FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
With teammates spotting below her and encouraging her along, above, Tiffany Kanehe traverses the "Menehune Bridge" at the Hawaii Leadership Academy high above Hawaii Kai on Kamehame Ridge.
Camp: Kids learn to help each other
Although the Winners' Camp has changed its name, it remains committed to teaching Hawaii's youths to be winners.
The Hawaii Leadership Academy also tailors programs for teachers, schools and organizations.
To register for the Hawaii Leadership Academy or to make a contribution visit www.winnerscamp.com or call 923-8844.
After eight years at a permanent site in Hawaii Kai, founder Delorese Gregoire decided it was time to change the name to Hawaii Leadership Academy.
"Pretty much like how I was a foster kid, I had a foster camp." Gregoire added, "So now that we have our own site, we can be valid in saying it's a leadership academy."
The academy has used the former Nike missile installation in Hawaii Kai rent-free under a 40-year license with Kamehameha Schools -- an agreement that permits students and faculty to use its programs. That was after seven years without a permanent location.
The academy's teaching aims are the same: To build respect, responsibility, resourcefulness, restraint and resilience. Bringing privileged and disadvantaged teens together, the program fosters teamwork through hands-on challenges.
About 80 students participated in a recent seven-day session. On Wednesday, first-time participant Bryan O'Rourke, age 12, tackled the outdoor high ropes challenge that included a rock climbing wall more than 30 feet high, a rope bridge and "the Vines."
The Vines is a rope stretched between two poles 3 feet above ground. Ropes dangling from above help participants navigate across. These activities are seen as examples of life's impediments, forcing teens to trust their teammates and overcome fears.
Bryan said overcoming a fear of the Vines meant he could easily form a better relationship with his foster parents.
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
A a blindfolded team performs the "crucible maneuver." The team exercise involves lifting and moving a bucket filled with water while blindfolded, directed by one sighted team member.
In and out of foster homes for as long as he can remember, Bryan said he hopes to one day become a translator.
"When I leave (camp), I am going to want to come back badly," he said.
Abandoned by her parents and raised in foster care all over New England, Gregoire has not turned her back on Hawaii's youths. "I am their ohana mama," she said.
Students ages 12-16 from all walks of life attend the academy. If teens cannot afford the seven-day tuition, which ranges from $980 to $1,200, Gregoire will find someone who will pay it for them.
"I used to be a educator and now I am a consummate beggar," joked Gregoire.
The Rotary Club of Honolulu is one contributor among many. Alumni and their parents are some of the other donors.
Rosemary Smith gathered $10,000 from her friends to bring 40 Kauai students to camp this summer. She became involved after seeing the academy's impact on her son.
"My son had such a passion for it," said Smith. "His dream was to build a permanent Winners' Camp on Kauai. He's up in heaven and I'm helping him."
Her son Shannon Shea Smith drowned 11 years ago while saving former University of Hawaii football coach Fred vonAppen's youngest son. He was 20 years old.
At 15, Shannon was transformed by the camp.
"He had a huge heart, but he also had a teenager's attitude. And camp honed that in a positive way," Rosemary said.
With a stable location and new name, Gregoire said the academy is as effective as ever. "These kids that come out of here are leaders and they go back into the world and they do make a difference."