Lori Bercegeay has long had a vision – and she’s brought it to reality.
A volunteer for years with a love of helping those in need, the Hahnville resident recently opened Special Angels Outreach in Luling, an activities center aimed at providing activities, socialization and fun for individuals with special needs.
The center held its grand opening last week and it was a smash hit. Those in attendance were able to take part in the many activities offered at the center, which includes arcade and board games, Nintendo Wii, movies, books, a sensory room, and an arts and crafts room.
Much of that has been purchased by Bercegeay herself over the years in preparation for when that opening would finally come. Though she said that a number of people advised caution before diving head first into such a big venture, she believed in her cause — she was all in.
“First, when I was negotiating to buy the building, everyone was saying ‘well, how are you going to fund it?” I said ‘I’ll manage.’ I know the need. I had in my head what it was gonna be.”
That said, when she went to closing on the building, there were a few butterflies.
“Now I’ve got a note,” she said. “I’ve got insurance. We’re really doing this.”
The idea for the venture stemmed from her experiences working with special needs people, which includes her time coaching multiple sports for the Special Olympics.
From meeting with families of those with special needs, she saw the need for a place where, for example, parents could bring a their child to stay while they were at work without having to be concerned about their child being bullied, neglected or otherwise not properly cared for.
“There really is no place like that for people with special needs to go,” she said. “For parents of a child with special needs, it’s so hard to even be able to accept and hold on to a job, even if it’s during school hours, because of medical issues and the necessity to be available (for the child). Day care centers won’t take those children. It’s not illegal; they’re just not staffed to.”
She said many with special needs are limited by where they are able to go and that it can lead to them staying secluded in their homes.
A public park, she notes, can be overwhelming to someone with autism given the amount of new people they are exposed to. Equipment also may not be adapted for those with disabilities.
Most of Bercegeay’s butterflies dissipated after Special Angels held a soft opening a week before the grand opening. That day, she saw the enjoyment her center was already providing, further cementing her belief she was on the right track.
“I was so happy to see them excited about it and that they had so much fun,” she said. “And that it was what they wanted … (one boy) who is autistic, he came in, jumped right on the racing machine, then ski ball, then bowling. His mother said she had never seen him so excited, that he kept to his own quiet little world at home.
“A lot of the kids didn’t want to leave. You heard all the laughing, the smiles … they had a great time.”
She noted a misperception by some that the center is a summer camp, but it is a year-round venture. It is also not just for children, but also older teens or adults who have aged out of school. The non-profit center is relying on sponsors, grants from foundations, donations and fundraisers.
Special Angels Outreach is located at 201 Post St. in Luling. For more information, call (504) 410-9253 or (985) 331-5300.