Teaching Teens To Be Winners

By sharing some of the techniques she used to survive a childhood spent shuttling among 13 foster homes - ‘Be bitter or be better’ - Delorese Gregoire helps teens develop positive outlooks and confidence

Susan Sunderland
Wednesday - December 14, 2005
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Gregoire with Mareva Cosco, Bryce Harken and Tina Cournede. At camp, as a trust-building exercise teens lift and pass campmates through openings in the rope fence without touching it
Gregoire with Mareva
Cosco, Bryce Harken and
Tina Cournede. At camp,
as a trust-building exercise
teens lift and pass
campmates through
openings in the rope fence
without touching it

What are you giving your teenager for Christmas? Latest electronic gizmo, cool surfer duds, rock concert tickets? What if you could wrap up a gift of self-awareness, self-confidence and leadership potential? What’s the price of assuring your child’s success in school and positive relationships with peers and family?


Miracles do happen during the holidays. Except this is no make-believe story. Known perhaps to too few people is an academy of learning that teaches life lessons and goes beyond textbooks and classrooms to prepare teens for responsible adulthood. While schools teach the 3Rs, a progressive program called

Winners’ Camp teaches 5Rs.

That’s respect, responsibility, resourcefulness, resilience and restraint.

Wait a minute, don’t all parents teach those values at home? Yes, they probably do, but it’s amazing how teens interpret parental methods as nagging. Those same messages coming from their peers in a learning environment that is reflective and introspective somehow reaches their inner consciousness.

You remember what it’s like to be a teen. It’s that awkward time when you’re in a transitional stage from childhood to adulthood. Dramatic changes take place in the body, in your psychology and academic path. It’s middle school, going on through high school.

Winners’ Camp targets these young people and takes them away from home for seven days to put life in perspective. It deals with the teen’s negative internal dialogue (“I’m stupid. I’m ugly. No one will ever like me.”) and teaches how positive attitudes lead to personal success.

How useful is that?!

‘Change happens,’ says Gregoire, ‘when new growth emerges’
‘Change happens,’ says Gregoire, ‘when new growth

On Saturday, Dec. 17, Winners’ Camp celebrates its 20th anniversary of making a difference in the lives of more than 12,000 students and more than 600 graduate support staff. Two decades of achievement deserve recognition and an examination of how Winners’ Camp is shaping tomorrow’s leaders today.

The organizers have been rather quiet about their work. They’ve been busy shaping up their camp facility. But now it’s time to unveil this dimension of education that complements what’s taught in the classroom.

It’s time to tell the story of lady and the camp. Meet Delorese Gregoire, founding director of the Winners’ Camp Foundation and Hawaii Leadership Academy.

Gregoire, 58 and energy-personified, frequently interjects success slogans into her conversations. She knows intimately how strained family relationships can destroy a child’s identity and self-worth. Born in Salem, Mass., she spent her childhood in 13 foster homes all over New England and in a constant state of confusion.

“We have a saying at camp, ‘Be bitter or be better,’” she states. “I chose better.”

At 8, Gregoire saw an Arthur Godfrey TV show filmed in Hawaii and knew it was where she wanted to be. Ten years later, she arrived in the Islands.

“When I landed, I felt like I finally came to my real home,” she says. “I was very angry, and Hawaii changed me. I was hanai’ed (adopted) by a local family, accepted, and it empowered me.”

Her first job was serving cocktails at the Tahitian Lanai, but she wanted to make more money and enrolled in a self-improvement seminar where she learned to turn off her negative internal dialogue and turn on positive affirmations.

It was an epiphany.

“I realized that if teens could experience being the masters of their universe, they can change. They could make a difference. If they could discover that they have a purpose, they can use the four years in high school to strive for success,” she says.

The attitude should not be “I’m going to school,” but “I’m going to my career,” Gregoire suggests.

“Change happens when new growth emerges,” Gregoire recites while swooping her hands in an upward motion to depict growth. It’s a memory retention technique they practice at Winners’ Camp. If you hear it, see it, and experience it, you’ll retain it.

Winners’ Camp is a nonprofit educational foundation aimed at academic and personal enrichment training for teens. Families from all social and income levels participate in its programs. Its permanent

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