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Ground soon may be broken for Diabetes Center

TIMES STAFF WRITER
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HOGANSBURG — Roads, water and sewer lines may start to be laid as early as July for the Diabetes Center for Excellence on the St. Regis Mohawk reservation.
The building, expected to cost more than $6 million, has been a dream of the tribal Health Services division for years. Fundraising started in 2006.
Most of the nearly $2 million that has been donated to the dream has come in the past few years. The latest installment, a grant of $600,000, came earlier this week from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“The bottom line is to put a shovel in the ground this year,” said Janine M. Rourk, director of the Let's Get Healthy Program. The program works to raise diabetes awareness and help reservation residents struggling with the disease. “We're up to the point where we're saying, ‘This is how far we can go, and let's just get going.'”
The project has already been scaled back; it was originally planned to be 20,000 square feet. The latest design calls for the building to be about 15,500 square feet.
The project may be scaled back a bit more, depending on how much money the organization is able to raise in the next few months. The organization is still waiting to hear about a few other grants, including one from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to Ernest J. Thompson, director of planning and infrastructure for the tribe.
A plan to have a walking track may disappear or be scaled back, Mrs. Rourk said. The organization hopes in the first phase to have the money to at least get the walls and roof up for where the track would be and leave the rest to be completed later.
“We're juggling the numbers now, but it is on the wish list to at least put up the walls and roof of the track,” she said.
Most of the money that has been raised so far has come from the tribe itself; the Akwesasne Housing Authority has pledged $1 million, and an additional $185,000 has come from grass-roots fundraising efforts, including golf tournaments and a formal dinner/ dance.
Diabetes is a serious problem among native populations. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 16.5 percent of the native population has the disease, compared with 6.6 percent of non-Hispanic whites.
Mrs. Rourk estimates that at least 13 percent of the Akwesasne population has the disease, with more going undiagnosed.
The tribe has diabetes education and fitness classes, but the space is limited and spread out across the reservation.
“It's pure exciting; it's like the feeling you get when you know you're buying a car and you want to get into it right away but it's in the factory,” Mrs. Rourk said. “We know it's coming; we're excited about it but we wish it was here yesterday.”

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