10 Things About Debra Emerson & St. Madeleine Sophie Center


“If your path is difficult, it is because your purpose is bigger than you thought!”

For the last 27 years, Debra Emerson has been working at St. Madeleine Sophie Center (SMSC), empowering individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities to realize their full potential through nationally recognized innovative programs. SMSC combines a culture of care and creativity within quality programs to provide liberal arts education, practical skills development, employment and dignity for a lifetime. Life is meant to be lived and we all need a place where we belong, where our talents and skills are nurtured and encouraged, where we can make friends, share our skills and find that our lives have meaning and purpose. For more than 400 adults with developmental disabilities, that place is St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center.


#1 I was born in London and grew up in Europe. I went to High School in Wiesbaden Germany. My father was in the United States Air Force for 27 years; I am an “oversees brat”.


#2 Europe is my favorite travel destination.


#3 I would like to travel to Iceland, Greece and Australia.


#4 My husband and children and grandchildren are the people who have most positively impacted me. Also, many great friends as well as many people in Rotary El Cajon, Leadership East County and students.


#5 I have two dogs Teddy (poodle/water dog) and Jewels (lab/doddle) both rescued dogs and a cat named Sweet Pea who is 21 years old, also rescued.


#6 My first job was as accountant at SMSC and then I became the CEO after two years.


#7 I love my job because it is serving our students and staff plus working closely with community, families, friends and donors in many ways.


#8 We have so many great stories where we have helped our students! We help them achieve their goals and dreams. My favorite story is about a friend who has a son with disabilities who I met 20 years ago, and Gene was working in the community at job but eventually was able to come to our programs through volunteering and now he is working at SMSC Kitchen and Garden and enjoying our aquatic center. Gene is a wonderful person and has a full life here at St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center.


#9 It is a life program for the people we serve (22 years old to 85 years). St. Madeleine is a Jewel in our Community! I always say the best kept secret in East County!


#10 Funds raised at “Haute with Heart” will go towards our specialty programs such art, aquatics, music, yoga, and the garden


St. Madeleine Sophie Center
Haute with Heart
August 13th, 2022
10 to 2 pm
Hilton San Diego Bayfront

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Esteban Villanueva