St. Madeleine Sophie's Center, Inc.

Empowerment for Life . . . Through Innovation and Education

aka St. Madeleine Sophie's Training Center El Cajon   |   El Cajon, CA   |


The mission of St. Madeleine Sophie's Center (SMSC) is to educate and empower individuals with intellectual developmental disabilities (I/DD) to realize their full potential. Founded in 1966, SMSC is a licensed, vocational day training center that annually serves over 400 adults with I/DD (i.e. autism, Down syndrome, epilepsy, cerebral palsy) who represent a full spectrum of socio-economic, religious, ethnic, racial and cultural backgrounds. SMSC serves individuals with I/DD through nationally recognized innovative programs. We combine our culture of care and creativity within quality programs to provide liberal arts education, practical skills development, employment, and dignity for a lifetime. At SMSC, adult students learn and grow, earn modest income and enjoy friendships and social activities throughout their lifetimes - from recent high school graduate to senior citizen (age 22 to 70+). SMSC's programs are offered on a staff-to-student ratio of 1:3 to 1:6 depending on the needs of the individual. They include: Adaptive Computer Lab; Behavior Modification; Organic Garden; Work Activity Program; Aquatics; Culinary Arts; Aerobics/Fitness/Yoga; Dance; Sophie's Gallery; Music Therapy; Reading; Speech Therapy/Sign Language; and a Senior Program for students age 50+. SMSC operates two sites: (1) its 5-acre main campus on the outskirts of the City of El Cajon; (2) its Sophie's Gallery and Gift Shop which occupies a 4,400 sq. ft. storefront with art exhibition and studio space in Downtown El Cajon's revitalization district;.

Ruling year info


Chief Executive Officer

Ms. Debra Emerson

Main address

St. Madeleine Sophie's Center 2119 East Madison Avenue

El Cajon, CA 92019 USA

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NTEE code info

Developmentally Disabled Services/Centers (P82)

Employment Training (J22)

Arts Education/Schools (A25)

IRS filing requirement

This organization is required to file an IRS Form 990 or 990-EZ.

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Programs and results

What we aim to solve

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Our programs

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

What are the organization's current programs, how do they measure success, and who do the programs serve?

Sophie's Gallery Art Program

Sophie's Gallery Art Program began in the 1970s when it started in one classroom with just a few students on the main campus. Today, the art program takes place at Sophie's Gallery & Gift Shop, a 5,000 sq. ft. storefront that opened in Downtown El Cajon in 1999. A satellite gallery and gift shop, called Sophie's Too, is located on SMSC's main campus. At Sophie's Gallery Art Program, 300 of the 400+ adult students who are enrolled at SMSC attend the program every week. Our students learn a variety of media, such as print-making, jewelry-making, fused glass decor, mosaics and painting; they also exhibit their work locally, regionally and nationally. Sophie's was the first art program of its kind in San Diego County in which all of the instructors are professional artists.

Population(s) Served
People with intellectual disabilities
People with other disabilities

The Aquatic Program began in 1998 with the hiring of a professional Aquatics Manager who continues to serve in this role. (She supervises 10 American Red Cross-certified lifeguards and swim instructors.) The centerpiece of the program is a solar-heated, 100,000 gallon, 50'x76' pool that is the only one in East County to have a wheelchair ramp (it also has ADA-approved stairs and a chair lift). Programming is offered year-round (dome is used during colder months) to 100 SMSC adult students who choose to participate in the program, and 400 members of the general public (infants through seniors, and people with disabilities) who participate in the public component that includes learn-to-swim classes (infants through adults); and services offered through our program partners: Arthritis Foundation, Grossmont College, Sports for Exceptional Athletes, and the Multiple Sclerosis Society. We also have our own Special Olympics swim team -- The Tritons -- composed of 59 members (ages 8 to 73).

Population(s) Served
People with intellectual disabilities
People with other disabilities
Children and youth

St. Madeleine's two-acre, certified Organic Garden was founded in 1998 in a former horse pasture. Every day, 40 SMSC students work in the garden that is open year-round. It's a job site and job training center, and a source of pride for our students who take great satisfaction in bringing bushels of produce to our school's kitchen where the onions, tomatoes, herbs and fruits are incorporated into healthy meals for themselves and our 120 employees. Our students learn how to grow and nurture shrubs, flowering plants, vegetables, herbs, and citrus trees. In February 2015, St. Madeleine's installed an Aquaponics Gardening System in the solar greenhouse. Aquaponics is a food production system that combines conventional aquaculture (raising aquatics animals, such as fish in tanks) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) in a symbiotic environment. The garden includes ADA-accessible pathways and propagation houses. Over 1,000+ visitors come to the garden each year; including 400+ who attend our annual Morning Glory Brunch fundraiser (in the garden) that helps support program costs.

