Winners' Camp founder inspires to make a difference
Interviewed by Katherine Nichols
Advertiser Staff Writer
Experience: Ran International Student Advisors program at UH before working with teenagers for 10 years as founder and president of Hawaii Study Tours, which brought students from all over the world to study in Hawai'i. Began Winners' Camp in 1985.
Self-portrait: Someone who has started five companies must have an "entrepreneurial spirit," Gregoire said. Beyond that, "I'm very capable of bringing together teams of people who have a vision for Hawai'i's youth, and inspiring them to work together to make a difference in young people's lives."
Favorite books: "Superteaching" by Eric Jensen, one of the first to explain "whole brain thinking and how kids learn," Gregoire said. "Instead of labeling kids, this author teaches us how to reach every student's learning style."
"A prayer for Owen Meany," by John Irving, about growing up during the Vietnam War and the different perceptions people had.
Favorite Web site: discovery.com. Gregoire calls it the perfect Web site to help kids conduct research, and for parents to learn about the newest trends in education and what is interesting to their children.
Best part of the job: "Working directly with teenagers and their families ... and being witness to their transformation." Watching students with low self-esteem take on leadership positions, and hearing parents say, 'Thank you for giving me back my son.' "
Worst part of the job: "Raising money and having to beg for funding. People perceive us as a program that doesn't need financial help. They don't realize that we never turn a teenager away, especially foster kids. We're always raising money for teens who couldn't otherwise afford to attend."
Trademark expression: "If it's to be, it's up to me."
Best decision as a leader: Negotiating a 40-year license with the Kamehameha Schools to use 3.5 acres on Kamehame Ridge in a landmark collaborative deal to bring more programs to Hawai'i's students.
Worst decision as a leader: Neglecting Hawaii Study Tours, her for-profit business, to nurture Winners' Camp Foundation. "Hawaii Study Tours supported Winners Camp for many years, and by not keeping it strong, it got away from me, and it didn't grow and flourish."
What I worry about most is: The educational system and the state's ability to create jobs that encourage Hawai'i children to stay. "Our leaders need to face the educational challenges in a real way and not just with just talk."
Most difficult challenge: Getting support from schools, and helping educators understand that Winners' Camp is a time for teens to learn through experience, gain a sense of purpose in their lives and take responsibility for their choices. "I'm frustrated with the closed-door policy that people in education have in regards to Winners' Camp. We're outside the system ... but I know the results we get. I know from the 8,000 graduates, and what they've done with their lives."
Leadership tip: "Let people know how much you appreciate them and how much you respect their abilities."
Taking on... Managing volunteers
Gregoire had been doing things her way for 18 years because, she said, "I knew it worked." When a young, untrained, unpaid volunteer arrived to help at a Girl Scouts seminar and asked Gregoire why she was arranging her flip charts a certain way before a presentation, Gregoire became frustrated with the time it took from the training to explain. Gregoire's immediate thought: How dare she question why I'm doing something?
She solved the problem by shifting her internal dialogue. "I reframed her asking questions from bothersome to useful," Gregoire said. "I got real interested in her 'whys.' "
Not only did she deal with her volunteers more effectively, Gregoire discovered that allowing the volunteers to place the charts randomly around the room instead of in sequential order, as she had demanded in the past, saved hours of time in setting up for a training. The random placement also helped Gregoire present her material more spontaneously, and therefore more enthusiastically.
"Our motto is that when change happens, new growth emerges," Gregoire said. "But I wasn't even practicing it." She realized that after having managed the situation her own way for so long, she had become blind to other possibilities. Now she realizes that "a new person coming in can open our eyes."
The other advantage lies in the way she is able to treat volunteer workers. "The strength of our organization comes from our volunteers, and if I don't nurture and celebrate their gifts and talents, they won't feel like they've contributed as much," she said. "Most people volunteer because they want to learn and grow, and when I respond to them ... they feel acknowledged."