Gurney's Inn
August 16, 2006

Riverhead Business Backs Camp

When private industry steps up to the civic-minded plate, sometimes it's a grand slam win for the good guys.

Such is the case in Riverhead, where South Bay Apparel owner Douglas Dey had a dream: He got the idea of turning the grounds of his factory into a summer camp where kids could engage in sports and other safe recreational activities, all at no cost to parents.

Children between the ages of 6 and 11 have been attending Dey's camp since mid-July, and judging from the scores of kids who turn up each day for baseball, soccer, lacrosse and other activities, Dey's idea was a no-brainer.

"I believe business should give back to the community," said Dey. "I remember how much fun I had in my youth playing ball during the summer, and I see the need for a camp like this in Riverhead."

Dey invited the media to the camp for a tour last week, so the community could see firsthand how private businesses reaching out to the public can bring about positive change.

When first proposed to the Riverhead Town Board back in April, some council members expressed hesitance allowing such a use at Enterprise Park in Calverton.

Councilwoman Barbara Blass had reservations about the plan, explaining that zoning is not permitted for outside activities at EPCAL except for staff and employees.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Phil Cardinale said that as long as no money would be made by Dey, and that no zoning was going to change because of the camp, the idea could be considered. "If they were going to make $150,000, it would erode the conclusion this board had come to that outdoor activity is not permitted in an industrial park," said Cardinale.

The supervisor explained the camp could be permitted under an Article 90 exception, which would allow operation for up to eight weeks as a special exception.

Camp Director Ray Garafola said the camp is funded entirely by Dey, and thanked the board for allowing the camp to move forward. "The town gave us a break," he said.

And it's a move that's paid off big time, according to Garafola, with the kids reaping big-time rewards. "It really gives them an outlet," he said. And parents benefit, too. "We have one woman who has six-year-old triplets," said Garafola. "She said it's the first time she's felt safe leaving the kids. And she couldn't have afforded to send them to camp otherwise."

Approximately 150-175 children signed up for the program, with "roughly about 100 kids" showing up each day. Because it's free, kids are able to come when they want during camp hours, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

With the camp scheduled to end on August 24, Garafola said it's been a rewarding experience. Not only do the kids benefit from the full slate of sports activities, but they're getting hands-on training from professionals.

Safety has been of utmost concern, with a sports trainer and EMT on site, and every staff member is trained for CPR.

The program also offers special events, such as presentations by law enforcement officials on crime and gang violence prevention; a visit by the K-9 patrol was expected on Tuesday.

Even during the recent heat spell, kids were kept cool and entertained inside with movie rentals and coloring books.

Garafola applauded Dey's altruistic efforts. "If every business gave back to the community this way, it would be a better world," he said, adding the adults will be sorry to see camp end for the summer. "I think we're having more fun than the kids."

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