In the summer, Megan Guynes ’11 is “pretty much everywhere,” she says. She runs a sprawling summer youth program in Lewiston. She works with children at Christ Temple Church in Auburn, and she’s heavily involved in the state music and theater scenes.
“The energy and the vibe make Maine summer special,” she says. “It feels different in the summer. There’s more people that are out, the attitudes are different, pressures are lower, and people are more carefree. I love that, being able to just be free. It’s not always easy, when you have life going on, to just let go and release.”
Guynes, who is from Los Angeles, is the program director of Tree Street Youth, a center founded by Bates graduates Julia Sleeper ’08 and Kim Sullivan ’13 that serves primarily immigrant and refugee children in Lewiston’s downtown Tree Streets neighborhood.
In the summer she organizes free camps for up to 150 kids a day, aimed at halting “summer slide,” when students forget what they learned during the school year.
My Maine Summer
From Kennebunk to Katahdin, from lobsters to lakes, we offer My Maine Summer — profiles of alumni whose work, play, and family life has a distinctive Maine-in-summer vibe.
Even over the phone, Guynes’ love for the “kiddos” she sees every day is radiant.
“What we’ve been able to do over time is get to know them as individuals and meet them where they are,” she says.
But this particular summer is bittersweet. After working at Tree Street Youth in a variety of roles since 2012, she is leaving the center this week to pursue music full-time in Portland, Maine.
“It’s really hard to go, because we have so many memories together,” she says. “I’ve literally known the kids since they were in first grade, and I’ve watched them grow up and known their families. I’ve been able to reach a point where you’re so connected that you feel it when someone’s not around.
“They will forever be in my heart and I’m never too far. I love that I get to share this moment with them as they’ve shared so many of their special moments with me.”
At what point does summer begin? When does it end?
End of May, early June, I’m thinking, “Summer’s on its way” — but sometimes June is a little funny. At the end of August, beginning of September, summer is on its way out. We had our two months of glory.
Do you look forward to summer?
Definitely, definitely, definitely! I love summers in Maine. I think it’s really cool that you’re able to be one with nature and have so much natural scenery around you, whether it’s mountains or trees or wooded areas. There’s so many cool things to do — bridge jumping, kayaking, skydiving. You can do that pretty much anywhere in the world, but it’s different here because you have the nature aspect of it. It’s authentic. It’s not as hampered with big buildings or city skylines and all the things the world has become.
In the summer, do you spend much time in an office, or are you out with the kids?
I’m pretty much everywhere. There are office-based things that are necessary to run the camp, but mostly I spend my time with the kiddos, because that’s when you form relationships, when you’re building bonds.
This year I started this thing called Circle of Love. It’s a time when we can get together, go over the day, and build the connectivity and the energy and the bond between the kiddos, interns, and staff. We can be one well-oiled machine navigating throughout the different classes and random episodes of behaviors that may happen. When kids get cuts and bruises, they always know they have someone.
We also do something called Confident Fridays. There’s one person that goes in the middle of a circle, and everyone around says something they value about them or they love about them. It’s super cute.
What is the most rewarding part of your job during the summer?
Being with the kiddos, man! Just being around the vibe and energy of Tree and the people that I work with. I think that’s really rewarding because everything is so different. There are some days that present challenges that you have to navigate, and there are certain days that are incredibly amazing and just leave you on a high that’s ethereal. You get something new every day, and you’re able to find out new nuggets about different people every day.
What do you do outside of work during the summer?
I love music and the arts and theater, and I do a lot of that. I’ve done stuff with the Maine State Music Theater this summer. At one point I did a production with Jonathan Schwolsky ’15 and his company, Egg Salad Production. I hang out with friends and family when I can, I go to church every weekend and do a lot with the youth at my church as well, and I really just try to enjoy every moment as much as possible.
How is life different in the summer from the rest of the year?
You can do more outdoors. You’re not so bogged down by the cold and your hands turning black and blue. I don’t like the cold that much. Sunshine and blue skies is what I love.
Do you see different types of people during the summer than during the rest of the year?
Maybe, but I feel like everyone changes in the summer in general. You’re less grumpy, you’re not freezing, you have more smiles, you have more of a pep in your step. Across the board, people shift their frame of thought and how they interact with the world around them in the summertime, when you’re in Maine.
Have summers changed for you since you started living in Maine?
No. I feel like every summer gets better because I discover something new, whether it’s about myself or someone that I’ve been hanging with for a while or something new about the area that I didn’t know before. That’s really cool that it’s endless. Something is always happening.