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Last July, 79-year-old Irene Chapman lost a yearlong battle with cancer when she died in her North Buffalo home, with her two sons -- the Revs. Michael Chapman and Herschel Chapman Jr. -- holding each of her hands.

In her final year, the longtime homemaker was nurtured and cared for by her 85-year-old husband, Herschel, along with daily visits by her four adult children and hospice workers who visited her home a couple times a week.

With a supportive family network and access to medical services, Irene Chapman was one of the lucky ones.

On Sunday, the Rev. Michael Chapman of St. John Baptist Church was among a group of dignitaries who used their shovels at a groundbreaking ceremony on a vacant Maple Street lot to commemorate the beginning of the new St. John Baptist Hospice Buffalo House.

Hospice House is an eight-bed hospice residence that will provide end-of-life services for individuals who may not have a caregiver or a home to receive care.

The new center will serve the entire community, but will focus on African-American patients who are less likely to receive palliative care. According to 2003 figures from Hospice Buffalo, only 8 percent of its patient base was African-American.

Chapman, the brainchild of the new center, said Hospice House will mean that more African-Americans and Western New Yorkers will die with dignity and respect -- much like his mother.

The groundbreaking event was held under a canopy that was placed on the dirt-filled site where the 8,000-square-foot facility will be built at 111 Maple St., adjacent to St. John Baptist Church, located on Buffalo's East Side.

"We have created a program that will improve end-of-life care for the African-American community and the entire community. It will be a house for the dying, a home away from home and a safe refuge for those who are dying," William E. Finn, president and CEO of the Center for Hospice & Palliative Care, told the crowd of about 150 people -- most of whom attended the event after church service.

Among the other speakers at the event were: Mayor Anthony M. Masiello, State Sen. Byron Brown, D-Buffalo; Congresswoman Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport; and Ellicott Council Member Brian C. Davis.

Hospice House also will be the nation's first residence for seriously ill patients that has been jointly developed by a hospice program and a church.

"I hope that we are all aware that we are here making history," Brown told the crowd.

"Today we are filled with such a sense of pride," said Slaughter. "Not only are we breaking ground in Buffalo, we're truly breaking ground throughout the country, because this will be duplicated in other parts of the U.S."

The project is expected to cost $1.3 million and is one of the first projects in a $54 million revitalization of the Fruit Belt. The Hospice House is being funded by federal, county, city and private funds -- including a $50,000 donation by Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples, D-Buffalo, that was announced at Sunday's event.

Officials said construction is scheduled to begin in August, and a grand opening is slated for April 2006.


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