The Montclair Art Museum kitchen was bustling with activity on a recent Friday morning — coffee was brewing, frozen cookies and croissants were thawing, timers were dinging, and oven mitts were flying on and off hands.

Behind it all was the Cornerstone Cafe team.

Cornerstone Cafe opened Nov. 4 as an extension of Cornerstone Montclair, a local business that works “with a vision of a community in which people of all abilities have opportunities for meaningful work, social engagement and active lifestyles,” according to its website.

The cafe, located inside the Art Museum, is staffed by members of the Montclair High School Transition program, which helps students with special needs find job opportunities in the community, and members of the Jewish Vocational Service of Metrowest. Two Transition members work in the morning and two Metrowest members relieve them for the afternoon shift.

The Cornerstone Cafe is just one of about 25 partnerships in town between local businesses and the Transition program, helping to get 18- to 21-year-old students ready for the workforce, Transition coordinator Kate Stanton Paule said. The goal of the program is to find permanent employment for members, and also to build community connections and an understanding of how to move around town, she said. 

Montclair High School Transition program participants Jennifer Adleman, left, and Zoe Henry with Transition coordinators Kate Stanton Paule, center, and Leslie Wallace at Cornerstone Cafe Nov. 18. (KATE ALBRIGHT/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Montclair High School Transition program participants Jennifer Adleman, left, and Zoe Henry with Transition coordinators Kate Stanton Paule, center, and Leslie Wallace at Cornerstone Cafe Nov. 18. (KATE ALBRIGHT/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
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Stanton Paule has taught members how to use Uber and Lyft and how to ride the bus, she said. One of the cafe employees, Zoe Henry, used to rely on the school district for transportation, but now she walks and takes the bus everywhere.

“She’s confident and she knows how to do it,” Stanton Paule said.

The partnerships are guided by what the students are interested in, she said. 

“Some students have no idea — like how I was at 18 — so we’ll offer them different possibilities,” she said.

When students with developmental disabilities leave the school district, they move under the umbrella of Essex County adult services, where each case manager has a huge caseload, Stanton Paule said. In the Transition program, members get a really individualized experience, she said. 

Stanton Paule, along with Transition coordinator Leslie Wallace, assisted the Transition students with the cafe operations on Friday.

Henry, a cafe employee and member of the Transition program, spent the morning baking cookies and croissants, and ringing up customers.

“It’s my dream to work at a coffee shop,” she said. “I love it.”

Zoe Henry, a member of the Montclair High School Transition program, preps for the opening of Cornerstone Café on Nov. 18. (KATE ALBRIGHT/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Zoe Henry, a member of the Montclair High School Transition program, preps for the opening of Cornerstone Café on Nov. 18. (KATE ALBRIGHT/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
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She has had two previous jobs, but says working at Cornerstone Cafe has been her favorite. She likes the people she works with, she likes handing out croissants to customers, and she likes learning new things. 

Jennifer Adleman, another cafe employee and member of the Transition program, was on drink duty Friday, pouring teas, making lattes and handing out orders. Her favorite part of the job is making the drinks, she said.

“When I order drinks, I always like to see how they’re made,” Adleman said. “It’s fun that I get to do it in person.”

Her favorite drink to make is tea, she said. 

Jennifer Adleman, a Montclair High School Transition program participant, takes an order from customer Leslie Weiss Kunkin with the help of Transition Coordinator Leslie Wallace at Cornerstone Café on Nov. 18. (KATE ALBRIGHT/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Jennifer Adleman, a Montclair High School Transition program participant, takes an order from customer Leslie Weiss Kunkin with the help of Transition Coordinator Leslie Wallace at Cornerstone Café on Nov. 18. (KATE ALBRIGHT/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
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The cafe is one of three jobs Adleman will be working this winter. She works at The Sky’s the Limit, the St. James Episcopal Church thrift shop, sorting through donations, helping customers and setting up holiday displays, and she starts at Mountainside Medical Center after Thanksgiving, in customer support.

“It’s better than being on your phone all day,” Adleman said of her three jobs. “It’s adult life.”

The cafe crowd on Friday was made up of museum staff and visitors, said Melissa Casale, the museum’s digital marketing specialist. The cafe is located by the back entrance to the museum, right off the parking lot, so visitors pass by on their way to the galleries and grab a drink, she said. 

Drinks cannot be brought into the gallery spaces, but they are allowed in the museum lobby and on the third floor in the remote work space. 

Customer Hong Kim said Friday he’d learned of the cafe on the museum’s website. Having the cafe in the museum makes his life easier, saving him a stop at a different coffee shop, he said.

“It provides a place to relax and reflect,” Kim said. 

The cafe offers coffee, tea and pastries and features a lounge area for customers. The coffee is sourced from Java Love Roasting Co., and museum members receive a 10% discount on their purchases. The cafe is open Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Cornerstone Cafe, located in the Montclair Art Museum, is staffed by members of the Montclair High School Transition program, which helps students with special needs find job opportunities in the community, and members of the Jewish Vocational Service of Metrowest.