Joey Tavernese has become known around the city for his elaborate goal celebrations and Peter Pan spirit. However, alongside his love for the game lies an equally strong passion; giving back. With the opportunity to impact so many individuals through his role as a professional athlete, Tavernese has not shied away from getting involved.

Tavernese’s charitable inclinations were developed in his childhood home of New York City, where his mother instilled the importance of generosity within him.

“My mom is an absolute saint. She donates and gives to everyone and everything. She is an honestly genuine individual. We’ve lived at both ends of the spectrum whether it was on the less fortunate side or the more fortunate side. As I’ve gone along, I’ve seen people who are less fortunate and could use a little bit of help on the way and she was the one that helped me to realize the value of helping out.”

As his professional soccer career commenced, Tavernese found many chances to help out in the community including by volunteering in soup kitchens and with the youth of whatever city he played in.

Now with Utica, Tavernese finds himself fortunate to be affiliated with an organization that shares his love of giving back. Utica City FC is partnered with the Save of the Day Foundation which along with other charitable initiatives helps children and families facing life-threatening diseases.

“I think that life is a rewarding thing, and some have it better than others and helping others who are less fortunate gives a good perspective to all that you have been blessed with. If the players, coaches and staff give back to the kids, the community, and the fans, that makes all the difference.”

One particular charity event stood out for Tavernese: a futsal tournament in St. Louis to benefit children with childhood cancer. Upon going to the event for the first time, Tavernese met someone who did in fact change his life forever.

“In the first year, I met a girl named Keira(pictured at the left in a pink t-shirt) who had been diagnosed with childhood cancer. She was a great kid. She was always so happy and so energetic. She was one of the honorary captains that weekend, so I really got to know her during the games.”

After the tournament, she returned to another charity event that Tavernese participated in. While there, he realized the impact that she had on him.

“She made me realize that whatever is wrong or going bad in my life that it could definitely be worse, and I really learned to appreciate life. She had a lot of reasons to be mad at the world as a young girl diagnosed with cancer, but she was never upset when I saw her. She was always happy and full of life.”

While Joey continues playing in the charity futsal game each year, the person who taught him so much is no longer there. Keira lost her battle with cancer, but her spirit and appreciation for life will forever remain with Tavernese.

“I still have a bracelet with her name on it and the uniform from the charity game where she captained one of the teams. I’ve met countless other kids through the charity event, but she was the first and she really opened my eyes to the reality of life. It’s not always as easy as people want it to be and when little things go wrong in your day, it’s just a minor bump on the road to what will hopefully be a long life which not everyone gets to experience. She really changed my life.”

The passion that Joey carries with him to practices and to games is filled with an unbridled joy that few players his age still possess. This passion, undoubtedly, comes from the memory of Keira smiling down on him.

To learn more about the Save of the Day Foundation and their contributions to the greater Mohawk Valley visit www.sodfoundation.com or follow them on Facebook!

Joey and the rest of UCFC will be back in action at the Adirondack Bank Center on Sunday, March 10 at 2 p.m. as they take on the Harrisburg Heat. Tickets are still available at www.empirestatetix.com