Gary Adams

"Dreams Are Free"

Gary Adams: Turning Obstacles into Opportunities

By Uma Outka

Gary Adams knows first-hand what it means for charity to begin at home. After the painful experience of trying unsuccessfully to help two of his children through school despite their unique learning challenges, Gary finally found someone who could make a difference. To see his children blossom after the difficulties they had endured was elating--Gary felt inspired to do what he could to give other children the same chance.

That inspiration was the seed that grew to become the Dreams Are Free Institute in Sarasota, Florida, through the hard work and dedication of many people who shared the vision. The Institute offers a program for teaching alternative learning styles, administered directly in schools to special-needs students, their teachers and their parents.

Recognizing Learning Challenges

Sister Gilchrist Cottrill and class Gary is an entrepreneur who's equally comfortable in network marketing, corporate America, or owning his own business. Today he runs several businesses, which is the way he likes it. He thinks fast, talks fast, and he loves the experience of setting something in motion and seeing it grow.

In his teens, Gary started a number of businesses that took off--one in particular, a plant nursery shipping plants from California to

Florida, grew so well that by the time he was in college, his father took early retirement from the post office to work in it.

"I believe God gives each of us a certain basket of gifts," Gary says, "and you're blessed if you can figure out what yours are and how to use them. I love people and God's blessed me with the ability to market and make money."

At the University of Florida, Gary majored in business and did well--despite the fact that he never finished a single essay test. He knew the information, but he couldn't write fast enough; sometimes he lost control of his hand. It would only happen in the high-stress environment of an exam, and his anxiety would increase as, one after another, the other students would get up to leave. He graduated, life went on, and he didn't think much of it until years later--when his son faced his own challenge with testing.

"I worked with him," Gary says; "he would know the material cold, then he'd fail the test. It was like something was happening between the lip and the cup. It just mystified me."

To a lesser degree, his daughter was having similar trouble understanding concepts, and her grades and self-esteem were low as she entered high school.

Gary and his wife Diane did everything they could think of to help their children succeed in school, from tutoring and helping them with their homework, to talking to their teachers--but nothing worked. They even began looking for help out of state--looking for anyone who could explain what was going wrong. In a conversation with one of his long-distance contacts, Gary was surprised to find out that an authority on diagnosing unique learning needs was based in Sarasota.

"That's great," he said. "We live in Sarasota."

"She happens to be a nun."

"That's no problem," said Gary, "we're Catholic."

"She teaches at a local high school."

Wait a minute!, Gary thought--he was the president of the school board of the only Catholic high school in town. It turned out that this nun was Sister Gilchrist Cottrill, a teacher at the school whom he'd known for some time. The help he needed had been at his fingertips all along.

"I knew she taught a class on learning strategies but didn't know what it was about. I asked her, 'Just what is it that you teach, Sister?' She said she identifies the learning need and teaches sometimes in an unorthodox way to help that student learn in his or her own style. She worked with our son and it was almost an immediate turnaround. After six weeks of working with her, our daughter went from C's and D's to honor roll--which continued throughout high school."

These results made a serious impression on Gary. All this time, his kids had been stifled by frustration and now, in a matter of weeks, they'd begun to experience their potential. Being a natural entrepreneur, he immediately thought, how could he proliferate this incredible training?

Sister Gilchrist offered to bring him and his wife with her to a seminar a few hours away, along with the parents of another child who faced similar difficulties. This child's father happened to be a state senator. In the seminar, they heard from one of the leading medical doctors in the field, and Gary learned how widespread the problem is, how many kinds of learning challenges there are, and most importantly, that the techniques for helping most of these children exist.

Gary approached the doctor and asked, "If this works so well, why don't we have it in every school in America?" He replied, "I'm a clinician and a researcher, I'm not a marketer or a promoter. I don't know how to get it out."

"So I'm sitting here with this senator," Gary recalls, "and thinking, 'I don't know how to teach this, but I do know how to market.' We looked at each other and laughed, 'Shoot, we can do this.'"

The Vision: "Dreams Are Free"

That day was the start of Gary's strategic alliance to bring Sister Gilchrist's teaching approach to kids in other schools. He personally financed a group trip to spend more time with the doctor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Meanwhile, his friend the state senator went back to Tallahassee and started working on the political side.

Over the next few years, they put together a program called Dreams Are Free that could be administered right in the schools. With permission from the Bishop, Sister Gilchrist left her post in the high school to head up the program and take it into all the parochial schools along the lower west coast of Florida.

