July 11, 2016

15 years at Arowhon, by Jonathan Newman, Program Director

Two nights ago, at the first campfire of 2016, where the entire camp gathered to sing songs and listen to each other perform songs and skits both soulful and funny, Jonathan Newman was honoured with the gift of a half an Arowhon canoe made into a bookshelf. He made a speech about his 15 years at camp. There was hardly a dry eye ’round the campfire circle after Newman spoke. Here is his speech:

This speech is mostly a collection of stories about me crying and wetting the bed.

My first year at camp I wet the bed 3 times. The first two times it was because I was nervous about being in a new place and I was too scared to get out of my bed and go to the bathroom. Going in the dark was much too scary. The last time I think I did it was because I wanted the attention. Each time I wet the bed I woke up my counsellor who I felt like I could trust and who would help me change my sheets. His name was Brahm Yachnin. I was a junior boy who loved windsurfing, hated showering, lost all my socks and was pretty homesick. Every night Brahm would sit on my bed and read me a story, just like my mom did at home. Sure enough, before I knew it I wasn’t homesick anymore and I got my thirds in windsurfing!

Fast forward a couple of summers. By then I was an inter boy who changed his mind and got obsessed with sailing. That summer I told my friend in my cabin that I had a crush on one of the inter girls. Sure enough he revealed my secret to the world and my nightmare came true. The girl didn’t like me back and actually liked someone else from another cabin. That kid found out too and him and other people in the section made fun of me! I felt like my heart got ripped out of my chest. I didn’t know what to do, but luckily enough I had a counsellor named Ian Crinkley. Crinkley could do it all. He was funny, always happy, really nice, smart, and was good at every sport and activity. I thought he was superman.

When this traumatic experience occured, he noticed right away and asked the head sail instructor named Adam Popper if him and I could go sailing at rest hour and we went out just the two of us. I was so happy. Eventually he asked me about what happened with the inter girl. I confessed what happened and he just sat there and listened to me while I talked and cried. I never in my life had someone take an hour out of their day to just listen to me. I’ll never forget that.

Fast forward another 2 years and I’m a 14 year old point large. Alex Migicovsky was a year older than me and he was going for his 1sts in tennis. I wasn’t really close with him, but the section sat together and watched his test. Zach Sutton, the head tennis at the time told him that he failed. Alex was so upset and I felt so badly for him. That night, the whole section was sitting on the dock for a point initiation. Someone in a kayak paddled to the dock wearing a hood, and our section head named Chippy told us that one by one we would get into the kayak and meet with this wise myseterious man. The first to be called to the kayak was Alex Migicovsky and as soon as he got into the boat, Zach Sutton pulled off his hood and tipped the kayak. It turned out Zach faked out him out, and Alex got his 1sts! We did the loudest point cheer together on the dock. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t that close to Alex, that the dock was sinking, that I couldn’t hear myself scream because I lost my voice, or that I had tears rolling down my cheeks. All that mattered was that I was part of a brotherhood; one of support, friendship and love.

All of those experiences had a big impact on me and I really liked being a camper. But those experiences are not actually what made me stay here for 15 years. 5 years ago during my 10-year jacket speech I mentioned that at camp I went from being Jonathan (my old shy self) to Newman (the guy that you’re seeing right now speaking in front of all of you and the goofy one hosting campfire). When Jonathan really became Newman was the first time he sat on my his camper’s bed to talk about what was hard about being away from home for the first time, and helped change his camper’s sheets when they wet the bed. He became Newman when he took out a camper who was petrified of sailing at rest hour and helped them conquer their fear. He became Newman when he got to push a kid in the water for the first time for getting their seconds and feel the butterflies of accomplishment that they felt as they got paraded around the Main Lodge.

All these experiences on staff had one thing in common. I didn’t have time to worry about my own insecurity, fear, or shyness. Someone needed me, and I had to put those needs before my own. Just like my staff did for me, I did my best to pay it forward. Now I get to watch my campers who are 2nd year counsellors today be those role models and leaders. I get to watch my LITs become senior staff and lead other staff and campers. There’s nothing that can describe that feeling.

I can’t pinpoint a reason why I’ve been here so long. But I can tell you one thing. Who I am today has been shaped by all of you. And I like who I am today. I like that I make mistakes, have fears, and that I’m not perfect. I owe that to you. You picked me up when I was down, pushed me out of my comfort zone, caught me when I fell, and went out of your way to do something special for me (looking at you Tess). You asked me what you could do to help, told me something special about myself, asked me about my high and low of the day, and cared when I told you. You called my name across the dining hall. You needed me as much as I’ve needed you. And this whole time you’ve cared and you really listened. And you’ve let me care and listen to you. So thank you Camp Arowhon. Thank you for 15 years.

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