It all started with a truck. A really big one.
About six years ago, Angela De Vincenzo and Jeff Mayer were looking for a way to inspire and engage their then three-year-old son, Luca, who absolutely loved trucks, and who had to endure multiple surgeries since birth to correct a cleft palate. They decided Big Mama, a 1981 Kenworth 18-wheeler, would do the trick.
The next step was to figure out what to do with the truck they’d just bought. The family was living in Brooklyn at the time, and finding a place to keep an 18-wheel semi was no easy task.
“We found a place to store it in New Jersey, and instead of visiting a country house which we didn’t have, we went to visit Big Mama,” Ms. De Vincenzo said in an interview this week. “We saw what it did for Luca and his friends. One night my husband said, ‘We need to do something with this truck beyond our family. It’s so cool, so inspirational, and I think it can have a positive message and be a source of motivation for a lot of kids.’”
Ultimately, that vision turned the truck and its trailer into an educational block-building and art program. They began parking at the Hayground School in Bridgehampton in 2015 for summer camps, and later expanded to include bike-riding lessons on a custom-built track. And fast forward to last week, when Ms. De Vincenzo and Mr. Mayer opened the doors on Blocks, Trucks + Art, a brick-and-mortar studio on Sag Harbor’s Washington Street that will be the wintertime home base for their programs while Big Mama anchors their summer camp activities at Hayground.
“What we tell Luca is when you work really hard, and you believe in something, you do what you have to do and keep on truckin’,” Ms. De Vincenzo said. “That has been our family motto since day one. It’s emblazoned on the side of our trailer. The universe, I really feel, has been on our side and I think we’re doing work that we’re meant to be doing.”
She explained at Blocks, Trucks + Art, that work is based on three “domains” — creativity, academics and physicality.
Creativity means working with different multi-sensory materials, from the wooden blocks Ms. De Vincenzo uses to lead children’s workshops, to traditional fine art media shared by professional visiting artists, to the music recordings that Mr. Mayer makes while teaching kids how to mix in a real deejay booth.
Academics means Ms. De Vincenzo has an outlet to share her background as an educator for more than 20 years. She consults with parents and tutors students in literacy, math and “executive functioning,” which refers to helping children organize and plan their learning experiences.
“This isn’t a space where people can come in for open play, per se, but this is a place where kids can work with integrity and guidance,” Ms. De Vincenzo said. “There’s more instruction, but there’s still all this open ended-ness.”
Physicality is Mr. Mayer’s area of expertise. A former professional BMX athlete who toured the United States for more than 20 years riding bikes, he teaches children how to ride safely — without training wheels — and how to challenge themselves physically.
Their Washington Street location, formerly home to the Grenning Gallery, features a bright and airy activity space, a woodworking area, a library, a deejay booth, tables and chairs for gathering and even an outdoor patio. The space will also be a gallery for Mr. Mayer’s art as well as that of visiting artists who lead activities and the students who take part.
Also, there’s a rule: no cellphones or other tech devices during programs. Mr. Mayer, who used to work in marketing for a video game company, knows all too well the power they can have.
“I didn’t want to be part of the problem,” he said. “I left that to be here with Angela. I think the video games are taking kids from being social.”
Doug Weitz, the co-director of Hayground’s summer camp, said Ms. De Vincenzo and Mr. Mayer are great people who have started something truly unique — something that’s “needed,” he said.
“I think it’s a good fit in a sense that there’s nothing else like it,” Mr. Weitz said. “They clearly believe in something larger than themselves, which is incredibly inspiring. They are really dedicated to what they are trying to do, and I admire that.”
Ms. De Vincenzo said the goal is to promote “a hands-on social experience.”
“It’s always been a point of contention for us that we had to stop work at Hayground in the fall and go back to the city,” she said. “We would lose the momentum and the magic of what we were doing out here in the summer.”
“The families would tell us, ‘You need to be here year round, do this year round, there’s nothing here for the kids in the winter,’” Mr. Mayer added.
Blocks, Trucks + Art offers individual workshops and annual memberships, and with every “gold” level membership — a full-access package valued at $10,000 that also includes a bicycle — the owners give two scholarships to underprivileged children who might not otherwise be able to take part in their programs.
“You never know what it’s going to be, but it’s going to be fun,” Mr. Mayer said. “Fun, I think, is what’s missing from a lot of the world right now.”
As for Luca, who goes to school at Sag Harbor Elementary, trucks are still a huge priority — but he also gives his parents’ new workspace a glowing grade.
“It’s awesome,” he said.