Population(s) Served
People with other disabilities
People with intellectual disabilities

Where we work


Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) - Adult Day Services - 3 year 2018


Movers & Shakers: Who's Who in the San Diego Visual Art World (Debra Turner Emerson) 2009

San Diego Visual Arts Network

TWIN Award (Debra Turner Emerson) 2009


Women in Leadership Award (Debra Turner Emerson) 2008

San Diego Business Journal

Finalist-CEO Award (Debra Turner Emerson) 2008

San Diego Business Journal

Outstanding Community Involvement Award/Small Business Award Category (Sophie's Gallery) 2007

San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce

Women in Leadership Award - Art and Culture Category (Debra Turner Emerson) 2006

San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce

Zanville Award (Organic Garden) 2006

United Way of San Diego County

Women in Leadership Award - Education Category (Debra Turner Emerson) 2005

San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce

Organizational Development Award 2005

Non-Profit Management Solutions

Honorable Mention-Most Innovative Product Marketing Category (Sophie's Gallery) 2005

San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce

Magnolia Award for Arts & Business Partnership of the Year (Sophie's Gallery's partnership with Bread & Cie) 2005

City of El Cajon

Woman of Distinction Award (Debra Turner Emerson) 2001


Woman of Distinction Award (Debra Turner Emerson) 2001

City of Santee

Outstanding Performer (Debra Turner Emerson) 2001

Dale Carnegie

Finalist, Woman of the Year 2010

San Diego Magazine

Reader's Poll - Sophie's Gallery named as Best Local Gallery "To Buy" 2010

San Diego Union Tribune

Non-Profit of theYear (inaugural year for the award) 2011

San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce

Best of East County Readership Poll - Organic Garden voted Silver Star Winner for Best Nursery/Garden 2011

The East County Californian

Clean Beaches Award 2011

Ocean Beach Town Council

Readers Poll - Sophie's Gallery won 2nd place for Best Public Art Center 2012

San Diego Union Tribune

6th Annual Celebrating Women Award 2012

San Diego Woman's Club

Leadership East County Award 2013

The Chamber San Diego East County

Non-Profit of the Year 2013

The Chamber San Diego East County

Citation Award Community Partner 2014

City of El Cajon

Community Partnership Award 2015

California Park & Recreation Society District 12

Most Admired CEO Nominee 2016

San Diego Business Journal

Business Women of the Year Award Nominee 2017

San Diego Business Journal

Most Admired CEO Nominee 2018

San Diego Business Journal

Gold Start winner for “Best Nonprofit” 2019

The East County Californian

Silver Start winner for “Best Art Gallery” 2019

The East County Californian

Non-Profit of the Year Award Nominee 2020

San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce

SILVER STAR winner for “Best Art Gallery” 2020

The East County Californian

Goals & Strategy

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn about the organization's key goals, strategies, capabilities, and progress.

Charting impact

Four powerful questions that require reflection about what really matters - results.

As an organization, our goals are to help individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities to increase their independence and self-sufficiency, build self confidence and self-esteem, and become part of the greater community.

As we look to an enlightened future, our sights are committed to strengthening our standards of excellence and high quality programs.

SMSC accomplishes our strategies through the development, implementation and sustaining of nationally recognized innovative programs.

Our strategies include:
 Strengthening the Board of Trustees through responsive Committees.
 Building on existing community partnerships and collaborations.
 Building sustainability as a business through effective management, planning and leadership.
 Strengthening and growing the volunteer program.
 Remaining flexible and adjusting our programs and facilities to address the changing needs of our students and the economy

Our programs receive the highest rating for services from the Commission on Accreditation from Rehabilitation Services (CARF). SMSC is recognized for having many strengths, including empowering students, using innovative ideas designed to focus on strengths and abilities of students, maintaining excellent relations with community organizations, and using creativity in designing services and programs.

Specific strengths and capabilities include:

 A wide array of program curriculum and unique activities (e.g. garden, art program, culinary art program, aquatics/fitness, performing arts, computer lab).
 An extended period of program support, over long period of time.
 Transportation is provided for students (Unusual for an adult program).
 Safe, comfortable and welcoming facilities for students: garden, pool, campus environment, with appropriate spaces for specialized activities.
 An exemplary ratio of professional staff to students. Staff is trained, experienced and provides high quality services and thoughtful care of students and families.
 Strong management and leadership degreed, sophisticated, experienced with students and families.
 Recognition and awards in local community and nationally.
 A robust volunteer network at all levels; support from the Kraemer Endowment Foundation, Board of Directors, Auxiliary and SMSC “public" volunteer community.

Celebrating 50 years of service (in 2016), St. Madeleine's needs help in funding the important upgrades and physical plant changes to provide the best possible program environment for our clients and the community. Our buildings and grounds' infrastructure is aging – and our client's interests and needs are very different than they were decades ago.

