St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center brings the heart

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Tucked in a corner of downtown El Cajon is an art gallery and workshop. The colorful displays and lively activity that can be glimpsed through the large glass windows at the front of the store only tell part of the magnificent story that is the St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center.

The center provides programs and activities for nearly 400 adults with developmental disabilities from all around San Diego – everything from swim teams to art classes, like print making, mosaics and silk screening.

Tucked in a corner of downtown El Cajon is an art gallery and workshop. The colorful displays and lively activity that can be glimpsed through the large glass windows at the front of the store only tell part of the magnificent story that is the St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center.

The center provides programs and activities for nearly 400 adults with developmental disabilities from all around San Diego – everything from swim teams to art classes, like print making, mosaics and silk screening.

Although the center has had a tremendous impact on the community at large, it also requires tremendous funding, and that is where the annual Haute with Heart fashion show comes into play.

Held at the Hilton Hotel on Saturday, August 4, 2018, and featuring a silent auction, live auction, boutique fair and fashion show, the 41st Haute with Heart fashion show and luncheon, “Born to Sparkle,” brought together a diverse group of community members to celebrate the achievements of the center’s students and raise funds for their continued success.

“It’s a lot of fun and it’s a lot of piece to pull together for one awesome day,” said Julie Rausch, the event’s director for the fifth year running. “It all goes to support developmentally disabled adults who attend the center.”

The fundraiser relied on dozens of outside sponsors and partners to bring the auction, fashion show and glitzy boutique bazar to life, but SMSC’s own students were an integral part of the day as well.

“We have students involved in the fashion show, so they’ll be walking the runway,” said Rausch. “We also have our featured artist, which is John Agostini, and one of our students is featured in our video, Michael Mercadante, and then we have our student ushers here.”

One such student representative is Shannon Buxton, a member of the center’s swim team and a leader in outreach.

“I’m the president of self-advocacy,” said Buxton. “I love making a difference out in our community.”

Buxton said she has been part of SMSC for four years and has not missed the fashion show once.

“It’s fun and I love enjoying it,” she said. ‘Every year, I come.”

The fashion show, an exquisite display of classic tastes and modern flavors that showcased work from 10 designers, was produced by Leonard Simpson, creator of Fashion Forward, an internationally recognized fashion production company.

The collection featured casual looks as well as formal wear for both men and women, and even included a parade of gorgeous canines.

Also on display, and available for purchase, were art and jewelry items from the center’s very own students.

“A hundred percent of it goes to support people with developmental disabilities,” said Wendy Morris, a staff member at the El Cajon art gallery. “The person who made it will get a percentage, and the rest will go to supplies and materials.”

Morris said SMSC fosters a community for its students not only to grow personally, but to cultivate relationships with other people through their organic garden, culinary arts classes and computer labs.

“They’re always together in different classes, so most of the students know each other,” said Morris.

Debra Emerson, chief executive officer of SMSC, said the staff is a huge part of the center’s effectiveness.

“They really help our students thrive every day and find their sparkle,” said Emerson. “One of my staff said our students are like diamonds: they just need to be dusted off a little bit and given opportunity.”

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