By R.J. Sepich
While some Pitt student-athletes spend the summer offseason months running up and down the hills of Oakland in preparation for their respective upcoming seasons, 16 Panthers recently found themselves hiking a much steeper terrain in an unfamiliar setting.
As part of a trip initiated by the Coalition for Christian Outreach (CCO), nine female and seven male Pitt student-athletes climbed four miles up a mountain in Haiti, providing food and clothes to many of the poverty-stricken natives.
One moment on the mountain even brought Devin Street to tears.
"As we were walking up the mountain with food and clothes, we would see people in need of them," said Street, a wide receiver on the football team. "We came across a little girl and her mother. The little girl had a raggedy shirt on--it didn't fit her and was all dirty. She had no pants and no shoes. And I had a pair of nice gold sandals meant for a girl with jewels on them in my bag. We gave her the shoes and they fit her perfectly; they were meant for her.
"I broke down on the mountain thinking about people that have to live like that," Street added.
Soon after spring semester finals finished up in late April, the group traveled to Cap Haitien, Haiti and stayed and helped at the EBAC orphanage, which houses and educates about 90 Haitian children. The student-athletes also spent time at the IDADEE orphanage that is run by five adults who grew up at EBAC.
Mark Giubilato, a fullback on the football team, was also touched by his interactions with a young Haitian boy with dirty clothes during the trek up the mountain. He said the boy led the group up the mountain, holding his hand the entire way.
"When we got to the church [at the top of the mountain], I took out a pair of sweatpants from my bag--Pitt football sweatpants--because I saw what he was wearing and I gave them to him," Giubilato said. "He was so grateful and wouldn't let go of my hand. And down there, that's how you show that you genuinely care about somebody else."
Although the hike up the mountain certainly stood out as one of the more memorable moments of the voyage, CCO member Mark Steffey, the chief organizer of the trip, said that the group spent most of its time helping the orphans at the EBAC school.
"The school work was a big part of it," Steffey said. "Just sitting with the kids and doing homework took a bulk of the days. And when we visited IDADEE for two days, our function was to hold babies. Just being with the kids, giving them that attention and playing games with them is what is important."
Beyond the experiences of the mountain and the orphanages, women's soccer midfielder Katie Lippert, a health and physical activity major, got to meet a Haitian doctor named Pastor Cebien (Alexis) who runs a medical clinic near the EBAC orphanage.
"A lot of the kids love him and look up to him--they all want to be doctors because of him," Lippert said of Pastor Cebien. "Some of us studying in the health field had the opportunity to go see his clinic for a few hours one day, and that was an awesome experience. To see how he treated his patients was an experience I don't think we'd get to have here."
Like Lippert and some other Panthers, Giubilato also went on a similar CCO trip to Haiti last year. He said that seeing how the experiences of the trip to Haiti changed his fellow student-athletes making their first trip to the Caribbean country really stood out to him.
"This year, since there were a few of us who had already been there before, I got to see Devin [Street], Mike Caprara, Joe Trebitz and people from other sports who were going for their first time and how much they changed throughout the week and how the trip affected them," Giubilato said. "Everybody did an awesome job and loved it."
Caprara, a linebacker on the football team, and gymnast Tiara Chadran both made their first trips to Haiti with the CCO and the Pitt team of student-athletes. They both agreed with Giubilato's statement.
"Being out of our comfort zone brought the whole group together," Caprara said. "We became so much closer -- everybody from every different sport. And I just thought that was amazing. You could see each one of us growing."
"There's not one person on the trip who I don't feel comfortable with. And I'm confident these friendships will last," Chadran added. "It's awesome."
With limited electricity and inconsistent running water at EBAC, the student-athletes also spent time playing soccer and basketball with the children. They distributed 20 soccer balls, 23 soccer jerseys, 20 t-shirts and 23 pairs of soccer socks that were donated by recently graduated Pitt football linebacker Joe Trebitz's former high school classmate Jozy Altidore, who plays soccer professionally in the Netherlands, represents the USA men's national soccer and is of Haitian descent.
And when it came time to head back to Pitt, everyone left with much lighter luggage after donating most of their own clothes and shoes to the Haitians.
Street was overcome by his emotions once again when giving his clothes to two native boys.
"I noticed these two boys who everyday they would trade t-shirts--they only had two shirts. They switched shorts too, just so they wouldn't have to wear the same thing each day," Street said. "And at the end of the week, I gave them all of my stuff. I gave them seven shirts, five pairs of pants and three pairs of shoes. Seeing Reginald, the older one, smile so much--that was just another breaking point for me."
"We got to see a different side of everyone," Lippert said. "I never got to see a football player cry, but to see who they really were on the inside was really cool."
Lippert believes that the group of 16 Pitt student-athletes was certainly changed for the better by the trip.
"As a group we affected Haiti," she said. "But Haiti affected us even more."
Complete list of the student-athletes who made the trip to Haiti:
Danielle Benner (women's soccer)
Mike Caprara (football)
Tiara Chadran (gymnastics)
Hillary Doucette (cross country)
Mark Giubilato (football)
Bri Hogan (gymnastics)
Katie Lippert (women's soccer)
Ryan McKenzie (men's soccer)
Alyssa Meier (women's soccer)
Dan Prete (men's soccer)
Morgan Sharick (women's soccer)
Alec Sheaffer (swimming and diving)
Devin Street (football)
Joe Trebitz (football)
Leigh Waltz (swimming and diving)
Tyler Wilps (wrestling)
Kelly Cooke (CCO)
Mark Steffey (CCO)