2022 Community Champions: Lisa Pugliese-LaCroix wins Eve Kraft Community Service Award
On March 20, six advocates for the sport of tennis at the grassroots and local levels were honored as Community Champions at the 2022 USTA Annual Meeting and Conference. The “Celebration of Community Champions” luncheon was held at the Disney Beach and Yacht Club in Orlando, Fla.
WATCH: Lisa Pugliese-LaCroix wins the 2022 Eve Kraft Community Service Award
Lisa Pugliese-LaCroix of Delray Beach, Fla., was selected as the recipient of the Eve Kraft Community Service Award at the 2022 USTA Annual Meeting and Conference for her passionate advocacy for adaptive tennis, where she works primarily with individuals with autism spectrum disorders.
Pugliese-LaCroix played college tennis at both Duke University and the University of Florida before competing on the WTA as a professional. After a back injury forced her off the tour, she attended graduate school and received a master’s degree in communication sciences and disorders from Florida Atlantic University and became a speech-language pathologist. In August 2016, after working with children for six years as a program director for a national non-profit for autism, Pugliese-LaCroix was inspired to be able to develop her own local non-profit, Love Serving Autism, which combines her tennis experience and speech therapy background with the sport she loves.
Love Serving Autism’s mission is to expand life skills, especially functional communication, through multidisciplinary specialized therapeutic tennis instruction to increase community inclusion and independence of individuals with autism spectrum disorders and developmental challenges. The goal is for the program’s participants to apply their newly-learned skills throughout their community, including at school, in the workplace, at social and recreational gatherings, and in home settings. Love Serving Autism provides education and training to coaches and tennis professionals for an adaptive tennis specialization in the industry.
Love Serving Autism currently provides specialized therapeutic tennis instruction in 30 Florida locations (schools, public & private tennis facilities, and parks) and six out-of-state locations (Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Illinois, New York and New Jersey), serving 575 children and 60 adults with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental challenges.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Pugliese-LaCroix delivered tennis virtually to Love Serving Autism’s participants. Beginning in April 2020, virtual programming continued for 17 months and taught hand-eye coordination, fitness and social and life skills to children and adults in three states–Florida, New York and New Jersey–and Canada. She's also taken the organization to new heights by organizing Love Serving Autism clinics at the Delray Beach Open and Miami Open tournaments, advocating for inclusion in the broader tennis community. Pugliese-LaCroix also recently started a Love Serving Autism adaptive pickleball program at the USTA National Campus, and is the chair of the USPTA National Adaptive Task Force and the co-chair for the USTA National Adaptive Training and Education Subcommittee.
Pugliese-LaCroix’s goal for 2022 is to open an inclusive therapeutic tennis and multi-sport facility for both neurotypical and neurodiverse children and adults.
“Lisa connected her passions to open the Love Serving Autism non-profit organization to utilize the tennis court as a space for providing therapies,” said Craig Morris, USTA Chief Executive, Community Tennis. “Lisa’s biggest accomplishment with her organization has to be when she brought 21 children with autism to the 2019 US Open for a USTA Net Generation on-court experience prior to matches taking place in Arthur Ashe Stadium.”
The USTA awards the Eve Kraft Community Service Award to individuals who best exemplify Kraft’s selfless mission to bring the sport of tennis to everyone who wants to play. Kraft was a tennis pioneer whose ability to touch people’s lives exceeded the boundaries of the tennis court. As a teacher, coach, author, USTA staff member and volunteer, Kraft was a lifelong champion of recreational tennis in the U.S., until her death in 1999. She introduced thousands of young people to tennis, particularly in disadvantaged communities.