ENCINITAS, Calif. — Jasmine Prince is a young entrepreneur with a plan. At 19, she owns an Encinitas sewing business, is training friends to work by her side and plans to use her profits to become the next Disney Channel star.

Jasmine is among a very small but growing number of adults with Down syndrome who have entered the workplace in nontraditional roles. The San Marcos teen’s idols are Madeline Stuart, an Australian teen model who strutted the catwalk last month at New York Fashion Week, and Tim Harris, 29, who serves three meals a day and unlimited hugs at his Albuquerque, N.M. restaurant, Tim’s Place.

Like Stuart and Harris, Jasmine’s career goals are being achieved with the help of family. Jasmine’s sewing business operates from the same Encinitas Boulevard address as Sew Inspired Stitch Lounge, an after-school sewing program run by her mom, Laura Prince. As a single parent, Laura said she brought Jasmine along to classes at her 8-year-old sewing center, and Jasmine showed a natural talent for the craft.

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“I like sewing. It’s my passion,” Jasmine said. “I like working with the fabrics and the letters, and I like the colors.”

Marie Lehman, a teacher at Sew Inspired, said Jasmine is a very good seamstress with a positive attitude and good work ethic. “She’s a sweetheart, and she can work for a long time without getting tired.”

Like most parents of adults with disabilities, Laura said she has worried for years about her daughter’s future once she finished school. So rather than wait, she decided to create opportunities for Jasmine and her fellow students with special needs in the San Marcos Unified School District’s adult transition program.

Last week, they launched Jasmine’s Bunting Co., which makes personalized bunting banners and flags for holidays and special occasions. Jasmine and four other young women are now in training at the fledgling business from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. As orders grow, the hours and staff will expand.

Laura said adults with Down syndrome and other disabilities tend to disappear from the public eye once they’re in their early 20s. Employers won’t hire them and because they’re dependent on their aging parents for transportation, they end up staying home once they’ve outgrown school and play groups.

“They’re just invisible from society for no good reason,” Laura said. “Because they’re slow, they don’t get the opportunity to shine at jobs. But more people need to know there are willing hands and willing hearts out there needing work.”

On Tuesday, Jasmine was cheerfully moving from one worktable to another, organizing felt letters, sewing a bunting square and showing ironing techniques to her friend Maddie Boop, 23, of Carlsbad. One thing she’s not is invisible. Jasmine was on the cheerleading squad at San Marcos High, loves photobombing strangers’ selfies at the beach and once sang an onstage duet with idol Gary LeVox of the country trio Rascal Flatts. She wants to be the first Disney Channel star with Down syndrome.

“Jasmine loves a crowd,” Laura said. “She enjoys being around people and has never lacked for confidence.”

A few years ago, Laura and Jasmine hit on the idea of creating custom bunting, a sewing craft that’s popular in Europe but done mostly in paper and plastic in the United States. Cotton and wool buntings are $10 per square flag, including custom lettering and designs. Strips of pennant flags range from $28 to $68, and strings of baby bunting flags are $15. For now, orders have been confined to mostly family and friends, but Jasmine has big plans to canvass North County and Southwest Riverside County businesses with a sales team. Orders can also be made through the company’s website.

For now, Jasmine and the other students are working as unpaid interns. Their parents worry that any salary would negatively impact their children’s Supplemental Security Income checks, so Laura is looking at compensating the trainees instead with gifts, field trips and other privileges. Eventually she hopes to establish the business as a nonprofit and expand the enterprise into a full-time sewing factory exclusively for the training and employment of young adults with disabilities.

San Marcos resident Delia Valdovinos, 21, said she loves coming into the shop each day to learn sewing skills. Because of cerebral palsy, Delia uses a wheelchair. Although she’s capable of more challenging work, the best job she has been offered so far is collecting trash.

“I love it here,” Delia said, while stitching together two fabric panels. “I like sewing, and I like the environment. I’m motivated to find a full-time job.”

San Marcos twins Kayde and Kayle Viravuth, 21, already have jobs in retail, but Kayde said they both prefer working at Jasmine’s Bunting Co.

“I really like the hours, the people, the sewing and the sales,” she said.

Jasmine, Delia and the twins are among about 50 students, ages 18 to 22, in the San Marcos district’s adult transition program. The program teaches post-high school adults with special needs how to cook, use public transportation, job skills and how to advocate for themselves, said Angela Castro, a district education specialist.

Castro said that most young adults can’t find jobs after the transition program, and those who do are usually offered only menial, unskilled work. But the sewing center has been a rare bright spot for the young women she brings down by bus each week.

“It’s a really fun place for them to work. It’s building their self-esteem, and they’re learning a skill that they can use on the job or at home in their daily lives,” Castro said, adding that she hopes to bring some of the bunting orders and sewing machines to San Marcos one day so more students can get involved.

Through Jasmine’s Bunting Co., Laura Prince said she hopes her daughter — like Madeline Stuart and Tim Harris before her — will serve as a pioneer for others with Down syndrome.

“Our kids should have center stage like everyone else,” she said. “Maybe in 10 years it will be cool for everyone to have friends and co-workers with Down syndrome, but for now they’re hidden away. That needs to change.”

© 2015 The San Diego Union-Tribune
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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