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Tribal Council officially opens diabetes center

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AKWESASNE - The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe Diabetes Center for Excellence hosted its grand opening Wednesday, welcoming tribal officials, federal officials and members of the public alike to come and celebrate.

Employees of the center have been working out of the new building since November, but this is the first time the larger community has been invited to take a peek inside. The 15,000-square-foot center features a 2,500-square-foot fitness center including a pool, several classrooms and gathering spaces, a kitchen styled for hands-on cooking demonstrations, a relaxation room, treatment rooms for clinical assessments and several offices.

Fundraising for the building began back in 2006, and construction in 2011. This 2014 grand opening is a long time coming, celebrating a dream finally realized.

The total budget for the project was $3.6 million, raised mostly by the tribe itself. Some $515,880 came from the United States Department of Agriculture and $1.4 million from two federal Housing and Urban Development grants. The Akwesasne Housing Authority pledged $1 million and the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino Resort gave $143,000. Grassroots efforts brought in more than $216,500.

The design of the building allows for expansion to accommodate future needs. Original plans for the building projected it at 20,000 square feet and including a walking track, but those plans were also estimated at a cost of around $6 million.

Space available to the diabetes prevention program before the center opened was limited at best, and split between two buildings. The new center offers a centralized location for diabetes services.

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 to 6.6 percent of non-Hispanic whites.

Center Director Heather Garrow said that number for Natives is expected to double in the next 10 years. There are at least 450 registered diabetes patients at the center so far. In 2013, about 253 patients were seen in over 735 visits.

Agriculture Department Area Director Brian Murray called the higher number of affected citizens on the reservation a “health crisis.” Intermittently present through the entire construction of the building, he said. “To see it go from a piece of paper to this is amazing. “It’s going to help everyone,” he said. “And a lot of credit goes to the community itself. They all have a brick in this building.”

Ms. Garrow hopes to attract families and youth to the new building in order to at least combat the rising numbers and perhaps reduce the risk of diabetes in the community before it presents itself.

Personalized exercise and nutrition plans are created for each registered patient of the center. Programs offered there will include youth physical activities, family nutrition programs, cooking demonstrations and classes on how to work out as a family. The goal is to teach people to incorporate healthy practices into their everyday lives.

The Let’s Get Healthy staff at the center “strives to reach healthy lifestyle goals for all Akwesasne community members by targeting healthy weight, regular physical activity, nutrition, blood sugar control, cholesterol control and stress management,” according to a press packet from the event.

Only members of the tribe will have access to the new diabetes center.

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