| By Brian Coleman


Earlier this spring, Love Serving Autism (LSA) launched its newest program, introducing a course here in New York at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center (NTC).  LSA, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that provides specialized therapeutic tennis instruction for individuals with autism spectrum disorders.

Tapped with leading the program was Justyna Wereszka, who has been a coach at NTC for more than a decade since she moved here from Poland. Wereszka teaches everything from beginner tennis all the way through high-performance tennis, and was looking for an opportunity to add to her repertoire while serving a good cause.

“I’ve always wanted to give back. I teach all levels, and you develop a routine, but after 10 years I felt like I needed to do more,” said Wereszka. “I looked at wheelchair tennis and other adaptive tennis programs, but one day, another pro from NTC told me that they were looking for someone to head a new LSA program, and thought that I would be perfect for it. I knew this was the opportunity I had been looking for.”

She soon connected with Lisa Pugliese-LaCroix, the founder of LSA, via a Zoom workshop. Coincidentally, soon after that, Wereszka traveled up to Rochester to attend a Wheelchair and Adaptive Tennis Symposium, where Pugliese-LaCroix was one of the event’s speakers.

“She was so friendly, and we bonded right away,” recalls Wereszka.

Pugliese-LaCroix visited the NTC to check out the program this summer, and was impressed with what she saw.

“I visited the program in early June,” she said. “Justyna is incredibly dedicated and works very well with the participants on the court. She is innovative and brings a lot of energy!”

The class meets on Saturdays for one hour and is to expand the class to more days to allow for increased participation.

Wereszka was a bit nervous before beginning the first classes having never taught those with special needs before, but as she has taught more and more throughout the spring, the program has thrived.

“It’s been wonderful. I didn’t know exactly what to expect at first, but I absolutely love it,” said Wereszka. “When I went to St. John’s, I took a class on teaching special education, but learning about it in a classroom is different than practicing it in real life, so I was unsure in the beginning. But I have helpers, an amazing group of volunteers, and some of our high-performance players come out to help when they can. It’s been great so far.”

Wereszka says many of the participants in the program are siblings of players she teaches in her other programs, and that familiarity has helped ease any stress she may have felt before the program began in the spring.  

The primary goal of the program is to provide a fun environment for the participants to be active, engage socially with others and learn something new.

“The parents aren’t so concerned with whether or not their son/daughter can hit a forehand, but more that they are enjoying themselves and engaging with others,” said Wereszka. “It helps build self-esteem, and their parents are able to relax for an hour while knowing their kids are safe and having fun.”

The program has only been taking place at the National Tennis Center for a few months, but it is already having a profound positive impact on all who are involved.

“I think this has helped me become a better teacher overall, not just a better tennis coach,” said Wereszka. “When I teach high-performance, I’m more of a tennis coach, but with LSA, I’m more of a teacher, and that’s what I like about it. It brings me back to the basics of being kind and helping others. It’s about focusing on what it means to be a teacher and a role model, and make sure that this is fun and therapeutic.

That’s the way I approach the program, and I hope the students and parents are able to take that away as well. I am so glad we have this program, and I’m excited to watch it continue to grow.”


Brian Coleman

 Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at brianc@usptennis.com