St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center

SMSC encourages the developmentally disabled to embrace their potential.

Tucked away on a hill in El Cajon lies a little-known sanctuary. Complete with an organic garden, junior Olympicsized pool and several multi-purpose classrooms, St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center is a home away from home for nearly 400 developmentally disabled adults.

For more than 35 years, SMSC has offered adults with disabilities ranging from autism to epilepsy to Down syndrome the opportunity to live independently. Whether through academic tutoring like reading or math, social interaction like gardening or swimming, or practical guidance like filling out job applications or preparing for job interviews, SMSC strives to empower disabled adults to experience and understand their capabilities as part of society.

“Every day there are new stories,” Debra Turner, executive director of SMSC says, “and I’m sure there are many more that we don’t even know about.”

Heidi is an especially shy disabled adult who has been greatly affected by SMSC for three years. Here, Heidi has opened up and even had the opportunity to join a dance troop— something she or her mother never thought possible.

St. Madeleine Sophie's Center FINE magazine August 2012

“Parents begin looking at their children’s abilities rather than just their disabilities,” Turner says.

This day program—or “Life Program” as it is referred—is unique for each student. Every year, on the student’s birthday, staff members sit down with students and their caretakers to draw out a yearlong plan based on their goals, which vary from simply tying their shoes to applying for a job.

Through its various programs, SMSC strives to show that
“people with disabilities really can make a difference in society.” - Debra Turner

Depending on these goals, they attend classes, explore the community, volunteer at homeless shelters and orphanages and are even employed in the community or on campus. Through its various programs, SMSC strives to show that “people with disabilities really can make a difference in society,” Turner says.

Mark Rimland, former student, embodies this very principleof SMSC. He has risen in his trade to become the resident artist at the Edgeware Gallery in the Kensington District of San Diego. An adult with autism, Rimland’s illustrations are featured in a recently published children’s book “The Secret Night World of Cats.”

St. Madeleine Sophie's Center FINE magazine August 2012

Rimland’s work is also available at Sophie’s Gallery, which displays student-made jewelry and art to benefit SMSC’s programs. With three locations in El Cajon and San Diego, students sell one-of-a-kind, handcrafted pieces and plant arrangements made from the organic garden.

Program directors say they hope to see great development of SMSC, which is primarily recognized in East County, in the coming years. Jeff Redondo, event coordinator, explained the desire for more exposure throughout San Diego County so more disabled adults can have the opportunity to “live fuller lives” and “participate in some of life’s simplest pleasures.”

The 35th Annual “Haute with Heart” Fashion Show and Luncheon, produced by television personality Leonard Simpson, is SMSC’s biggest event of the summer—and this year should be better than ever. Held on Aug. 18 at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront, this year’s show will feature student musicians, dancers and artists, as well as live and silent auctions. Redondo also said to expect “new, exciting things.”

SMSC is more than a day program for disabled adults. It is an encouraging haven that allows students to seek their own independence and to understand their potential.

For more information on St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center, visit

The 35th Annual “Haute with Heart” Fashion Show Fundraiser

When: Saturday, Aug. 18 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Where: Hilton San Diego Bayfront
Details: Limited VIP runway seating available. Proceeds benefit St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center. For more info, visit