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Over the past five years, 40 child care centers have closed across Southwest Florida, said Diana Cheshire, Florida Gulf Coast University’s dean of the college of education. 

On April 12 east of Naples, a new one opened near Lely. Although it’s located on Florida SouthWestern State College’s Collier County campus, it will be operated by FGCU. 

FGCU celebrated its goal of accelerating the opening of additional child care centers across the region with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. With FGCU President Aysegul Timur on hand, leaders cut the ribbon on the new Early Learning Childhood Development Center, 7505 Grand Lely Drive, Building K. The 10,000-square-foot center, refurbished with $2 million from the Naples Children & Education Foundation, has a capacity of up to 93 children. 

The money came from the Naples Winter Wine Festival, which raised $33.2 million last year and about $302 million since 2001, said Sarah Zaiser-Kelly, senior vice president of NCEF. 

“This is huge for us,” Zaiser-Kelly said. “We are committed to stay operational for as long as we can.” 

The building had been a child care center in previous years. 

Yolanda Yslas worked there from 2007 to 2018, when funding ran out. Efforts to restore the center were delayed by the pandemic. 

NCEF Early Childhood Development Center in East Naples“The difference now is we have a lot of the families who have been looking for care, and now they have that again,” said Yslas, who returned as the new center’s director. 

Weekly tuition ranges from $172 to $250 per week, depending on the age of the child (six weeks to 4 years old) and the status of the parents, whether they are FGCU students, faculty/staff or community residents. 

Pedro Lora is both a community resident and FGCU staff member. He works in fundraising for WGCU, the university’s radio and TV stations. When he found out about it, he enrolled his daughter, Natalie, 3. 

“Collier County has been struggling with day care centers,” Lora said. “The ones that are operational have one or two-year waiting lists. My wife and I were struggling to find options. As soon as we heard about this place, we jumped right into it.” 

The center serves as both a place of learning for children and for FGCU students. 

As Natalie colored books with the help of FGCU mascot Azul, Cheshire watched the scene from the adjacent hallway. 

“It’s a learning laboratory,” Cheshire said. “There is such a shortage of early child care centers. We’re trying to be proactive in this by developing more teachers. This is our mission.” 

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