Sonoran UCEDD Collaborator Spotlight: Native American Research and Training Center

Sonoran UCEDD Update
Winter 2017-2018U of A native american research and training center logo

The University of Arizona’s Native American Research and Training Center (NARTC) has been a long-time partner of the Sonoran UCEDD. In 2011, we collaborated to conduct a Native American Developmental Disabilities Needs Assessment to learn more about the resources available to and the needs and experiences of tribal members with DD and their families. Currently, NARTC is working with us in our partnership with the Tohono O’odham Community College (TOCC). We highlight NARTC projects in which TOCC-UCEDD trainees and faculty will participate.

A Week of Camp for a Lifetime of Health

Carly, 10, says she will “eat good food like apples, bananas and she will play basketball to keep her going on healthy stuff.” Alton says what he learned last year during his weeklong stay at the American Indian Youth Wellness Camp changed his life. “I experienced sports and activities like Tabata for the first time and really enjoyed it,” he says. “And I ate vegetables like corn, broccoli and lettuce that I didn’t think would taste good but I really like eating them now.” The camp exists for kids like Carly and Alton.

American Indian Youth Wellness Camp logo - desert sky and mountains with mask and feathersFrancine Gachupin, camp director and Assistant Professor, Department of Family and Community Medicine, says the camp’s goals are to teach children the importance of healthy eating and to promote routine physical exercise. The program brings about 50 children ages 10 to 15 from several tribes to a residential camp near Prescott, Arizona. Camp activities include learning about nutrition, playing traditional native games, meeting kids from other tribes, planting seeds and more.

Gachupin added that data collected from in-depth physical assessments help guide the program and curriculum. Check-ins that occur before camp and at several months after camp help promote good eating habits and regular exercise at home. The camp does not generate income from participants and relies on private donations for support. A camp crowdfunding campaign is currently underway: The support will continue work that addresses an epidemic of Type 2 diabetes in American Indian children and adolescents, of which more than half are overweight or obese and at risk for the disease.

The camp program promotes partnerships with tribes and entities like Tohono O’odham Community College. UA undergraduate students have traditionally participated in camp to assist with assessments and to serve as mentors. We plan to include TOCC students in summer 2018 as part of the TOCC-UCEDD Partnership Program.

Tucson Indian Center Heart Mind Study

Tucson Indian Center logoAmerican Indian elders are an important segment of society. Unfortunately, native elders age with a daunting foundation of excess morbidities and often experience inadequate healthcare access and services. Excess vascular risk factors, such as overweight and obesity, hypertension, and hyperlipidemias, are highly prevalent. Therefore, cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk is high. Vascular risk is also associated with late life brain health, cognitive impairments and dementias in many epidemiologic studies of nontribal elders. We know very little about the role of these risk factors among native elders. The Heart Mind Study (HMS) is designed to better understand aging-related health and vascular risk among tribal elders residing in Tucson, Arizona, using the Community Survey in Dementia (CSID). The CSID forms our basis to study aging associated vulnerabilities - physical, social, mental and cognitive aging vulnerabilities – as well as to identify factors associated with successful aging and high quality of life in native elders. The ultimate goal is to inform multi-faceted interventions to improve the quality of life and prevent disease among native elders.

The HMS is a collaboration between the University of Arizona and the Tucson Indian Center. The research project provides exposure and training opportunities for Tohono O’odham Community College (TOCC) students and faculty as part of the TOCC-UCEDD Partnership Program. Francine Gachupin, Assistant Professor, Department of Family and Community Medicine, and Dr. Deborah Gustafson, Professor, SUNY Downstate Medical Center, are the HMS Principal Investigators.

For more information about these programs, contact Francine Gachupin at

Learn more about NARTC and their projects online at