In addition, we are always faced with cash flow challenges. Our 2015 operating budget is $8,215,300. Of this amount, approximately $2.2 million (27%) must be secured from private sources, such as individual gifts, foundation and corporate grants, special event income, endowment revenue, and earned income (e.g. pool use fees, art and garden retail sales). The balance is supported by contracts with the San Diego Regional Center for the Developmentally Disabled whose daily reimbursement rate of $55 a day (73% in today's dollars) has not increased for over a decade. This represents an annual funding gap of approximately $2,000 per student.

During the same time, certain costs have increased significantly due to inflation and the cost for repair and maintenance of buildings and vehicles has increased over the years as items age. This has led to an increase in the amount that must be raised to meet basic program requirements.

How we listen

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Seeking feedback from people served makes programs more responsive and effective. Here’s how this organization is listening.

done We shared information about our current feedback practices.
  • How is your organization collecting feedback from the people you serve?

    Electronic surveys (by email, tablet, etc.), Paper surveys, Focus groups or interviews (by phone or in person), Case management notes, Constituent (client or resident, etc.) advisory committees,

  • How is your organization using feedback from the people you serve?

    To identify and remedy poor client service experiences, To identify bright spots and enhance positive service experiences, To inform the development of new programs/projects, To strengthen relationships with the people we serve,

  • With whom is the organization sharing feedback?

    The people we serve, Our staff, Our board, Our community partners,

  • Which of the following feedback practices does your organization routinely carry out?

  • What challenges does the organization face when collecting feedback?

    It is difficult to get the people we serve to respond to requests for feedback, It is difficult to get honest feedback from the people we serve, It is difficult to identify actionable feedback,


St. Madeleine Sophie's Center, Inc.

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The people, governance practices, and partners that make the organization tick.


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Connect with nonprofit leaders


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  • Analyze a variety of pre-calculated financial metrics
  • Access beautifully interactive analysis and comparison tools
  • Compare nonprofit financials to similar organizations

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St. Madeleine Sophie's Center, Inc.

Board of directors
as of 02/22/2022
SOURCE: Self-reported by organization
Board chair

Ms. Judy Mantle

Community Volunteer

Term: 2019 - 2021

Sharon Esche-Irving

Esche & Alexander Public Relations

Judy Mantle

Community Volunteer

Rory Goldberg

Community Volunteer

Debra Emerson

St. Madeleine Sophie's Center

Alison Cummings

Community Volunteer

De Anna Dougherty

Kaiser Permanente

Susan Bobbitt-Voth

Community Volunteer

Stuart Karasik

Community Volunteer

Ginger Poutous

Community Volunteer

Virginia Rodee

Society of the Sacred Heart

James Wellman

Community Volunteer

Rick Zamora

Zamora CFO

Sandy Biondo

Consolidated Lenders

Marina Hernandez

Society of the Sacred Heart

Richard Holstrom

Baker Tilly US

Mary McLaughlin Davis

Wooten & Davis

Board leadership practices

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

GuideStar worked with BoardSource, the national leader in nonprofit board leadership and governance, to create this section.

  • Board orientation and education
    Does the board conduct a formal orientation for new board members and require all board members to sign a written agreement regarding their roles, responsibilities, and expectations? Yes
  • CEO oversight
    Has the board conducted a formal, written assessment of the chief executive within the past year ? Yes
  • Ethics and transparency
    Have the board and senior staff reviewed the conflict-of-interest policy and completed and signed disclosure statements in the past year? Yes
  • Board composition
    Does the board ensure an inclusive board member recruitment process that results in diversity of thought and leadership? Yes
  • Board performance
    Has the board conducted a formal, written self-assessment of its performance within the past three years? No

Organizational demographics

SOURCE: Self-reported; last updated 2/1/2021

Who works and leads organizations that serve our diverse communities? GuideStar partnered on this section with CHANGE Philanthropy and Equity in the Center.


The organization's leader identifies as:

Race & ethnicity
Gender identity
Female, Not transgender (cisgender)
Sexual orientation
Heterosexual or Straight
Disability status
Person without a disability

Race & ethnicity

Gender identity


Sexual orientation


Equity strategies

Last updated: 02/01/2021

GuideStar partnered with Equity in the Center - an organization that works to shift mindsets, practices, and systems to increase racial equity - to create this section. Learn more

  • We disaggregate data to adjust programming goals to keep pace with changing needs of the communities we support.
  • We employ non-traditional ways of gathering feedback on programs and trainings, which may include interviews, roundtables, and external reviews with/by community stakeholders.
  • We have long-term strategic plans and measurable goals for creating a culture such that one’s race identity has no influence on how they fare within the organization.
Policies and processes
  • We seek individuals from various race backgrounds for board and executive director/CEO positions within our organization.
  • We have community representation at the board level, either on the board itself or through a community advisory board.
  • We engage everyone, from the board to staff levels of the organization, in race equity work and ensure that individuals understand their roles in creating culture such that one’s race identity has no influence on how they fare within the organization.