St. Joe's Prep grad Giubilato's humanitarian spirit

COURTESY OF MARK GIUBILATO Mark Giubilato, from St. Joe's Prep and currently playing football at Pitt, has made many young friends during two trips to Haiti.
COURTESY OF MARK GIUBILATO Mark Giubilato, from St. Joe's Prep and currently playing football at Pitt, has made many young friends during two trips to Haiti.
Posted: August 07, 2013

THE ROAR of thousands of fans on a Saturday afternoon as a college football player runs out of the tunnel can be one of the biggest rushes for an athlete. Most strive for that moment from the minute they pick up a pigskin. Many feel accomplished when they run out to their school's fight song, and adoring fans gush their praises before a game.

But for Newtown Square native Mark Giubilato, the rush of giving back to others beats that. The redshirt junior fullback at the University of Pittsburgh traveled to Haiti for a week in the spring of 2012 as a part of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, helping kids learn and grow in the most impoverished nation in the Western Hemisphere.

"I get more enjoyment out of going down there and making an impact on young kids' lives than I could ever get from football," Giubilato said.

Giubilato, who played quarterback at St. Joseph's Prep, was one of 16 student-athletes who made the trip. Giubilato says the experience was one he will never forget.

"It was the best week of my life," Giubilato said. "I had never left the United States before, and going down there and seeing the poverty, but on the flip side, seeing how happy and how passionate about their faith they are is a really life-changing experience."

Mark Steffey, Pitt's director of the Coalition for Christian Outreach, said he and Giubilato spoke before the trip.

"He was gung-ho from the start," Steffey said. "He really expressed to me that it was something that his parents instilled in him, and his community instilled in him, and his faith as well, that giving back and helping was part of who he was."

Giubilato was one of 151 college football players recently nominated for the Allstate Good Works Team in recognition for their commitment to volunteerism.

Former Good Works Team members and media representatives will select 11 each of FBS, FCS, Division II, Division III and NAIA players to be on the Team, which will be announced next month.

"It didn't even cross my mind that I would be nominated," Giubilato said. "My roommate told me about it, actually. A lot of people tweeted at me saying congratulations for being nominated. It made my whole summer. Nobody does community service to get an award for it. You do it to make an impact on other people's lives."

In Haiti, he certainly made an impact on the lives of those with whom he interacted, but perhaps not in the tangible way many would expect.

"We stayed at an orphanage," Giubilato said. "We went to northern Haiti and stayed there for a week. It really was not building anything. To be honest, it is so poor that going down and building a few things would not make that much of a difference. What they really like from us is going there and helping the kids with classes and school, and playing with them.

"It is unfathomable how poor it is there. You could never imagine it unless you see it firsthand. Nobody has jobs, because there are no jobs to be had. Everybody just sits on their stoops all day. People live in mud huts or shacks. It's really sad."

Steffey added, "It was an eye-opening experience for him, stepping into another culture, [one] that is so different from life here."

Giubilato elaborated.

"It is not like the United States school system," the 6-2, 235-pound fullback said. "They give you a workbook, and you sit in class and do the workbook. It is a couple hundred pages, and at the end of each workbook you get a test. If you pass the test, you go to the next workbook. There are four workbooks per grade. Everybody works at a different pace. There are some kids that are 16 years old in fifth grade. There are some 22-year-olds that are in high school."

The 16 student-athletes tutored the kids on how to read and write, so they could bring those skills back to their families. Yet hovering over them is the bleak future that faces them, even as they better their own lives through education.

"Getting an education means a lot for them, but there is no job afterwards," Giubilato said. "Getting an education down there is great. They will know how to read and write, and may be the only member of their family that know how to do so."

It was Giubilato's education in Philadelphia that vaulted him into the world of community service.

"One of the main things that St. Joe's Prep stressed was getting involved in the community and doing community service," he said. "My junior year of high school, I had to do 20 hours of service, and my senior year I had to do 40."

It was during his junior year of high school when the ideals of St. Joe's Prep were put into action in Giubilato's life. When the mother of Kennedy-Kenrick lineman Shane Giongo, Bernadette Giongo, was murdered, and then his grandmother's house burned down, Giubilato jumped at the chance to help. He and Prep teammate Mike Yeager organized a fundraiser to help the Giongo family, and raised about $5,000.

"Raising money for the Giongo family really is what got me up on community service," Giubilato said. "Using my athletic ability and the opportunities I have had athletically to get involved in community service and everything, I really like to take advantage of it. I like to make a positive impact on other people's lives."

Giubilato's giving nature has not gone unnoticed by the people with whom he serves. Even the small things he does are appreciated by the people around him.

"Whenever we would need something to be done, Mark would be the first one to step up and do it," Steffey said. "We took a mountain hike one day to a very rural area of Haiti, and Mark volunteered to carry the food, even though he himself was in a bit of pain due to a problem he had with his foot. I took that as a real sacrifice that he made."

That itch to help others is what drew him back to Haiti earlier this year. This time, he brought some familiar faces with him to help. He recruited a few of his Pitt teammates to make the trek to the Caribbean - Devon Street, an All-Big East receiver, and Mike Caprara, a redshirt freshman middle linebacker.

"I recruited them to come with me to Haiti this year," Giubilato said. "We went back again, stayed at Ebac Christian Academy, the same orphanage as last time. What they do is they take the poorest of the poor kids of Haiti."

Some of those kids remembered the generous football player who had helped them a year earlier, and were not shy about greeting him.

"When I went back this year, we traveled on the back of a pickup truck," Giubilato said. "When we pulled up to the orphanage, a 4-year-old kid sprinted full speed right at the truck and jumped up right into my arms. Just seeing that the kid remembered me, and he doesn't speak any English, and run and jumped on me like that, it meant more to me than anything I've ever done athletically.

"Going back this year, I was so much more relaxed. I went down there and felt like I fit in right away. They accept you immediately. For people that have absolutely nothing, the passion they have for their faith, and the love that they share for everybody is unbelievable. These people literally have nothing, but they are the happiest people I have ever met in my life."

Said Steffey: "This year, Mark took on more of a leadership role. Getting a couple of his teammates to go with him, and really being one of the people on the trip that I could count on to know what was going on or to speak up or help out whenever it was needed.

"In our interaction with the kids, we needed somebody to do something, whether it was hold a baby, or play basketball with the kids at the orphanage. Mark is not a basketball player by any stretch, but he would step in there and help out. His willingness to serve was a great example."

Giubilato says that he still keeps in contact with a few of the kids because he bought them an Internet plan, so they are on Facebook. He also says he is sending down a pair of purple Converse sneakers to one boy that he has kept in touch with, named Jean-Pierre.

Despite his kindness with monetary gifts, Giubilato says it is not the material things that help the Haitians the most.

"The most rewarding thing is making an impact on their lives," he said. "Not as much from a financial standpoint, but just from a love standpoint."

The young philanthropist has an appreciation for what some of the world looks like outside the United States, and it is shocking. Despite having success on the gridiron, Giubilato believes he can make a bigger mark on the world after his playing days are over.

"You can only play football for so long,'' he said. "You can make an impact on these people's lives for the rest of your life, which is something that means a lot to me, and is something I plan on doing for the rest of my life."

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