Bella Pepe has done a tremendous amount of work with the TOPSoccer Program. (Photo courtesy of ENYYSA)
East Islip, N.Y.’s Bella Pepe has been named the Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association TOPSoccer Buddy of the Year.
TOPSoccer, The Outreach Program for Soccer, is a community-based program to give children and young adults with physical and/or intellectual disabilities the opportunity to play the world’s most popular sport.
Pepe, 15, was nominated by four people, including her own uncle, Louis Pepe, who founded the East Islip Soccer Club’s TOPSoccer Program, Just For Kicks, 12 years ago.
“Bella has been our voice by informing students in the school about the program and coming to help as instructors,” Louis Pepe wrote in his nominating letter. “She goes above and beyond to show the TOPSoccer players that they belong on the field and she makes them feel special by acknowledging them. While at Just For Kicks, she has been instrumental in building the confidence of one special player who wanted no part of soccer…Bella is the epitome of everything and more of the type of young adult you want representing this prestigious award.
“She is an extraordinary person and it is hard to believe that she is only 15. Fifteen! … I was not blessed to have a daughter but if I had, I would only describe what I would want in a daughter to be like Bella as she is such a caring, giving and selfless person.”
Bea Huste-Petersen remembered Bella Pepe’s contribution to the EJ Autism Foundation, of which the former is associated with. The foundation hosts an annual sold-out event at Captain Bill’s in Bayshore, N.Y., called the Black Tie Hoodie.
“Bella is an integral part of the event’s success as she’s part of the basket committee and fills and decorates over 100 baskets,” she said. “She also reaches out to adults to participate and is on hand at our event helping out in any way she can. Her leadership trickles down to others her age as she leads and others follow her lead. Organized, thoughtful and on target are some of her strongest attributes, a wonderful recipe for success. She works hard and, quite simply, gets the job done!”
In yet another nominating letter, Soccer Mom Nancy Villa also praised the teenager.
“Bella has been a wonderful support and guidance for my son William, who is an 11-year-old autistic child,” she wrote. “She is an altruistic young girl who has been incredibly patient, compassionate and inspiring in every practice at the soccer field. I have witnessed her extraordinary dedication to my son and all the kids who are within the spectrum of autism, facing challenging behavioral issues in which Bella has done a great job beyond her years, just being unconditionally loving and kind. Bella is clearly the change we all want to see in this world.”
East Islip’s director of referees, Patricia Graydon, could not have been more impressed with Pepe’s attitude and work ethic.
“It’s very hard to recall a time when there wasn’t a smile on Bella’s face and that is reassuring to the children,” she wrote. “She has a very caring way about her that makes the players feel very at ease. … I also have the pleasure of working with Bella in our referee program. She started as a junior referee and quickly rose up to become an instructor for younger referees. She is a self-starter who does not need much direction. Bella is always willing to help with extra games or a ref who is struggling. She is positive in her instruction and tireless with her enthusiasm. I hope to have many more years working with this extraordinary young lady.”