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Living with a disability is something to flex about at St. Madeleine Sophie's Center

400 students with intellectual and developmental disabilities are learning life skills and dignity for a lifetime.

EL CAJON, Calif. — Summertime is the best time to hop in a pool or take a stroll in the garden and if you're lucky, you do both. In this Zevely Zone, I headed to the East County to visit St. Madeleine's Sophie's Center. The non-profit center educates and empowers individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities to realize their full potential. It's a special spot in El Cajon where 400 adults are living their best lives at a day program.

Credit: St. Madeleine's Sophie's Center

"I love this garden," said Debra Emerson. She is the CEO of St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center. As you walk through the organic garden you quickly learn what they're growing here has little to do with fruits and vegetables. That's where I found Richard and Mitch digging in the dirt and smiling. "I feel like a happy man, I am a happy man," said Mitch.  

Credit: St. Madeleine's Sophie's Center

The organization serves individuals with intellectual and developmental intellectual and disabilities through nationally recognized innovative programs and combines a culture of care and creativity within quality programs to provide liberal arts education, practical skills development, employment, and dignity for a lifetime.

Credit: St. Madeleine's Sophie's Center

Empowering people has been Debra passion for 27 years. "Well, look around the people here bring that joy to your eyes and your heart," said Debra who told me in the 1950's adults like her students were hidden away. "Hidden away or institutionalized by their families or the doctors would say give that person to an institution," said Debra.  

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"She, she is wonderful," said Isaac Hernandez who couldn't say enough good things about the CEO. Isaac told me, Debra and her programs allow him to live his best life. "Yes, yes I am," said Isaac. The only thing that could possibly make this center better would be a place to cool down. As luck would have it, the center has an incredible pool. 

Credit: St. Madeleine's Sophie's Center

Danny Gibson must have read my mind because when he swam by, he splashed me from head to toe. "You left quite a wake," I laughed. Never a dull moment around here for Victor McGill. "I like coming here, I like coming here in the pool, but I like working in the kitchen." The kitchen is not only where a hundred amazing meals are a made a day, but also where Grace Kennedy is training for employment. The skills she is learning will help her go out and find a job. "Make me better," said Grace.

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Perhaps, Tiffany Schlender said it best when she told me the best part of everyday happens here. "Happy. I am happy right now," said Tiffany. In 2022 disabilities aren't something you hide away, they're something you flex.

There are dozens of ways for San Diegans to get involved and help St. Madeleine's Sophie's Center. For more information click here

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