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New centralized Head Start building aims to help children, families in Spirit Lake

Lili Awna, left, gets her nails painted by Violet Kito as Loretta Lawrence, center, picks out a color. Both are enrolled in the Head Start program and visited Candeska Cinka Community College for kid-friendly activities. (Joshua Komer/Grand Forks Herald)1 / 5
The new Head Start building comes with indoor heated bus garages. (Joshua Komer/Grand Forks Herald)2 / 5
Stained glass hangs at the entrance of the administration building at the Candeska Cinka Community College in Fort Totten. (Joshua Komer/Grand Forks Herald)3 / 5
The new Head Start facility is near completion at Fort Totten. (Joshua Komer/Grand Forks Herald)4 / 5
Cynthia Lindquist talks at Candeska Cinka Community College about the new Head Start facility that is nearing completion in Fort Totten, N.D. (Joshua Komer/Grand Forks Herald)5 / 5

FORT TOTTEN, N.D.—Looking out from cafeteria windows at the Spirit Lake Nation's Head Start facility onto green hills of buffalo pasture, Cynthia Lindquist can barely contain her excitement.

"It's going to be so nice," said Lindquist, president of the Candeska Cinka Community college, which runs the tribe's Head Start program.

Last Thursday, she walked through the $7.5 million building for first time since the program broke ground last May. When complete, the facility will serve children through age 5 on the reservation.

CCCC took over the Head Start program from the tribe in 2014. The first thing Lindquist noticed was a need for one, centralized building. Currently Head Start on the reservation is taught in trailer units spread throughout various towns, which can make it difficult to keep in line with the strict federal guidelines for the program, not to mention being a hard place to learn.

"They're not built for children," Lindquist said.

The new Head Start Center will centralize services for the tribe's children, with specific wings set up for prenatal care, infants, toddlers and pre-kindergarten youth.

Each of the building's 19 classrooms is equipped with its own kitchen space and laundry area, according to Head Start standards. There are rooms for nursing mothers and a space for the facility to store its own internet servers.

The roughly 42,000-square-foot facility sits on 35 acres of what is currently pasture on the reservation.

Head Start serves 152 children on the reservation, including 15 women enrolled in prenatal care. The new facility will have the capacity to serve 184 children, including the ability to provide prenatal care for 30 women.

The building is largely being paid for largely by two loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Lindquist said the USDA has been good to work with, and the college has learned how to work through a wide array of federal agencies to push for growth.

"We've become experts in bureaucracy," she said.

A community effort

To get the most out of the loan money, and to provide jobs in the community, construction is being done by local contractors Mark and Steve Mercer with a crew of all local employees. Steve Mercer, who teaches in CCCC's construction management program, has several students working on the job.

The building is largely complete, Mark Mercer said, and August and September will be used to put in drywall, flooring, windows and ceilings. CCCC carpentry students are going to build the cabinets. They hope to have everything completed for its scheduled Oct. 14 grand opening.

CCCC has an early childhood education program, and Lindquist is hopeful it will continue to provide teachers for Head Start. They are projecting a need for 25 full-time instructors in the new building.

"We're trying to develop our own people," Lindquist said.

Lindquist said they still need about $450,000 to pave the building's parking lot and additional funding for playground equipment. She said they've been exploring financing options for the remaining gaps.

"I just bought a Powerball ticket," she laughed.

Recruiting families

Last Thursday, CCCC hosted a community event to recruit new families to the Head Start program. Participants must be low-income, and priorities are given to homeless children and those in the foster care system.

Bree Hinojos, family services coordinator for CCCC Head Start, was helping prospective families fill out applications at a picnic table inside the college's student union gymnasium. They'd set up activities for young children around the room, while parents and guardians looked over the application.

Hinojos said she'd helped about five new families fill out Head Start applications

Lili DeMarce said she has three grandchildren enrolled in the Head Start program right now, two in the 4- to-5-year-old age group, another in the 2-to-3-year-old group. She was hoping to get another grandchild enrolled Head Start.

As she looked on while her grandchildren painted their names at one of the play stations, she said Head Start has been a good beginning to their education and that the new building is exciting.

"They're looking forward to going there," DeMarce said.

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