Hornet Perks serves us smiles

Students with disabilities run business of their own


The Hornet Perks coffee cart is stocked with carafes of hot coffee, a variety of milk and creamer, and an assortment of baked goods. Photo by Alice Adams.

Devon Helmer, Managing Editor

This previously ran in our December 2021 print issue.

It’s 7:15 a.m. in Alison Horner’s room, 315. In any other classroom, students would still be coming alive, stuck in their first-block haze; not this one. 

Instead, Horner’s students rush around, loading a rolling cart with baked goods, coffee carafes, and all the fix-ins needed for their customers to concoct a good cup of joe, preparing the cart to get their coffee service delivery-ready. 

They run a business called “Hornet Perks,” a traveling coffee cart operated by students with special needs. The cart has been in business for nearly the past 10 years, providing the student, teacher, and faculty populations of EHS with all their café desires. 

The coffee services provided by Horner’s students are available on any school day throughout the week. The coffee services can turn mobile at special request, but consistently do so via the use of their cart every Thursday during the school’s new Hornet Period. Throughout this time, Hornet Perks students take their cart to visit a multitude of locations, including the library, main office, and district offices.

Photo by Alice Adams.

Students of Horner’s, including freshman Derek Herman, enjoy their opportunity to work with the coffee cart.

“I don’t really have a favorite part, I like all of it.” said Herman. “I like the setup, but I prefer getting out of the classroom to deliver coffee.”

Similarly, senior Elizabeth Angelino also appreciates this delivery end of running the business.

“It’s a nice little break from class and work; I like being able to go out,” said Angelino, as she offers up flavored coffee and an assortment of pastries to prospective customers. “It gets us out of our seats.”

When running the cart, each student is assigned a specific role in operating the coffee service. Differing assignments for students include recording inventory and sales, handling the money, in addition to operating the elevator and opening doors for the cart to travel without a hitch. Students take turns performing each obligation, jobs rotating between students each time the cart operates. 

Horner emphasizes the importance of this, not only for organizational purposes, but for the students to gain experience in these areas for their futures.

“The idea is, the kids are doing the stocking, the inventory, counting the money,” Horner said. “We do it for the school purposes of getting used to doing some of those things they might have to do in a job someday.”

With having assigned responsibilities comes the possible pressure of working in a high-demand environment; Herman shares his experience with this. 

“For me, the [most stressful] part is rushing through everything and getting it ready,” Herman said.

The 2021-2022 school year marks the return of the coffee services after taking over a year break. The cart was forced to halt business due to the original March 2020 pandemic shutdown, and it took a year off due to the unprecedented school year. As a result of heightened virus concern, the cart has maintained sanitary conditions in order to meet heightened standards.

“We’ve always been really careful about hand sanitizer and making the cart self-serve,” Horner said. “We wipe everything down and sanitize everything every day.”

This school year also marks Horner’s first year leading the business. In her head role, Horner shares the responsibilities of the Hornet Perks business with fellow learning support teachers Amy McConlogue and Regan Palazzo. The three women take turns leading the cart, switching with each new school year. 

“Mrs. McConlogue, Mrs. Palazzo, and I work as a team; a lot of people don’t know the dimensions of this,” Horner said. “We’re three teachers, but we work as a team with primarily the same students. That’s why [the cart] rotates through each of us.”

Profits of the Hornet Perks service not only go toward the continuation of the business, but also benefit students in the learning support programs. 

“With the money that we make, we do fun things for the kids,” Horner said. “We do a picnic every spring; we do it over at the community park and we let the seniors survey and pick the menu.”

But their trips extend beyond East Penn.

“We’ve gone on field trips to Knoebels, The Philadelphia Zoo, The Franklin Institute, we’ve gone bowling, and before Christmas we [typically] go to the Lehigh Valley Mall,” she said. “Every year we used to go on a trip; but, since COVID, we haven’t done anything.” 

The question as to whether or not an end-of-year trip will be possible this year is still up in the air, given new COVID-related guidelines on field trips. Despite this, the Hornet Perks coffee service will continue to fill the coffee cups and hearts of Emmaus High School’s faculty, staff, students, and community members for the remainder of the 2021-2022 school year.