Students prepare to open ‘Next Chapter’ bookstore at Trumbull Center

TRUMBULL — Luis Contreras has held multiple jobs during his time with Trumbull’s ELITE program.

ELITE — which stands for Educating Learners in Transition Environments — provides services, including job training and work opportunities, for students with disabilities. ELITE has allowed Contreras, 18, to work various places, doing such jobs as folding clothes or sorting CDs and DVDs.

But he’s really excited about his latest job, with Next Chapter Books, ELITE’s new student-run used bookstore and coffee shop, which is slated to open soon at 2 Daniels Farms Road. The shop aims to provide students with special needs with work experience that’s a bit more tailored to their talents and skill sets than other positions they’ve taken, said John Wrobel, a program manager with ELITE.

“When we go to other businesses, we just kind of do what they need us to,” Wrobel said. “But here (at the bookstore) we can really tailor jobs to the student.”

For instance, Contreras is a talented artist and is good at web design, so he’s been charged with managing the store’s social media and decorating a sandwich board in the front of the store to advertise events, specials and the like.

“I think the store’s going to be great,” he said.

The store was originally slated to open in early December, but got pushed back, largely due to supply chain issues, said Barbara Beaman, coordinator of special education for Trumbull’s schools. She didn’t know exactly when the store will open, but hopes it will happen within the next few weeks.

Some supplies still need to be delivered, including some shelves. Also, some of the equipment for the coffee bar had only recently arrived.

However, on a recent Tuesday afternoon, the store looked nearly ready for business, with bookshelves loaded with books, all of which have been donated. A children’s reading area was set up in the back of the store, and a stack of Next Chapter Books T-shirts occupied a shelf near the front of the store.

The whole idea is for Next Chapter to be a place where students can learn the ins and outs of running a business, Beaman said.

“We wanted a place that would serve as a hub for students, but also provide them with authentic work experience,” she said.

Students are already being trained in various aspects of the bookstore business, such as operating the cash register, organizing the books and deciding which donations are in good enough condition to sell. Robin Luther, a special educator with ELITE, said students have been given a “quality checklist” and told to look for such flaws as torn pages or writing in the book.

Though the store isn’t yet open, there have been “pop-up” versions of the store at the high school “to give the students some practice,” Luther said.

In addition to Contreras, ELITE students planning to work at the store include 20-year-old Sophie Polatsek. Polatsek hopes to be an administrative assistant one day, and Wrobel said she has a good eye for detail. She’s been doing inventory for Next Chapter Books, which Wrobel said is a great use of her organizational skills.

“I think we’ve done a lot of hard work on stocking the shelves and making sure that it looks good and it’s ready for the grand opening,” Polatsek said. “I think we’ve done a lot of good work on it.”

Information on the store’s grand opening, and on how to donate, will soon be available on the ELITE web site, https://www.trumbullps.org/schools/elite.html.