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Cooke and Vitale on Journey to Haiti

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins
Photo courtesy of Joe Vitale (@JoeVitale46).

Two summers ago, former Penguins Max Talbot and Mike Rupp traveled to Haiti to visit orphanages in the country devastated by an earthquake that struck in January 2010.

This week, two current Penguins will be journeying to Haiti for a humanitarian trip of their own.

Forwards Matt Cooke and Joe Vitale are joining team chaplain Brad Henderson and former Penguins center Jordan Staal to visit projects in the nation’s capital, Port au Prince, that the Pittsburgh Kids Foundation is actively involved in. Henderson, who also works with the Pirates, serves as President of the Foundation.

“Mike Rupp and Max Talbot went there a couple years ago, and it’s something that interested me from them,” Cooke said. “We just really hadn’t had a time or a situation where we could do it. So we’ve been growing a relationship with Brad, just focusing on the things we need to do in trying to get there, and finally through the Pittsburgh Kids Foundation we made it work for this summer.”

When Talbot and Rupp went to Haiti in August 2010, they visited an orphanage that the Pittsburgh Kids Foundation has been working with for years (and that’s run by missionaries and Fayette County natives Kathy Gouker and Alice Wise). The players also visited a second orphanage that was under construction at the time.

Talbot was so touched by his journey that he ultimately raised $90,000 through his foundation to complete construction of the second orphanage, which opened in January 2011.

Both Cooke and Vitale are looking forward to spending time with the children and seeing the progress that their friends helped make happen – and also to celebrate the opening of a recycling franchise that will allow the orphanages to generate some of their own income.

“When Max and Mike did it a few years back, it kind of started the cornerstones for what we’re doing now,” Vitale said. “It was exciting to have a couple of other players go down there. I was actually texting Max a little bit about his experience and he gave me all thumbs up about it and told me how wonderful of an experience it was.

“For those guys to go down there and start something great, and then for a few more players a couple years later go down there and see the benefits of the hard work and the labor and the labor of all the people down there on a consistent basis, it’s going to be quite a thing to see.”

Vitale, Cooke and his wife Michelle and oldest daughter Gabby, and Staal leave for Haiti on Tuesday. The group will be returning to the States on Thursday.

Their main focus during the trip is to spend quality time with the kids and build relationships with them, and they couldn’t be more grateful to have an opportunity like this.

“I think you don’t really realize or understand until you actually go yourself and see the situation these kids are in,” Cooke said, who has been attending chapel since coming to Pittsburgh four years ago and said that it’s something he’s bought into more and more over the last two years.

“You’ve heard so many great stories of people that have come back from there or people that have come back from mission trips in general, and that’s just something that’s really touching and it makes you want to be a part of it. So I look forward to the experience.”

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