Maria Simich was always a good, smart kid, according to her mom, Maryellen Markley.
Winners Camp brings
lasting change to many
By Stephanie Kendrick
But the older -- and taller -- she got, the more she dreaded going to school. At the age of 12, she was 5-feet, 10-inches tall and her self-esteem was at a low point.
"You know, I'm a psychologist and it broke my heart," said Markley, director of the All Star Sports and Therapy Center.
Taking the advice of family friends, Markley encouraged her daughter to attend Winners Camp. It made such a difference in her life, Simich began volunteering as a peer counselor at her school and goes back to Winners Camp as a teen leader.
"You learn a lot of skills you don't get anywhere else," said Simich.
And her academic life blossomed.
"After Winners Camp she gets up in front of the class and she talks and her teachers are just wowed," said Markley.
"Before, she knew the answers, but she was just afraid, you know, 'what if I make a fool of myself.'
"It just has been a life changing experience for her," said Markley, who is now on the organization's board.
Adult and peer leaders work with teens at Winners Camp in hands-on exercises designed to foster teamwork, personal responsibility and leadership.
Amber Moorehead, now a senior at Kalaheo High School, credits Winners Camp with helping her improve her grades and her relationships with family and friends.
She attended Winners Camp at 14, just after finishing her freshman year with a 1.6 grade point average.
The first quarter of her sophomore year ended on a higher note, 3.8. She's held steady at 3.5 since.
"We learn goal-setting tools. They give us the tools we need to ensure success in our lives," said Moorehead, who now staffs Winners Camp programs.
Ignacio Fleishour is another Winners Camp alum who comes back to work with teens.
Now 28, he was dealing with heavier issues than low grades and poor self esteem when Work Hawaii sent him to Winners Camp at the age of 16.
"Before I went to camp I was headed down a pretty bad road," said Fleishour.
He was living in Waianae with four younger brothers, no mother and a father who was dying of cancer. It was his task to provide for the family.
"I learned some skills, how to cope, how to choose a better path," said Fleishour. "It just gave me a lot of motivation to do a lot of good things."
Fleishour now works full-time for Aloha Petroleum while working on his business degree. His father has since died and three years ago one of his brothers was shot and killed by a roommate. But while life hasn't gotten much easier, he credits the skills he learned at Winners Camp with keeping him on that better path.
"Ever since I first went I've been going back," he said, because he loves watching the campers evolve.
"It's the potential that every person has and when they realize that themselves, it gives you chicken skin," he said.
"Any child, whether they're a struggling student or a straight-A student, they're going to get something out of Winner's Camp," said Jim Myers, a member of the Winners Camp board of directors.
His daughter, Brittany, attended camp when she was 15 and has been going back to teach for 10 years.
"Academically, she was a bright student; she just didn't know how to apply herself. The camp really turned her around," he said. "You know it was only a week and I was just amazed at what she was able to do in a week."
Myers, vice president of group publishing at Honolulu Publishing, is impressed with the practical approach of Winners Camp.
"Winners camp uses a lot of the techniques that you find in management training," he said, including team and character building exercises.
"If I had two applicants sitting in front of me that had skills that were identical, I'd probably pick the one who'd been through Winners Camp," he said, because of what that says about their leadership skills and values.
Pam Chambers, president of Pam Chambers & Associates, makes her living providing motivational and communication training for professionals. She also is on the Winners Camp board
So what makes Winners Camp work?
"Delorese (Gregoire, founder of Winners Camp) knows how to put together a program that involves all of the modalities of learning," said Chambers, including the physical, spiritual, emotional and intellectual.
"There's such a fast-paced variety of what goes on in the camp, there's not a dull moment," she said.
"It provides leadership opportunities for all the camp graduates," who are welcome to return as leaders, said Chambers. "If someone does that two or three times in a row, it just can't not work."
Parents, alumni and board members all had virtually the same response to the question: Can Gregoire meet her goal of having Winners Camp up and running at the new site by this summer?
Markley's sentiments reflect those of the group: "I think if anyone can do it, she can," she said.
"It'll take some money, but what it'll take more than that is a bunch of volunteers, people to go and help us clean up the site.
"I can't think of a better use for that old missile site. I think it will be the happiest place in town."
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