BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – Delorese Gregoire has dedicated nearly three decades of her life to what many parents dread — those teenage years.

Since founding Winners’ Camp two decades ago, Gregoire has taken more than 15,000 teenagers and 800 support staff and molded them into leaders through her 7-day camps by helping them find and use their talents.

She also has helped coordinate similar events for children whose parents are in the military and corporation managers across the state whose executives feel they will benefit from such motivational retreats.

Before 2001, Winners’ Camp was located on the island of Kauai, but that year Gregoire convinced landowner Kamehameha Schools to let her move Winners’ Camp to a three-and-a-half acre property on the edge of Kamehame Ridge.

Once a Nike Missile Site, the dilapidated facility had four main buildings covered with cracks, weeds, graffiti; the buildings had broken windows and no doors; and the surrounding area was consumed by brush, rubbish and old tires.

Delorese Gregoire

But Gregoire saw only the great potential of the camp, which sits on the edge of an emerald mountain range overlooking a stunning view of the sunrise over the Pacific Ocean. So she got to work, gathering volunteers from Small Business Hawaii, U.S. Military, Rotary, Elks, Winners’ Camp graduates and local churches who helped with the clean-up effort and donations. Today, the camp sparkles with all of the potential she envisioned years ago.

“Not many people know how much Delorese really does to prepare for camps, getting donations so kids who cannot afford camp can attend, getting sponsors and volunteers to help with repairs, maintenance and yard work. She is literally on the phone 20 hours a day,” says Amanda Spofford, former student who worked as a Winners’ Camp administrative assistant.

Gregoire gave up her small business almost three decades ago to focus full time on her family and running Winners’ Camp. She grew up in a series of abusive foster homes, and says she knows firsthand how important it is to enhance the lives of children, give them the tools they need to succeed and stay on the right path.

Gregoire, who will run her next camp from July 24 to July 30, highlights the main reasons for kids to attend. Kids who participate in Winners’ Camp learn to break through self-imposed limitations and learn goal setting, better study habits, memorization tips, visualization, creative thinking, quick note taking, self-management methods, team building and conflict resolution skills. She said kids leave their computers and phones behind in favor of fresh air and physical activity, they meet new friends, learn from amazing role models, leave with great memories and skills, build their self worth and independence and learn new academic tools they use to improve their grades in school.

“One of the many approaches we have refined at Winners’ Camp for teaching teens self-confidence is encouraging them to get outside their comfort zones and take risks. We provide a safe environment where healthy risk-taking can be explored, risks that support them in making positive choices and that push them to realize that they can do far more than they ever thought possible. Healthy risk-taking can be anything from facing life-long fears to participating in a talent show for the first time. For teens who have never been away from home, Winners’ Camp can be their first opportunity to step out into the world in a safe, supportive environment that we provide for them,” Gregoire said.

While Gregoire sees all the potential Hawaii’s youth has to offer, community leaders recognize how much Gregoire’s done through her leadership academy at Winners Camp.

Dr. Neil Mazer, Chief of the State’s Child and Adolescence Mental Health Department, is a fan of Winners Camp: “Winners’ Camp was successful in improving self esteem, reducing depression and teaching leadership skills to the teens in the program serviced. Never, as a psychiatrist or as a volunteer with community organizations, have I witnessed such remarkable transformations. Students learned that they have new options when confronted by the realities of peer pressure and to instead make more productive choices. I heartily endorse this type of primary prevention program as a critical step in stopping the deterioration of family life and community that is presently threatening so many families and youths in Hawaii.”

Carol Maero of the Walt Disney Company says: “Winners’ Camp for Teens is the best gift parents could possibly give their teen…and themselves. It opens doors to a world of quality friendships, responsibility, learning, sharing, and good, wholesome fun. If every community leader and business executive supported teenagers in Hawaii to attend this program, Hawaii’s future would be so much brighter and more promising.”

Dr. Dorothy Douthit, President and Principal for the Academy of the Pacific, says “Students returning from camp have changed in important ways. They have an enhanced sense of self-worth and recognize the value of other people’s individuality.”

See more here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fm92sNXArSw

To get involved or to sign up a child for Winners’ Camp and the Hawaii Leadership Academy, call (808) 306-8008, email success@Winners’camp.com or log onto http://www.Winners’camp.com Camps are scheduled during Spring break and in the summer months. The next camp is July 24 to July 30, 2011.

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