In The News

By now, you probably know about our amazing Project FOCUS program, a post-high school option for students ages 18-21 with intellectual disabilities. The program provides access to the University of Arizona’s academic offerings and campus life in order to increase each student’s self-reliance and employability.

Each student in Project FOCUS receives instructional support and enrolls in a minimum of six credits per semester for two years. In addition to academic coursework, students are provided instructional supports related to campus life, employment, and overall self-reliance.

Project FOCUS is all about collaborations across campus and with Pima County schools. One of the best examples of Project FOCUS comes in the form of the course, Introduction to Fashion Retail Retailing and Consumer Sciences, offered by Associate Professor of Practice Charlette Padilla. One of the final projects in the class was a fashion show of capes student teams had made for their dogs.

Project FOCUS Academic Learning Specialist Lesley Smith asked Professor Padilla if it would be possible to collaborate with Tucson’s Cause for Canines, an all-volunteer, foster-based rescue group dedicated to saving the lives of homeless dogs. Padilla loved the idea, so TCFC set up a table with raffle tickets for gift baskets, T-shirts promoting the rescue, information on volunteering for the organization, and how to adopt a dog. Students walked through the audience with doggy bags of treats for a small donation. Mind you, this was all prior to the pandemic. The funds raised through the event were split between TCFC and the fashion retail program.

Professor Padilla and her students set up a catwalk with lights, music, and an emcee. The event was open to the university community as well as the Tucson Community. The students collaborated as a team, developed their designs, and created the capes. A member of each team walked the dog down the catwalk when the emcee announced the dog, describing the cape and whether or not the dog was available for adoption with a short bio on the available dogs.

Katie Pratt-Ferguson (seen above), a second-year student in Project FOCUS, created a cape with her student team for Adelaide, and had the experience of walking with Adelaide, a darling Maltese-Poodle mix, down the catwalk. Even better, lucky Adelaide ended up being adopted, thanks to the event!

Professor Padilla was so pleased, she wants to continue to collaborate and partner with the rescue for the annual event.

Project Focus helps students with autism work toward the future, featured on KGUN9 On Your Side

"Our program really is founded on what do other college students do," explained Dr. Stephanie MacFarland head of Project Focus. "The same is upheld for our students with autism and other disabilities. They have those same type of dreams and goals."

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