By Jesse Schwartzman
As National Disability Employment Awareness Month comes to a close, I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to interview an owner of a business that includes people with disabilities in everything the business does. I visited Cornerstone Montclair an inclusive building that includes a general store, an inclusive movement center, a community space, and room for private businesses in the disability field. It was an amazing opportunity to learn more from the owner Wendy Lacey.
Wendy Lacey opened her business in 2017 due to the lack of employment options for individuals with disabilities. Unfortunately, those same challenges are still around today. The general store employs a healthy mix of individuals with disabilities along with individuals who do not have disabilities. The store also includes people with disabilities training people who do not have disabilities. I call that a win for competitive integrated employment. People with disabilities want to see people who look like them working at the places where they shop. Wendy says her store is overstaffed and continuously fields calls from members of the disability community looking for work. That encouraged Mrs. Lacey to grow and partner with The Montclair Art Museum to open a coffee café in the museum. When Wendy hires again she is looking for people with and without disabilities who are looking to grow their interpersonal skills, be open-minded, be positive and enjoy working with people with disabilities. Wendy told me that during the pandemic the General Store had to make a shift to create an online store. She tells me that she did not want an online store but it created an opportunity to grow her business and hire more people with disabilities. The General Store sells candles, artwork, clothing, and other items made by individuals with and without disabilities.
While Wendy Lacey gave me a tour of her business, she told me that the focus of Cornerstone Montclair is to not just open a business that employs people with disabilities but to create an inclusive community that is welcome to all. The common space hosts events such as a story salon, and other community events. While I was there, I saw a needle felting class run by the Adult School of Montclair. A recent Montclair Story Salon included an individual with Down Syndrome among its performers. This follows an important message that Wendy shared that I will incorporate forever which is: To have something for everyone but make sure everyone includes people with disabilities.
I hope this post encourages other businesses and non-profit entities to look “outside the box” and try new strategies and solutions to get more individuals with disabilities in the workplace. We need more people like Wendy. As an individual with a disability who enjoys work and has had his life positively changed by work, I strongly encourage others to pursue their passions as it could lead to work and volunteer opportunities. For more information on National Disability Employment Awareness Month please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.