By LINDA MOSS
A new local business, which is trying to create a hub for activities and employment opportunities for those with disabilities, will be opening later this month on Bellevue Avenue.
Cornerstone Montclair LLC was founded by Wendy Lacey, its executive director and a township resident. She purchased a 3,000-square-foot building, once home to CSA Audio, in March and has spent the past months renovating the property, doing upgrades such as adding an elevator and large windows to the building.
“We made it more warm and welcoming,” Lacey said.
She is hosting an open house at the site Oct. 28.
Lacey, a mother of four who has a 13-year-old daughter with Down Syndrome, is leasing space at low rents to businesses that have committed to provide meaningful work opportunities or job training; offer a venue for socializing or developing socialization skills; or have recreational activities for those with disabilities.
“Anybody with a disability wants to have those things in their community like anyone else,” Lacey said.
“They want what everyone else wants. This is the message, something that people don’t always know: They want to be welcomed and active and they want to contribute. In a perfect world you wouldn’t need a building or a business to send that message. But obviously we don’t live in a perfect world, so I set out to establish this business to help create opportunities and to send a message and to be a model for other businesses.”
This week Lacey signed up Arts Unbound as a retail tenant for Cornerstone Montclair’s first floor. This “mission partner” is looking “to promote careers in the visual arts as an option for everyone, including people with disabilities,” according to Lacey.
Her tenants also include the Inclusive Movement Center, which is run by New Jersey All People Equal and offers classes and fitness and sports training for people of all athletic abilities.
Creative Speech Solutions, a pediatric therapy center started 20 years ago by Cynthia Marrapodi in Summit, is also opening up an office at Cornerstone Montclair, as well. And Include Montclair, which facilitates those with disabilities being part of the community, is also leasing space.
“My vision is for this to be a hub of activity and services that appeals to everybody, but that goes out of its way to welcome and include people with disabilities,” Lacey said.
The Inclusive Movement Center will not only serve clients of all fitness abilities, but will hire interns with disabilities, according to Lacey. And Creative Speech Solutions plans to help people, not just those with disabilities, prepare for job interviews and craft resumes, she said.
Lacey plans to open a shop, called The General Store, which will be on the first floor of her building along with Arts Unbound.
“It’s going to be an old-fashioned general store with penny candy, retro gifts, refreshments,” Lacey said. “And I’m also talking to local farms about selling some simple produce here, and Montclair-themed items as well.”
She said that she will work with Montclair High School’s community transition program to hire interns with disabilities for her store.
In addition to having The General Store, Lacey is looking for another retail occupant for the first floor, which won’t open up until the spring.
The Bellevue Avenue building has a half dozen rental spaces, with one that includes a multi-purpose area Lacey is renting by the hour. Some tenants have taken three- to five-year leases, while others are temporarily leasing space at the site to hold events such as workshops and readings. Spectrum Soul-utions, which offers programs for “alternative learners” and was founded by Cynthia Fitzhugh, is leasing Cornerstone Montclair’s multipurpose space three Sundays a month, according to Lacey.
Lacey has worked as an investment banker, and had jobs at New York University and a number of nonprofits during her career. She is on the board of the New Jersey Coalition for Inclusive Education and is a member of the Township People With Disabilities Committee.
She is running a for-profit business, but said that “any profit is going to be put back into programming” for Cornerstone Montclair.