Phil founder announces plan for 'latchkey' child learning facility in Collier

Myra Daniels has plans to build a 'latch-key kid education center' on the northwest corner of Airport and Estey Avenue. She has been working on this with the Salvation Army, which would operate the facility. She has raised $800,000 and is in the process of raising $4.5 million more.

Myra Daniels has plans to build a "latch-key kid education center" on the northwest corner of Airport and Estey Avenue. She has been working on this with the Salvation Army, which would operate the facility. She has raised $800,000 and is in the process of raising $4.5 million more.

Myra Daniels, photo by Stefan Andreev

Myra Daniels, photo by Stefan Andreev

— The founder of the Naples Philharmonic announced plans Thursday to build a new learning facility aimed at serving "latchkey" children in Collier County.

Planned for the corner of Airport-Pulling Road and Estey Avenue in East Naples, the 21,000-square-foot center will be owned and operated by the Salvation Army. It is slated to break ground next year and open in 2014, said Myra Janco Daniels, the project chair.

"I don't think anybody can retire from living, and I really believe that everybody has a responsibility to make the place they live in a little bit better," said Daniels, who founded the Philharmonic 30 years ago.

The learning center is slated to cater to kindergarten through 12th grade students and will include computer labs, sports facilities, a creative arts school and classrooms and workshops. Teachers will be available to help children, and buses will take them to the center from school, Daniels said.

Construction on the building, which was designed by Philharmonic architect Eugene Aubry, is expected to cost about $5 million. Daniels hopes to raise an additional $3 million for an endowment to operate it. Already, community members have donated more than $800,000, Daniels said.

Salvation Army officials began discussions about creating a center about three years ago, and are excited to have Daniels involved, said Phillip Wood, a member of the Naples' chapter's advisory board.

"I can't tell you how excited we are," said Wood, who is also president and CEO of John R. Wood Realtors. "I mean, she is probably the greatest fundraiser in Naples history and has run a large organization and built the building from the ground up. She's done all the things that we're working on."

Research shows there's a "huge number" of children in the area around the planned facility that don't have a place to go after school, Wood said. Daniels said there are more than 10,000 latchkey children in the county.

The need, Wood said, is further demonstrated by the high number of children on free and reduced lunches at the local schools. The Boys and Girls Club of Collier County, which offers a similar program, does not have the capacity to handle all of the need, he said.

The new center will have a major impact on local students, Wood said.

"Anything we can do to help kids further their education, have a safer place to go and have some activities — it's got to be a help," Wood said, adding that in the long term, children served by similar centers are more likely to grow up to lead successful lives.

Daniels said that's her hope.

"I hope that out of this center, children will go on to school and make something of themselves and will bring their children back in the years to come and say, 'I went there,'" she said.

Anyone interested in donating to the project can call Daniels at 239-598-4047 or email her at myrajancodaniels@aol.com. Donations may be made to the "Salvation Army Capital Campaign."

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