Meet Isabella Puglisi, a 16 year old volunteer from our Miami Gardens, FL program. With their upcoming session, Isabella now has a new title: Program Director. “I’ve been playing tennis for 6 years now and love doing service, so when I was told about this, I was all in,” the HS junior said. “I have over 500 hours of service hours in the last 2 years,” she mentioned as she laughed. “My mom, she was the President of the Miami Dade Bar, and she always instilled in me to give back because we’re so fortunate to have what we have.”

Even though she was nervous during her first session, she continued to work with her athlete who started enjoying herself. “I was paired with a 7 year old girl, and the first thing she did was cry,” Isabella recalled amused. “The first few weeks she wasn’t enjoying herself, but after a few sessions and building trust, she was hitting the ball, interacting with others, giving me high five, and having fun. It was amazing to see it and a great learning experience!”

 She hasn’t only learned lessons on court, but off court as well. “Seeing the parents interact with the kids, calm them down and how they do it was amazing, it’s nothing I had experienced before.” She also learned how children on the spectrum respond to different cues. “They look at your body language, they can sense how you’re feeling even if you don’t say anything,” she explained.

Speaking of learning experiences, all her volunteering experience at her mother’s events, the Ronald McDonald House, cleaning beaches, or starting her own nonprofit has helped her navigate her different roles with ACEing Autism. “Autism was totally new to me, it was really interesting but still a little nerve wracking,” she laughs. “And I’m nervous for the next session because I’m so young but now the volunteers know me more.” 

This past session, Program Directors Josh and Jeremy Rosner slowly got her used to more leadership tasks so she felt confident once she became a Program Director herself next session. “They had me run a session, I would help set up the courts, they had me learn the website or do the name tags for example.” 

As she talked about running the session, her voice got even more enthusiastic. “It was so cool!” she bursted out. “I tried to incorporate my buddy and it was great to let the kids take charge – ask what stretch they wanted to do for example – but also to see that Josh and Jeremy trusted me to run it myself.”

As if she wasn’t impressive enough, Isabella was 1 of 100 high schoolers who got accepted into the Disney Dreamers Academy this year. The catch? Over 20,000 applied for a chance to develop skills like interviewing, networking and even dressing for success from trailblazers. “Around 40 of us from that class started the blue sky initiative, which is based on the Disney philosophy.”

As we wrapped up the interview, Isabella wanted to share this message. “Be patient and have an open mind, help as much as you can, and it will give you so much gratitude in your life.”

We are so proud of all your accomplishments Isabella and know you will do an incredible job as Program Director.