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Lacks Furniture partners with UTPA to educate the community about diabetes
By Jennifer Berghom, Public Affairs Representative
Posted: 11/28/2012
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The University of Texas-Pan American has joined Lacks Furniture in bringing back a program that trains fourth-grade students to educate their families about diabetes, one of the most common diseases in the Rio Grande Valley.


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Lacks Furniture is donating $125,000 over the next five years to help UTPA's Border Health Office (BHO) run its Student Enrollment and Education Program. Pictured from left to right are: UTPA student Javier Soto, UTPA Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, UTPA Associate Vice President for University Advancement Lydia P. Aleman, UTPA President Dr. Robert S. Nelsen, Lacks Furniture owner and CEO Lee Aaronson, Lacks Human Resources Director Dr. John Price, UTPA BHO Executive Director Doreen Garza, UTPA Vice President for University Advancement Veronica Gonzales, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District Nurse Julia Soper, and UTPA College of Health Sciences and Human Services Dean Dr. John Ronnau.

On Wednesday, Nov. 28, Lacks Furniture made a commitment to support UTPA’s Student Enrollment and Education Program (SEEP), an awareness program that educates elementary school students about the risk factors of and complications from diabetes in hopes that they share the message with their families. The furniture giant will fund $25,000 each year for the next five years to the program.

“Healthy living is critical in the Valley where all too many people struggle with diabetes and obesity,” said UT Pan American President Robert S. Nelsen. “This generous gift from Lacks Furniture will help UT Pan American reach out into the community. Lacks Furniture clearly cares about the youth in our area, and they are making a serious investment in the Valley’s future.”

The University of Texas-Pan American Border Health Office (BHO) established the Diabetes Registry Project in 1995 to address diabetes and its prevalence in the Valley. About 26 percent of the Valley’s population has the disease, according to statistics kept by the BHO.

The BHO created the SEEP to help raise awareness about the disease and its risk factors and chose to target fourth-grade students to deliver the message because the students in that age group are dependable, responsible and can understand the importance of positive, healthy lifestyle changes.

But budget cuts in 2010 forced the BHO to discontinue the SEEP, said Dr. John Ronnau, dean of the College of Health Sciences and Human Services, which houses the BHO.

"This very generous gift of $125,000 over five years will allow us to rejuvenate the program and touch thousands of families," Ronnau said. "We couldn’t be happier and it’s going to have a very positive impact on our citizens."

The SEEP had been established in 35 school districts and had educated more than 25,000 children and their families. Ronnau said the program is expected to return in the spring of 2013.

"Lacks has supported the Valley community for over 75 years, and we are proud to continue that support by helping UTPA educate students about diabetes,” said Lee Aaronson, owner and chief executive officer of Lacks Furniture. “We hope these students will share their knowledge with others."

Aaronson and his family have been longtime supporters of UT Pan American. Aaronson’s mother, Sylvia Aaronson, was a founding member of The University of Texas-Pan American Foundation, a nonprofit organization committed to supporting the University through scholarships and other financial support.

The University of Texas System created the Texas-Mexico Border Health Coordination Office (TMBHCO) in 1990 in response to recommendations from a task force of representatives from health-related UT System institutions and other university, state, and community agencies that continue to guide the office's activities. Since 2002, the office has been called The University of Texas-Pan American Border Health Office, according to the Border Health Office's website.

For more information about the Border Health Office, visit www.utpa.edu/bho.

Lacks Valley Stores (www.lacksvalley.com) is a family-owned furniture retailer with 12 stores across the Texas border from Laredo to Port Isabel, and in Alice. The company ranks 66th in the top 100 retail furniture operations in the U.S., according to Furniture Today. The Pharr-based company has been in business since 1935 and has over 700 employees.