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Wayne Barton Study Center in Boca Raton faces an uncertain future

Wayne Barton.jpg
Wilkine Brutus
Wayne Barton introduces Congressman Ted Deutch to high school volunteers at the Wayne Barton Study Center in Boca Raton.

A nonprofit that has supported young people in a historically Black community for two decades is trying to raise money to ensure its survival.

Personal computers. College scholarships. Food support. The Wayne Barton Study Center has been providing these critical resources to low-income families in a historically Black community in Boca Raton for more than two decades.

The nonprofit gave away thousands of meals ahead of Thanksgiving, even as the community center faces foreclosure and an uncertain future.

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Students from American Heritage, Spanish River High and other schools throughout Palm Beach and Broward counties showed up two days before the holiday to help distribute meals. Families waited in a line of cars that wrapped around the nearly 22,000-square-foot center.

“The type of kids I normally serve is all kids: white, Black, Hispanics, Haitians, from the Bahamian islands, all over,” the center's founder Wayne Barton said. “My doors are open for everybody.”

But those doors might not be open for much longer. Barton, a retired Boca Raton police officer, said the center is at risk of foreclosure, because of drops in donations and participation since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The center is located in Pearl City, near Glades Road and Dixie Highway. Barton says the center needs to raise $3 million by the end of the year to continue operating. The center has started a GoFundMe to raise funds.

“It would give us enough money to get up and running, and we do have a long-term plan so that we don't end up in this situation again," Barton said.

High school volunteers.jpg
Wilkine Brutus
Volunteers are distributing food supplies to families in cars wrapped around The Wayne Barton Study Center in Boca Raton.

The center has been closed since early on during the pandemic, leaving a void that Barton said has been felt deeply by the children who typically spend time there. He worries especially about the kids who have been struggling academically amid school closures and ineffective virtual learning since COVID-19 hit.

“It was over 1,500 kids before the pandemic. Since the pandemic, we have had zero here. We've had zero,” Barton said.

Barton said during the early stages of the pandemic, “everyone just shut down their wallet, their donations, everything.”

“Our funds dried up," he said. "We generate funds by the auditorium. We have bar mitzvahs. We have weddings. We have basketball tournaments, volleyball. We have birthday parties. And that generates a lot of revenue for us.”

Congressman Ted Deutch said he has supported the center's efforts for years. Deutch, a Democrat who represents parts of Palm Beach and Broward counties, arrived at the center’s auditorium to lend moral support and speak to the high school volunteers during the food-giveaway event.

“I wanted to come out today to support Wayne and the study center and the great work that happens here,” Deutch said. “The community has been so supportive. You see it today with all of the young people, kids, who have come out to volunteer.”

Wilkine Brutus is a reporter and producer for WLRN and a guest faculty member at the Poynter Institute. The South Florida native produces stories on topics surrounding local news, culture, art, politics and current affairs.