Pleasant Acre celebrating 50 years of service

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 8, 2009

Fifty years ago a group of community members had a vision of making life a little bit more pleasant for some of the area’s most special citizens.

Now, because of that vision and the hard work of many that followed, Pleasant Acre Day School in Natchez is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Pleasant Acre is a day-treatment program for adult trainable mentally challenged students. The current curriculum helps students acquire life skills and self-help skills through life enrichment programs, school Director Mary Ann Foggo-Eidt said.

Email newsletter signup

“The students that are here learn to function as a family and be part of a family,” Foggo-Eidt said. “We are a home away from home for them. Coming here gives them the opportunity to interact with their peers and experience life.”

Foggo-Eidt said the program centers around giving the students, currently there are nine students fully enrolled, real life experiences.

They have bowling outings each Monday, eat out once a month, have holiday parties, plan and perform a Christmas program, attend a summer camp and go on an annual summer trip.

“I guess you could say they are just living their life and enjoying the different aspects of it,” Foggo-Eidt said.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary, Pleasant Acre will host an open house for the public from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the school.

The school hasn’t always had its current structure though. When Pleasant Acre began, the purpose was to provide a program aimed at school-aged children. Originally, children ages 5 to 16 were enrolled to provide education and socialization that wasn’t provided through public education.

Since Pleasant Acre’s beginning in 1959, public education has changed and now accepts special needs students until age 21.

Though the need for early intervention services ended, Foggo-Eidt said there was still a need to provide programs for older students.

“The school has evolved like all things have to do to survive,” she said.

Foggo-Eidt has been a teacher at the school since 1963. Judy Grimsley has been at the school since 1965.

Grimsley said the students at the school were the reason she has stayed on board for so many years.

“You fall in love with our students and when you are away you miss them,” she said. “There is something special and beautiful about each one of them and when you are away you miss being part of that.”

The school has been located in the same building throughout its history. The building is located on one acre of land in Liberty Park. It was built completely through volunteer labor with donated supplies and money.

In 2007, the building was expanded through the work of Leadership Natchez. A multipurpose room — which serves as the bead room for the Mardi Gras bead recycling program at the school — and a kitchen were added to the school.

“It is really through the community that we have been able to survive for these 50 years,” Foggo-Eidt said. “We receive no money from the federal, state or local governments. It is really because of the vision of our original members and the generosity of the community that we are here.

“We are part of the community and they are part of us.”

Special times of year bring out the most excitement at Pleasant Acre. The most enjoyed events throughout the years are the annual Christmas program and the summer trip taken in June.

And sometimes Christmas lasts all year, Foggo-Eidt said.

“Someone video tapes our program each year,” she said. “And they enjoy watching themselves no matter what time of the year it is.

“It is fun for me to see how they have grown over the years, too.”

The school year ends in May, but the fun continues for at least a couple of weeks after that. First, the students enjoy a week-long summer camp provided by the Junior Auxiliary of Natchez, Camp Sunshine, and then it is time for the big summer trip.

The trip is typically to Biloxi, but in the past they have gone to Branson, Mo., and Hot Springs, Ark.

For the students, it isn’t really about the location, but rather the chance to broaden their horizons just a bit.

During the trip the group stays in a hotel, eats out and explores the surroundings.

“Really, because we have gone to Biloxi so many times in the past, they really identify Biloxi as the summer trip,” Foggo-Eidt said. “But we could go to Bude and as long as there is a swimming pool and a place to eat, they’d be happy.”

While it may seem simple, Foggo-Eidt said many of her students would not have these same opportunities had it not been for the formation of Pleasant Acre Day School.

“If it hadn’t been for this school, many of these students would have just stayed at home,” she said. “There would be no chance for them to have a life, to have the interaction and to learn.”