Danny Gay, summer camp director, demonstrates how to make crystals during a STEM related activity at the YWCA in Lewiston. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — Enrollment at the YWCA of Central Maine is down, because it has to be.

With COVID-19, the YW cannot serve as many kids at once as it used to. And the number of field trips is down. It takes twice as many buses, and twice the expense, if places are even open to visit.

But the East Avenue Olympics are on.

A javelin toss with pool noodles. Soccer. Volleyball. A soaked sponge relay.

For Danny Gay, it is a balance of adapting to the times, letting kids be kids and keeping everyone, including himself, busy.

He is a fourth-grade teacher in Leeds, a theater teacher in Monmouth and the YW’s new summer camp director.

“Keeping active is something that I really need,” said Gay, 32. “That was really a struggle the last few months, staying home all the time. I’m happy to be out and working with school-age students again and seeing them learning.”

Danny Gay, summer camp director, dips his initials into a solution of water and Borax during a crystal making demonstration at the YWCA in Lewiston. Children used pipe cleaners to make their initials. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Gay started his career at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston, teaching English language learners for six years after graduating from the University of Southern Maine with a bachelor’s degree in theater and arts and master’s degree in elementary education.

“I was interested in working with students from different cultures,” he said, “and it was also kind of a way to get my foot in the door in terms of getting a teaching position out of college.”

He taught in its summer school program, which “we kind of ran like a summer camp, so it was academic-based, but we did a lot of fun activities.”

Gay also stayed close to his theater roots, joining the board of directors for the Monmouth Community Players, acting in plays and starting an education program for kids two years ago.

“We get a lot of younger kids that are interested, sometimes even more than big kids, so we’re starting to try to develop a way to split them up into different groups so we can work with the different needs that they have,” he said. “I just love working with the kids and getting to know them, seeing them develop skills as they get older and stay with the program, hopefully.”

He started teaching fourth grade at Leeds Central School last year, and in March, like everyone else, his classroom was upended with new remote teaching challenges.

“The Y summer camp director was kind of an opportunity to do a lot of what I was doing, but do it in a new setting,” Gay said. “I think this summer is definitely unique. They were out of school from March to June right before they came to summer camp, so I think that need for structure has definitely been missing for some of them. The biggest challenge obviously is we’re really more confined to our own space.”

In a typical year, the camp serves 50 to 70 children, ages 5 to 12. This year, it is capped at 45.

As director, Gay develops schedules and programming, helps train staff and organizes field trips, which this summer have been in-house more often than not: A movie screening followed by a scavenger hunt, a visit from Mad Science of Maine followed by STEM activities.

There are weekly themes as well as the overarching theme of the Olympics, which had been slated for this summer in Japan.

“We have the kids doing different Olympic games where they can earn points,” Gay said. “It’s trying to kind of incorporate team building and competitiveness with the rest of the summer.

“One lesson I’ve learned is that transitions are really difficult for kids, especially given everything that’s going on right now. Going from not having a lot of structure to having a very structured day everyday has definitely been a tough transition, but I think at the end of the day, our goals are just to kind of have fun and do the best that we can with what we have to work with.”


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