time around, I felt like I was on a trip to visit family. Although the poverty is always overwhelming to see, my eyes weren’t glued to the windows on the drive to the orphanage this time.

I knew what to expect and I was so happy to be back.

Arriving at the orphanage, our group of Britsionaries (the name given to the volunteers at Be Like Brit), were welcomed by the 66 kids singing “Hallelujah.” After they finished, they ran to us with hugs. Right away, I could tell how much the kids have grown up and how their English is improving immensely. Many asked in English, “What is your name?” and “How are you?”

Being like Brit: Reflections on finding hope in Haiti

Editor’s note: Sun contributor Danielle Cutillo is travelling to Haiti this week on a volunteer mission for the Be Like Brit organization, which operates an orphanage for more than 60 children in memory of Britney Gengel, a missionary who died in a devastating 2010 earthquake there. Here, Danielle, 23, a Holy Name graduate and lifelong Worcester resident, reflects on her first trip last year while preparing for her second journey, which began yesterday. Once she’s back, Danielle will tell us about her most recent experience with another column, more photos and video. Check back next week.

About a year ago my life was changed when I traveled to Grand-Goave, Haiti, to volunteer with the nonprofit organization, Be Like Brit.

Danielle in Haiti last year with one of the Be Like Brit kids.

Courtesy Danielle Cutillo

Danielle in Haiti last year with one of the Be Like Brit kids.

During her sophomore year of college, 19-year-old Britney Gengel of Rutland had signed up for a three-week mission trip to Haiti with a group from Florida-based Lynn University. A few days into her trip, Jan. 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, leaving an estimated 1.5 million people initially homeless.

Hundreds of thousands perished, including Britney and five others in her group.

Not long before the earthquake hit, Britney had sent a text message to her mother: “They love us so much and everyone is so happy. 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.”

This text is what soon would change the lives of many people like me.

Britney’s parents, Cherylann and Len, wanted to make Britney’s last wish come true. They decided to build an orphanage in Grand-Goave to honor their daughter.

The organization, Be Like Brit, is now home to 33 boys and 33 girls, in remembrance of the 33 days Britney’s body was missing after the earthquake.

Danielle and a friend were "Britsionaries" last year.

Courtesy Danielle Cutillo

Danielle and a friend were “Britsionaries” last year.

Each month “Britsionaries,” the name given to their volunteers, travel down to the orphanage to visit with the children and help build a home for a local family. That’s why I’m here. Again.

I arrived yesterday and will stay through July 23, marking my second trip as a Britsionary with a few of my best friends. As a Britsionary, you are able to stay in the orphanage, bond with all of the kids, and build a small home for a local family. I can’t wait to do it all again!

Rainbow Readers offers new chapter for Worcester LGBT community

Starting a book club in Worcester is not an easy task, but Sarah Slocum was up for the challenge.

When she learned there was not a LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) book club in the Worcester area, Slocum was determined to start her own. A lover of books and a member of the youth committee for the advocacy group Worcester Pride, Slocum thought it seemed like the perfect idea.

“Back in November, I was frustrated because I knew of book clubs nearby, but none that interested me. So I decided I might as well start my own,” Slocum said. “With the help of my local librarian, I found places I could have it.”

Sarah Slocum, creator of Rainbow Readers, a new LGBT book group with sessions for young and adult readers.

Danielle Cutillo / For Worcester Sun

Sarah Slocum, creator of Rainbow Readers, a new LGBT book group with sessions for young and adult readers.

Slocum, a part-time balloon decorator and reiki practitioner from Sutton, said after some research she discovered the closest LGBT book club is in an Arlington library some 50 miles away.

After looking for space at local cafes and stores, Annie’s Book Stop at 65 James St. was interested in being host to the club. Easy access to books and space for meetings made it a logical choice.


Come back Sunday to check out Worcester Sun’s next edition, when we profile another unique and impactful resource for the Worcester-area LGBT community.