Tamakwa would be a much poorer place without Mr. Personality Plus

By Robert Sarner, The South Tea Echo, Fall 2006

For a camp to shine, it needs characters. Individuals who ooze with personality. Larger than life figures, who have a commanding presence, a great sense of humour, and a passion for what they do. People who love camp, love the shtick and, above all, love interacting with the kids and staff. In short, people who enhance the camp experience.

Tamakwa is fortunate for having always attracted its fair share of characters, and bringing out the best in them. In recent years, much to the benefit of camp, Jeff Avigian has been one of the leading characters at Tamakwa.

It's easy to understand why. Given his warmth, irrepressible energy and sense of decency, Jeff is a true people person. Top it all off with his caustic, shoot-from-the-hip humour in his unmistakable Massachusetts accent, and you get an idea of what Jeff contributes to the camp.

Jeff had never heard of Tamakwa nor even been to a summer camp until 2002 when he met Program Director Les Hartsman by chance at a casino in the Bahamas where both were on vacation. A few months later, Jeff began his Tamakwa career as Land Sports Director. He fit in immediately and quickly became one of the most popular staff members.

"I had a pretty easy time adjusting because everybody made me feel welcome," says Jeff, 35, who comes from Salem, just north of Boston. "It wasn't like I was segregated for being an American or for being non-Jewish. I really appreciated the way I was accepted when I first came here."

As a hardcore Boston Red Sox fan, his biggest adjustment at camp was not being able to watch his team during the summer. Jeff, who coaches sports teams in Boston and loves playing sports, (especially baseball), says the greatest shock in coming to Tamakwa was discovering how passionate Canadians are about hockey.

"I mean, it's the middle of July and Craig is making an announcement in the Dining Hall about [NHL player] Eric Lindros. I just couldn't believe it."

Before Tamakwa, Jeff spent most of his teenage summers playing or working at a golf course and then once he got out of college, he spent most summers going to the beach near his home. Now, he's almost a fixture at a camp.

"If I didn't like the campers, I wouldn't be at Tamakwa," says Jeff, who works as a high school math teacher in Danvers, Mass. "I spend 10 months of the year in the city working with kids. If I didn't like kids, I wouldn't be doing either job."

Jeff seems in his element at Tamakwa where he's anything but inhibited. "What I like about Tamakwa is that it's a place where I can act like a kid. It's important not to be afraid to make a fool of yourself. I've never thought to myself, 'Well, I should not do this or I shouldn't say that because of what people will think of me.' My attitude is just do what you want to do without worrying about what other people are thinking of you."

He certainly doesn't have to worry as far as Tamakwa is concerned, seeing how popular he is.

"Sometimes I do things or say things that I know are going to get a rise out of people, either a laugh or just stir the pot," says Jeff. "I enjoy stirring the pot just a little. As long as they enjoy it, that's what's important."

When pressed, Jeff admits that somewhere inside of him is a frustrated stand-up comedian trying to get out to perform, such as when he hosted the Saturday Night Live production at camp.

"About six or seven years ago, I actually thought seriously about becoming a comedian," says Jeff. "I went to a few 'open mic' nights in Boston and performed. I got a few laughs but nothing materialized."

After spending his first two summers at Tamakwa as Land Sports Director, he became Voyageur Section head in 2004 and 2005 before his most recent posting.

"This past summer as CIT Director was a real eye-opener," says Jeff. "It's the first time I really understood how hard CITs work. Without a doubt, they are the hardest working people at camp and I don't think they receive the credit they deserve."

Jeff says it's unlikely he'll be back next summer but, then again, he said pretty much the same thing in 2005 only to return for his fifth Tamakwa summer in 2006.

"I promised myself after 2005 that I would not come back," Jeff acknowledges. "I was just getting too old. It was getting too tough. There's no down time for me. Literally, the day I get out of school, I have to leave the next day for camp. Then when I get back from camp, I have to return to school the next day. If camp were shorter or my summers were longer, then maybe I could come back."

It's safe to say that most Tamakwans are hoping Jeff finds a way to be back at camp in 2007. It wouldn't be the same without him.

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