By Annette Hinkle
Juan Castro, the executive director of the YMCA East Hampton RECenter who, after 40 years with the YMCA, retires this Friday, September 13.
How long have you been at the East Hampton Y
I’ve been here in East Hampton since 2004 – but I’ve been with the Y since 1973.
Where were you before coming out here?
New York City – at the West Side Y, the Eastern District Y, the Twelve Town Center Y in North Brooklyn. For 25 years I was in Brooklyn.
How did you get involved in the Y?
I started in high school. I was looking to be trained in gymnastics and the only place I could get that was at a Y in Queens. Out of college I became full time around 1973 – I was the head of the health and fitness department in Manhattan.
And it ended up being a career.
It was either going to be teaching or Y work. In the old days, it’s illegal now, potential employers used to give you psychological tests. They gave you four exams – the intention was to wear you out. Every 400 questions or so they’d repeat the question in a different way.
Sounds like waterboarding.
It is like waterboarding. I finished one of those tests —they had a list of about 500 different jobs and would take your results and have the computer check off and match it against a score sheet of things like doctor, lawyer, general, typist.
Mine came out that I would be a very good executive director of a YMCA — we are a type. And now you know why they’ve outlawed these exams.
There must be a big difference between working at Ys in East Hampton and New York City
There’s a big difference from one Y to another just in New York City. Some are located in middle class communities, some in very poor communities and they all have to survive. The New York City Ys share resources with the wealthy ones subsidizing the poorer.
In Brooklyn the facility was a converted courthouse. The basement still had the cells and across the street was the police precinct. The Clinton Youth Center was also a converted courthouse — the showers and lockers were the old cells. Next door was the precinct and every day, people would be walking by pulling teens in shackles into the precinct.
Now there’s a cautionary tale for the young men of the YMCA. So what did you think when you ended up at the Y in East Hampton?
I thought they’re sending me for R&R. No more courthouses, no more New York housing facilities, no more breaking up gang wars.
Who are the biggest users of the Y?
Our two largest populations are people under the age of 19 — 48 percent – and about 30 percent over the age of 58. The remainder is everyone else. It matches the issues with the economy – most parents are very busy making a living instead of engaging in recreation. That’s a trend across the country and has been going on a long time.
What have you done to help serve that middle population?
They like the cardio — the Zumba classes, stretching classes, fitness. We also have TRX and our swimming program is huge.
Especially among kids, right?
Swimming is off the scale – it’s part of the curriculum at Sag Harbor Elementary, and the East Hampton High School swim team is here, then there’s the lifeguards of East Hampton, which is a huge program.
The important thing to know is every kid in East Hampton gets a membership to the Y. There’s really an understanding we have a poor community, a struggling working community and programs like affordable summer camp is important.
So now that you’re retiring, what’s next?
I built a house in South Carolina. I still have a place here. I’m not even going to think about working for nine months
What about working out?
More than ever!