Harmotto Dietzen bringing Give It Back Foundation volleyball camp to Western Pa. | TribLIVE.com
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Harmotto Dietzen bringing Give It Back Foundation volleyball camp to Western Pa.

Doug Gulasy
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Tribune-Review file
United States women’s national volleyball team member Christa Harmotto watches the Kiski Area volleyball team during warm-ups with honorary team captain Mia Wilson, a student at Washington Elementary School in Apollo who is currently battling leukemia, during Kiski Area’s annual "Jam the Gym" fundraiser at Kiski Area High School on Wednesday September 5, 2012. Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch

Some of the biggest impacts on Christa Harmotto Dietzen’s life came from volleyball, her native Western Pennsylvania and a mission trip she took last spring to Uganda. And so when the opportunity came to connect all three of them in one weekend this summer, she considered it a blessing.

Dietzen, a Hopewell graduate and former U.S. Olympian in women’s volleyball, is bringing the Give It Back Foundation’s annual camp for girls in eighth grade and up to Western Pennsylvania.

The camp, which features instruction from current and former USA Volleyball players, will take place Aug. 9-10 at Moon High School and will serve as a fundraiser for the building of a high school in Gulu, Uganda. Registration opens April 1 at www.giveitbackfoundation.org and costs $300.

“To bring something back to your home city, your hometown, I’m just overwhelmed by the people that want to help and contribute and volunteer,” Dietzen said. “I haven’t lived in Pittsburgh since I left when I was 18. It’s so special for the rallying of people who are willing to help and give back.”

Dietzen helped Hopewell win three WPIAL championships from 2002-04 and a PIAA title in 2004, when she was named Pennsylvania’s Gatorade Player of the Year. She won NCAA championships at Penn State in 2007 and ‘08 and played for the U.S. in the 2012 and ‘16 Summer Olympics, earning a silver and bronze, and got a gold while playing in the 2014 World Championships.

She’s hoping the Give It Back camp can inspire younger girls volleyball players to chase dreams of their own.

“You never know. I remember when the Olympic dream was sort of birthed in me, in high school,” she said. ” … Maybe they begin to dream bigger. You never know: There could be a girl at the camp that’s in the Olympics in several years. We’re just real excited.”

Members of the USA Women’s National Volleyball Team founded the Give It Back Foundation in 2015 to help teach the younger generation as well as raise money for charitable causes.

The annual camp has raised $57,000 since the first year, starting with the Children’s Therapy of Kent (Wash.), hometown of national team member and foundation co-founder Courtney Thompson.

This year’s camp will help Christ The Center Ministries build a high school in Uganda to go along with nursery and primary schools. Dietzen took a mission trip to Uganda in May 2018.

“It was an experience that was very life-changing for me,” she said. “I think anybody that goes on a mission trip, their lives are changed. As an international volleyball athlete, we travel all over the world, and so exposure to different cultures … it just affects you.

“I think the biggest experience when I was in Uganda, when you leave, the children don’t miss necessarily what you’re giving them or what you necessarily teach them, but more just the human interaction, the relational component of a smile or eye contact or teaching them something or showing them.”

That’s the same kind of interaction Dietzen and her fellow national team members hope to have with the high school-aged players who attend the Give It Back camp.

Tim Toy, the co-founder of the We Serve First foundation that provides support for local players to pursue volleyball opportunities, called the camp a great way to bring excitement about the sport to Western Pennsylvania.

The NCAA Division I Volleyball Championships are coming to PPG Paints Arena from Dec. 19-21, so Toy said the Give It Back camp will serve as something as a kickoff event.

“I’ve been after them (to come to Pittsburgh) since they started,” said Toy, who last year sponsored a player each from Leechburg, Kiski Area and Plum and a coach from Plum to attend the Give It Back camp in Anaheim, Calif. “It was a real surprise to me to find out that’s what they were going to do, and I’m really glad. I’m hoping with the proper build-up, we can fill it and do a nice job getting kids out to it.”

Dietzen said the camp will provide both on- and off-court instruction for volleyball players, helping them become more well-rounded players and people.

“We are giving back our skills and our knowledge of volleyball, meaning the former USA players that are coaching the kids at camp,” Dietzen said. “But also, it’s a two-way street. We receive so much. It’s so much fun to see the girls light up and interact with some of the best players in the game.

“Yes, we’re teaching volleyball skills, but also these classroom sessions where we’re teaching them the mental side of the game and when you’re not playing your best, what if you can control your response? You can’t necessarily control the circumstance all the time, but you can control your response. Just to bring my former teammates back to my hometown … what perfect timing.”

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