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Our 2017 Derby was filmed and edited by Spencer Gordon www.spencergordon.com for Koko NYC and TechForce Foundation www.techforcefoundation.org

Every August for the past 10 years, the South Slope Derby has wowed spectators on 17th street between 5th and 6th in front of  Open Source Gallery (306 17th Street, South Slope).

The Camp

Soap Box Summer Workshops encourage children to think outside the box. Over the course of the workshop, participants turn piles of seemingly useless trash into functional eco-friendly soap box cars while learning about construction and design and, more importantly, having fun. Our campers plan their inventions using sketches and calculations, bringing them to life with found and recycled objects. Under the strict supervision of our watchful counselors, students are introduced to a variety of tools, from the basic nails, hammers, and hand saws to drills, screws and power sanders. Time is spent outside collecting found objects and additional building materials, and the cars are tested at each stage. During the lunch hour the kids have the option for time at the playground to eat and have free play, or to continue work on their cars.

Kids can come for multiple weeks or just one week! Everyone makes a car and help prepare for the race! All cars “compete” in the final South Slope Derby at the end of August.

The Race 

The workshop culminates in the annual South Slope Derby on 17th Street in South Slope, Brooklyn (the same street as Open Source Gallery) – participants, families, friends, and neighbors and invited to the race and all are encouraged to participate.


A letter from one of our campers:

Hello, I am Gabriel Thompson, and I love Soap Box. It’s a nice and friendly small camp that builds a community of friends. Let me tell you how I found and love this camp and organization, by starting with the beginning.

It must have been the summer I moved or the summer after when me and my dad were going and wandering around, on a sunny day. Then we looked at the end of the block and saw a crowd. So, we naturally wandered towards the crowd, looking at the event. Then my dad said something like “Woah. Where did they get those.” I had no idea if I was looking at the crowd, or wondering what he was talking about, but suddenly my dad picked me up and then I saw one of the most dream-like things in my life.

There were maybe 20 kids — 2 or so years older than me riding on pieces of wood with circles on the bottom! Wait — let me make the connection — those look like miniature wooden cars! I was immediately in awe and said I wanted to ride on the wood. Of course, I wasn’t able to. After, we found out something that made the whole situation a thousand times crazier. They built the cars. The kids. Kids — the people that sit in the back seat of cars — can build their own cars? What? And what’s more, there was a summer camp that you could go to, where you build the karts.

This got me going. I wanted to sign up for the summer camp instantly. And then we found out that the camp was 7 and older. I was very disappointed. But I wouldn’t sit down. I would go home, and build. My first attempt: build a 10,000 mph roller coaster out of cardboard boxes! Well, obviously that failed as my optimistic ridiculous 5-year-old self. But that wasn’t the embarrassing ending. I learned how to use tools. Not just the toys, power drills and saws, hammers, mallets, screwdrivers, and more. And that variety grew exponentially wider and wider until I was my own handyman.

And then I turned 7.

The year! I could finally build a car! And that summer, I enrolled in Soap Box Derby camp. I imagined a 10,000 mph roller coaster out of cardboard boxes! Wait — already tried that. Nope. But I made a design. Got a blueprint. And I was ready. That day, I came home and told my parents all about it. The plan. The friends. The mind-blowingly chill people who were not like teachers, but like a friend.

In one week, my go-kart fantasy was a reality. And in 5 days, I had had the time of my life. I went the next year. And the next. And the next.

So I end here.


Gabriel Thompson
Camper, age 11.

Our Derby has been a staple of the neighborhood for a decade. Leading up to the race, kids test drive their gravity racers, ensuring the safety and functionality of each invention. At the Derby participants get to race their cars for real as friends, families, and neighbors cheer them on as they race down the street.

The South Slope Derby has received rave reviews over from publications such as the New York Times, Brooklyn Paper, New York Daily News, DNAinfo and many more!