Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Friday, February 19, 1999

Winners’ Camp needs
a permanent home

DELORESE Gregoire was visibly nervous on Tuesday, but she didn't have to be. There are few people with more spunk, vocal enthusiasm and positive energy than the founding director of Winners' Camp, a nonprofit educational program for young adults in Hawaii.

Yet there she was on stage -- in front of her own Rotary Club, the Honolulu chapter that meets each week at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel -- because her mission was a dear one: ensuring that the camp continues to churn out winners.

That has been its accomplishment since 1985, when Delorese started the accelerated learning course for exceptional, average and at-risk teens that has been dubbed "among the most effective business-supported education improvement projects in the nation."

A one-week stay at Winners' Camp can help island youngsters build an irreversible sense of self-worth, while in the midst of the most difficult transitory period of their lives.

Despite their growing pains, they learn to improve their social, communication and cooperation skills. They reap the values of respect and resourcefulness. They learn how to lead and give back to the community.

They become aware of the need to excel in academics or, as Delorese puts it, "increasing (their) awareness of becoming an educated person with an enthusiasm for learning and enhancing family allegiance."

Winners' Camp graduate and volunteer Kyle Margenau described the experience in a Feb. 15 Rant & Rave column: "We spend camp time having fun while learning teamwork. Over the course of the one-week program, three or four days are spent out on the ropes courses. These events are not easy without teamwork, and it takes awhile for that idea to sink in. There's always one person who doesn't want to participate and it creates a lot of stress. Sounds like real life, doesn't it?"

In essence, Winners' Camp does the seemingly impossible: It strives to transform rebellious, out-of-control, awkward, insecure teen-agers into the beautiful, responsible, caring people they are deep-down inside.

It teaches them trust -- in their parents, in those around them and, most important, in themselves. It's an executive motivational training seminar for the teen generation. It's an upbeat breeding ground for the taxpayers, parents and adults of tomorrow.

Yet Winners' Camp, with 8,000 graduates, is an orphan. During non-recessionary times, its sessions were scheduled three to six times a year. First, they were held at the Sheraton Makaha; then on the Garden Island at the Kauai Beachboy. Now Winners' Camp is set at Kahili Mountain Park and Adventist School on Kauai, where its August 1999 gathering is scheduled.

But with no permanent headquarters to call its own, Winners' Camp has been at the mercy of host sites. So, as Delorese told her fellow Rotarians on Tuesday, "It's time for this program to grow up."

NUMBER one on the agenda is finding the land -- preferably a donated 2.5 acres in the Waialua, Makaha or Waianae areas -- and then raising enough money to build a permanent camping facility that would be self-supporting with paid staff.

Even if Delorese is in awe of the daunting task before her, she is even more overwhelmed by an enthusiasm for the challenge. Just think -- if more angst-filled teens could receive the guidance and positive role-modeling they need at this point of their tumultuous existence, what a better Hawaii this could be!

This state can always use more winners.

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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