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Kids' after-school study center set to open in Boca's Pearl City

Kids' after-school study center set to open in Boca's Pearl City

By John Murawski, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 2, 2002

BOCA RATON -- Backed by big-time philanthropists, a nearly complete after-school center here is preparing for its official grand opening this month -- a Boca Raton soir´e that will double as a fund-raiser for the gleaming 25,000-square-foot facility.

The black-tie-optional event is the kind of royal treatment accorded to a kids' center in the poorest part of town when the town happens to be swanky Boca Raton. Philanthropists Christine Lynn, widow of insurance magnate Eugene Lynn, and Countess Henrietta de Hoernle, a virtual charitable foundation in Boca Raton, already donated $1 million each.

The Wayne Barton Study Center is the most significant improvement in years for long-neglected Pearl City, Boca Raton's oldest neighborhood, settled by black laborers in 1915.

"It is a very ambitious project," said the Rev. Henry Willis Jr., pastor of nearby Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church. "It's a wonderful thing that's happening in that community there in Pearl City. People will have a place to come to study, have fun and games and fellowship."

Even though the $2.3 million facility is built and paid for, founder Wayne Barton, 40, is now trying to create a $5 million endowment to run his dream that will serve up to 1,000 kids from Boca Raton, Delray Beach and Boynton Beach.

"I hope you have your wallet with you, young man," Barton tells a reporter as he begins a tour of the center.

Paver bricks, with donors' names engraved, are still for sale for $1,000 each. The Jan. 12 opening night gala still has tickets available, too. Cost: $150 per person.

Barton, a former Boca Raton cop weighing in at 265 pounds and looking like a linebacker, is a tireless promoter of the center that bears his name.

"The magic starts when you walk in this place," he said.

The new center replaces a facility housed for 10 years in a 600-square-foot apartment leased from the Boca Raton Housing Authority for $1 a year, Barton said.

The center operates from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and will serve dinners prepared in its own kitchen. It also has, or plans to have four classrooms, a gym, exercise room, computer lab, library, garden, stage, small recording studio and television production studio.

George Williams, an activities director at the Lois Martin Community Center nearby, said the "clean and very tidy" atmosphere will inspire the kids with confidence and pride.

Barton said the classrooms will be used for homework assistance and staffed by students from Palm Beach Community College and Florida Atlantic University.

The computer center has 25 PCs donated by IBM. The high-speed T-1 connection comes courtesy of BellSouth. The students will be taught computer repair and will be allowed to keep the computers they refurbish, Barton said.

The gym features an athletic trainer for the kids. Not just any trainer, but Alexis Rhigas, an award-winning bodybuilder. Rhigas said he works out only four hours a week. The secret is in the diet, the muscleman said.

"He eats raw garlic," Barton said.

In the mornings, the center will serve senior citizens. In the afternoons, it will cater to the needs of middle school, high school and even college students. Adult education classes will be offered on the weekends, Barton said.

The center will charge a nominal membership fee but offer scholarships to kids who can't afford the fee.

And the place is wired. For security, the facility is equipped with 49 cameras. Parents will be able to watch their kids from home or the office through those cameras by logging on the center's Web site, Barton said.

john_murawski@pbpost.com

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