Sep. 3—Christa Stedeford, a first-grade teacher at Hutchinson Elementary in Southwest Greensburg, spent part of her summer vacation in the Dominican Republic.
In addition to her personal gear, she prepared for the trip by packing baseball shirts, gloves, balls and batting helmets that were purchased for youth teams in Southwest Greensburg but recently had gone unused.
Now, that equipment, donated by the community's recreation program, will enhance games for kids in need in the developing Caribbean country.
"All of the equipment is going to be used, whether it's new or gently used," said Stedeford of Murrysville. She's one of a handful of area residents who took the donated items with them as they volunteered with Pittsburgh-based nondenominational nonprofit Meeting God in Missions on June 20-27 in the Dominican Republic.
"To see the look on the children's faces, they were just happy and excited with anything we gave them," she said. "As a school teacher, I love the children. They're coming up and hugging you.
"We could take 50 pounds in a hockey bag on the plane. Every person took two bags. We lugged it all down there and filled up a van."
The equipment was distributed to Dominican youth teams that were most in need, primarily those in villages of immigrants from neighboring Haiti who relocated to work in sugar cane fields.
The nonprofit works with a Dominican youth baseball program directed by a pastor and native of the country who returned to his homeland to give back after playing with the Kansas City Royals.
"I've been going down every January and June for almost 10 years," Stedeford said of her mission trips with the nonprofit, noting how appreciative and welcoming the Dominican kids and their families have been. "It's like therapy for me. Really, they're helping you more than you're helping them."
She's helped teach sessions in the Dominican Republic similar to American vacation Bible school programs. She's also assisted with youth baseball clinics — one of the nonprofit's original mission projects when it was founded in 1998 by the late Jim McDonald, a basketball coach and athletic director at Edinboro University.
"My whole family has played baseball and softball," Stedeford said, noting she played for a softball team in the West Point section of Hempfield when she was growing up. She learned about Meeting God in Missions through a friend of her daughter, Hope Pehrson, now 29, who was playing softball at the time at Seton Hill University.
Stedeford's daughter and her son, Tyler Pehrson, 31, both have participated in Dominican missions along with their mother.
"My son had collected baseball hats when he was young," Stedeford said. "We took probably 50 hats down there. The kids came running as I was putting them on their heads."
The latest donation to the Meeting God in Missions baseball ministry resulted when a Hutchinson school staffer put Stedeford in touch with Jeff Tabita, president of Southwest Greensburg council.
"They had all this equipment new and used," Stedeford said about the items provided by the Southwest Greensburg recreation program. "I was so happy. It was a huge amount of donations."
Tabita said the Southwest Greensburg equipment stockpile provided Dominican teams items including 60 or more baseball shirts, dozens of uniform pants and about 50 baseball helmets. The rec program would have gained little by attempting to sell the equipment, he said.
As the rec program regroups following the disruption of the covid-19 pandemic, he said, "We needed room, we needed to clean things out.
"Over the years, surplus uniforms and extras kind of accumulated. Some were gently used. Some were from probably 15 years ago and had never been worn. We also had ball gloves. It was a wide array."
Stedeford additionally takes part in a women's ministry in the Dominican Republic.
"I collect new and gently used purses and fill them with women's needs," she said. "There are endless opportunities for people to donate or go and serve there."
First-graders at Hutchinson Elementary have done their part, collecting toys to send to less fortunate Dominican counterparts. "It's beautiful to see how the kids are taking part in it," Stedeford said.
Meeting God in Missions operates medical and construction missions in the Dominican Republic. Donations from some churches and the Rotary Club of Export helped to develop a water well for a rural village.
"Those people had been walking two and a half miles to get water," Stedeford said.
"In one village, we built 36 new homes all with volunteer labor," said Rick Wiater, who heads Meeting God in Missions and is pastor of Good Shepherd Church in Upper St. Clair.
The organization has constructed a school for Dominican children who are deaf, many of whom have other special needs. About 50 students are enrolled.
Now that the pandemic has eased, Wiater expects the nonprofit will resume increased activity, sending about 1,000 volunteers to the Dominican Republican in trips spread throughout the year. Participants pay a fee to help cover the costs of the trip.
"When our people go down and are engaged in our children's ministry, it's the equivalent of us taking our kids to Disney World, from the excitement we see among the children in the villages," he said.
Alison Cox of Southwest Greensburg, a former colleague of Stedeford's who is a special education teacher with the Bearcats Best program at Saint Vincent College, assisted at the Dominican school this summer. It was her first trip to the country with the area mission group.
Helped by a Spanish language interpreter, Cox shared professional tips with the school staff and worked one-on-one with six students and their parents.
"I realized what I do here as a special education teacher was just as important there," she said, "no matter if there was a language barrier or not.
"I definitely plan to go again."
Plans are underway for the Greensburg Salem School District to donate larger items, including outmoded furniture, to the mission in the Dominican Republic.
The school board has authorized Greensburg Salem officials to discard such items that are no longer of use to the district, Superintendent Ken Bissell said.
The district and the nonprofit are hoping to arrange for a shipping container to send the items and are looking into ways to cover any related shipping costs without using district funds.
"We have many items such as desks, chairs, tables, technology cabinets and other furniture that are considered old for us but gold for children and communities with nothing in their schools," Bissell said.
Visit gomgm.org for more information about Meeting God In Missions.
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .