Haiti trip an eye-opener for Pitt athletes

Panthers make impact, but, malnourished, impoverished children have bigger one PITT ATHLETES HELP IN HAITI

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Katie Lippert saw things she never had seen before on a goodwill trip to Haiti with other Pitt athletes last month. Poverty, malnourishment and deplorable living conditions were the norm for the villagers in Cap Haitien, the city along the northern coast where they volunteered their services for a week at a local orphanage.

Lippert, a senior midfielder on the women's soccer team, saw something else that had her wide-eyed. "I never thought I would see a football player cry. But they cried the most. To see them in a different light was pretty cool."

The three football players seated alongside Lippert in a conference room inside the Petersen Events Center -- receiver Devin Street, fullback Mark Giubilato and linebacker Mike Caprara -- sheepishly agreed. Then, Street piped up and admitted he likely cried the most.

The trip stirred deep emotions in the 16 Pitt athletes that made the trip in conjunction with the Coalition for Christian Outreach, a regional campus ministry that serves more than a hundred campuses in the Northeast. It was the second year athletes from Pitt visited Haiti. Other Pittsburgh sports teams, including the Penguins and the Pirates, have taken similar trips in recent years.

Pitt's contingent volunteered at the EBAC orphanage, which is run by Alice Wise and Kathy Gouker, Baptist missionaries from Fayette County who have served in Haiti for nearly 30 years. Ninety children live at the orphanage.

The athletes taught in the school and played with the children. They hiked to deliver supplies to a local church, which was being rebuilt by the orphans who carried cinder blocks up a mountain one by one.

Street, making his first trip to Haiti, was deeply affected by what he witnessed.

"As we were walking up the mountain, we would see people in need and we would stop," said Street, who earned all-Big East second-team honors last season as a junior.

"There was one girl and her mom. The girl had on a raggedy shirt, no pants and no shoes. I had a pair of gold sandals, with jewels on the front. They fit her perfectly. It was touching to me. And giving food to families who don't know where their next meal will come from, that was touching.

"Some families eat mud and sticks to feel full, just to get that sensation. I broke down on the mountain knowing that people have to live like that."

By the end of the trip, Street not only was giving away the clothes the trip organizers had brought. He gave away the contents of his suitcase before returning to Pittsburgh -- seven shirts, five pairs of pants and three pairs of shoes. He gave everything to a set of brothers who owned one T-shirt and one pair of shorts apiece. The one pair of shoes the one brother owned were pink Crocs four sizes too small.

"Seeing them at the end of the week, I never saw them smile so much, to play soccer in a pair of tennis shoes," Street said. "That was another breaking point for me. I had to go behind the bus and break down again. Kids have to go through that and live like that, yet they have so much hope. That will stick with me for the rest of my life. Things I encounter over here will never touch me as much as that."

Street hopes to start a foundation someday to help underprivileged children.

Caprara, a sophomore linebacker from Woodland Hills High School, made the trip for the first time, too. He was so taken aback by what he saw that he had trouble readjusting to life here upon his return.

"I had so much guilt about opening my refrigerator and having so much stuff," Caprara said. "I would get physically ill. I was hungry, but I couldn't eat. I would think about what the kids would eat for lunch, a piece of bread and maybe water. That's what hit me most."

Giubilato, a junior fullback, made his second trip to Haiti. He went on the inaugural trip last year with graduated seniors Andrew Taglianetti and Hubie Graham. He made bonds with children and kept in touch with them through Facebook. When he returned last month, it was like old times.

"I knew all along I wanted to go back," he said. "It was a no-brainer to go back."

Giubilato said he will go again next year. Lippert and some of the others who will be graduating next year said they plan to make alumni trips.

"We were able to affect Haiti, but Haiti impacted us even more," Lippert said.

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Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1230 and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published May 18, 2013 4:00 AM


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