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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 28, 2010

Longtime head of Maui Visitor Industry and Training Center retires

The Maui News

Two decades after establishing the Visitor Industry and Training Center, Lois Greenwood is retiring.

"I feel like I've made my contribution. I'm leaving the program in good hands," said the longtime center director who founded the program in 1989.

The Visitor Industry and Training Center, known to most as VITEC, evolved under Greenwood's leadership to reflect changes in Maui's job and work force training needs.

Initially founded to assist workers in hotel management and other positions, VITEC now serves as a base for continuing education in business and technology while also providing personal enrichment courses for adults.

Today, VITEC stands for the Vital Innovative Training & Economic Development Center. While it's based on and supported by the University of Hawaii Maui College campus, none of VITEC's students receive college credit, but they enroll in courses to either enhance or learn a new job or to receive training or enrichment in a new or not-so-familiar field.

Some of the new job skills were forced on people who lost jobs. That was the case nearly 20 years ago in March 1991, when the last 300 pineapple workers on Lanai were being phased out and had to be trained for work at the Manele Bay hotel.

Greenwood took up temporary residency on Lanai for six months, building a job training program that resulted in 100 workers retiring, 100 receiving hotel jobs after the training and another 100 added to the hotel job rolls a little later.

Greenwood was also behind a specific training program at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua in the early 1990s when Native Hawaiians and other community activists protested the hotel's initial decision to build on Hawaiian burial grounds. Following the decision to pay respects to the burial grounds and set the hotel back from the ocean shore, Greenwood was hired to research and then develop a training program to educate the hotel's employees about the burial sites and significance of the sites' history in the islands.

"We gave them a sense of place, and they were able to heal from the controversy," Greenwood recalled. "It was such an incredible responsibility," she added, referring to both the Ritz-Carlton job training experience and the program she had to develop for unemployed Lanai pineapple workers.

The center records as many as 10,000 enrollments a year. Its core staff with Greenwood at its helm has about a dozen professionals, clerical staff and students in work study. Programs and classes are taught by more than 100 trainers.

In her time with VITEC, Greenwood has taught leadership courses, built customized job training programs, and designed and implemented various job programs for most of Maui's top hotels and resorts.

In a partnership with the Maui Chamber of Commerce, Greenwood garnered nearly a half million dollars in grant money to provide training to the retail and restaurant industries on Maui and throughout the state. Some of the programs received national recognition as exemplary models for work force development.

Her numerous customized job training projects involved leadership training for nurses at Hale Makua and for the Maui Long Term Care Partnership, and Hawaiian culture and multicultural diversity lessons for a wide range of industries, including hospitality and health care.

Before she officially leaves office Tuesday, the VITEC staff, its trainers and students will honor Greenwood with a celebration set for 3 to 5 p.m. Monday at the Piilani Building multipurpose room. Individual students and businesses are invited to attend the party and share how VITEC has impacted their lives.

Greenwood said she will attend a retirement luncheon later in April with hotelier and philanthropist Charles "Chuck" Sweeney, who contributed the first $600,000 to establish the training center. The donation in 1988 was the largest Maui Community College had ever received at the time, according to Greenwood.

The college has supported the program over the years with offices, class space and funding for the two faculty positions in VITEC. Those jobs were initially filled by Greenwood and her colleague, Dawn Okazaki Freels, who retired in May.

Most recently, Sharane Gomes, the assistant program coordinator who was hired by Greenwood approximately two years after VITEC was founded, died after a bout with cancer.

Gomes' death has been difficult for Greenwood, who found her program coordinator to be both a supportive administrator and a wonderful friend.

"Our work styles were so different, and yet it worked," Greenwood said. "Sharane was just an incredible human being. She was the glue inside, and I'm going to miss her."

While Greenwood retires from the training center at age 63, she isn't finished with working.

Her next projects include developing and operating a leadership training program for nurses in Japan (similar to the one she created at Hale Makua in Kahului) and writing two books.

She said the jobs in Japan are only temporary, and Maui will continue to be her home.

In fact, she may return to the center to provide consultation for job training programs or even teach a class or two.

"I'm very excited about retiring. There is nothing sad about this. I feel like it's time to move on," she said.