The Story of Discover Camp
The Story of Discover Camp
A reflection written by Anthony RichIn 2007 I resigned from my teaching position at a summer camp in Southern Westchester. Not everyone believed I could start my own summer camp but in the words of Maya Angelou, "You want me to do something...tell me I can't do it." My wife and I didn't have nearly enough money to start a camp but we were both working educators so we threw everything we had into Discover Camp. We worked through the night often because there just weren't enough hours in the day. That hard work has certainly paid off.
Below is a little history about Discover Camp that I've updated over the years. It gives you a peek into my life and shows you how my life experiences helped to build Discover Camp:
Nature or nurture. How do children become interested in hobbies? In my case I think it was a little of both. My father and grandfather both loved to tinker. They loved cars and anything mechanical. I can remember from a very early age watching them both work on their cars. We had slot cars in the basement, model trains, model airplanes etc. My favorite toy growing up was my LEGO set. I remember playing with them every day during a time when kits didn't come with step by step instructions. Imagine that, you had to use your imagination.
Throughout my childhood I continued to love hobbies. I frequented Elmsford Raceway slotcar track many weekends. Sometime in the late seventies I saw my first radio controlled car there. They had a large glass case which was loaded with beautiful cars that were like nothing I had ever seen. I wanted one. I remember very clearly when my mom gave me the Tamiya Radio Controlled Car catalog. I read it cover to cover hundreds of times and became an "expert" in the hobby. My best friend down the street became equally interested in RC cars. We knew they were expensive and didn't get our hopes up but we both asked for a Tamiya buggy anyway. Christmas morning, I was shocked to find several large boxes under the tree with my name on them. I knew what was covered by the festive paper. I tore the boxes open to behold the Tamiya Super Champ, a 1/10 scale replica of a baja buggy.
The story is told by my mom and dad that I took those boxes into the basement and emerged briefly for food, water and sleep. About four days later I emerged with the finished product. My friend and I drove our cars together for hours, stopping only for battery charges. For the rest of our holiday vacation we drove our cars from dawn to dusk and then cleaned them to new condition in the evening. It wasn't until the first car broke that I realized how important it was that I had built my own car. I could tear my car apart and rebuild any component with ease. Other friends in the neighborhood got cars too. For years those "toy" cars provided all of us with thousands of hours of enjoyment and kept us out of trouble. Until, we were old enough to drive.
My first car was a 1973 Buick and a 1970 Pontiac GTO was my second. It was not until I was an adult that I realized the effect hobbies had on my intellectual development. I tore those cars apart with no fear. Today I have no trepidation of projects. My wife and I bought an old house to fix up but ended up tearing it down and building a new house when we were just twenty six. I have taken on landscaping projects, finished my basement, stone walls, installed kitchens,built computers, rewired a boat, etc. I'm not afraid of anything. BUT, there are two common threads between all of these, reading and hands-on experience. That first Tamiya catalog opened my world to RC cars. Today, before I tackle a project I immerse myself first through magazines, books and the internet.
I became a teacher in 1994 after studying education at Pace University and Iona College. I taught second and third grade for eleven years before taking on my current role as a technology teacher in Eastchester. I started looking for summer camp work after my first year of teaching. I was hired to teach some courses at a camp in southern Westchester. I taught many classes over the next five years including rocketry, robotics and aeronautics and after five summers I came up with the idea of starting a radio controlled car class. I pulled those old cars out of the attic and did a demonstration. Unbelievably, those old Tamiya cars still ran perfectly. The whole camp went crazy! The kids had never seen anything like these. The very first year the classes filled and I knew I was onto something.
During the summer of 2002, I started my own hobby business, ASAO Incorporated. I booked a three day trip to California during a school vacation to meet with companies I was interested in buying from. Amazingly, Tamiya granted me the ability to purchase directly from them. Over the next three days, I opened accounts with twelve other companies. It was a surreal experience. I now had the power to control the supplies I needed to teach and work directly with manufacturers, something no one else was doing.
In the fall of 2007 I made a very difficult decision. I chose to leave the camp where I had spent the last thirteen years to begin my own program. Finding the ideal location close to my home made the decision easy. Over the years I had imagined a camp where children could explore their interests in various hobbies and technologies. I wanted to introduce children to my love of hobbies and lead children on a path to lifelong healthy passions. I hired the very best teachers that shared my enthusiasm but had their own individual interests. The first few years were very scary. I spent our life savings and tapped our home equity line. According to many books I've read since those early years I should have gone out of business but I was determined to make Discover Camp successful. For me, it never had anything to do with money. The camp became a hobby in itself. I was building something, taking it apart each year and rebuilding it better the next. Our registration was growing every year even during terrible economic times. Instead of taking a paycheck, I kept investing in the coolest equipment like robotics, new computers and cool technology tools like 3D printers and laser engravers.
Summer 2020 was a difficult year. We retooled the whole camp and opened safely. If my wife and I didn't have teaching positions we would have never survived the downturn.
Our camp has grown to over 100 different enrichment classes in Science, Arts, Technologies, Sports and Hands-on Hobbies. We employ a staff of about 100. I have accounts with the biggest names in the hobby industry and hobbies are still the lifeblood of Discover Camp. In 2016, Westchester Magazine honored us by naming us "Tops for Summer Tech."
I hope this history sheds some light on how my many hobbies, interests, professional career and businesses have evolved side by side. We're very proud of what we've created.
Thank you for taking the time to learn more about Discover Camp.