Eventually, word of the program got around to parents and teachers of public school children facing the same problems. The Sister was more than willing to share the methodology with the public system so that those children could get the same benefits.

"Then something unbelievable happened," Gary says. "We created the first public-private partnership in the history of the state of Florida by sharing and working together, the Christian schools and the public schools."

Sure enough, his senator friend brought Frank Brogan, who had just been elected state Commissioner of Education, along with others from the state legislature, to see how this program was helping kids. Impressed, he supplied government money to support their effort to bring the program into public schools. One thing led to another--now Sister Gilchrist has traveled across America and brought her system into roughly 1000 schools around the country!

With the combination of Gary's initial fundraising skill, personal financing, grants, support from the Catholic Diocese of Venice, Florida and Florida state funding, Dreams Are Free is now a multi-million-dollar institute for learning and teaching, with a newly accredited Masters degree program. You can tell Gary's a networker when he says enthusiastically, "We're teaching people to teach people to teach people to teach!"

Opening the Prison Gates

The longer he's involved in Dreams Are Free, the more excited he becomes about what this substantive change in educational approach can mean for individuals and society at large.

"As I travel around the state and the country explaining this program, invariably, somebody I'm talking to, usually an adult, says, 'That's me.' Maybe he's a UPS driver or a painter, but what he really wants is to be an electrical contractor or an architect, and maybe he just can't get through the tests. These are people who aren't operating at their potential--and there's so much compromise in that. You become a prisoner in your own body when you know what you can do and you can't figure out how to get the potential out.

"On a larger scale, think about jail inmates. Most of them are reasonably intelligent people, but maybe they fell through the cracks as early as first or second grade. If Billy's a visual learner and the instructor's simply talking at the front of the room, he's not getting it. He gets bored and sent to sit in the corner. Later, he's sent to the principal's office and now he's really not learning anything. He drops out of school, starts a life of crime and goes to prison. If Billy had a chance to learn in the way that was right for him, now he's learning something, he's excited, he's growing, he's getting educated, he feels a purpose, he takes a different path. Billy becomes a productive person in society and in his family.

"This is huge. Imagine the difference there could be in this country just one generation later!"

The Potential in Networkers

Gary feels his purpose in life "is to bring out potential in people." He fulfills this purpose with Dreams Are Free and through network marketing. Just as he's seen children find their potential through learning, Gary says, he has seen countless networkers find their leadership and earning ability in this profession.

"There are a lot of parallels," he says. "Just as with the kids, there are many adults with tremendous capacity and potential who just need someone to show them a way to release it." He points to the additional parallel of social pressure to settle for less and quit after one failure. In both arenas, Gary argues that failure is a good thing.

"I tell educators that we need to teach a course called Failure 101. People think failure is bad, but you can't study anyone who's been successful at anything without hearing about a string of non-accomplishments. They tried something, readjusted and regrouped, maybe still didn't hit it, readjusted again, then all of a sudden, they hit a success. We see the success, but not the process that led up to it."

Just like the kids at Dreams Are Free, networkers have a tendency to quit after they fail or encounter ridicule, says Gary. They stop trying--they settle for not bringing out their full potential.

"At Dreams Are Free, our whole reason for being is to bring out the potential of each child. We do everything we can to create the environment for their growth and self-esteem. We do nothing but build them up. We take on any challenge and change it into opportunity. That's our theme at the Institute: 'Where obstacles become opportunities every day.' I do the same in my network marketing business."

To networkers, he suggests the approach to improvement that the Institute employs: Take baby steps and don't compare yourself to others. "If you're uncomfortable talking to people, don't try to go out and build a huge network marketing business; take small steps toward feeling comfortable talking to people."

Gary believes that if there's anything universal among people who enter network marketing, it's the knowledge that they can be more and do more than they are right now. He points out that it's often the quick-fix mentality and giving up too quickly that costs them their dream. The same is true for any big vision, and the Dreams Are Free Institute is a perfect example.

"Nothing important happens fast," Gary says. "It's taken us ten years to get where we are with Dreams Are Free. Like network marketing, the start was slow. You have all the obstacles, all the people who say it won't work, but then you meet with little successes and get momentum, believability, more people involved. The wait is worth it--when you release your potential, it's a new lease on life."

How Your Network Unlocks Your Potential

Successful people will always take the time to help someone else. I have never in my entire life asked a truly successful person for help and been turned down.

Never make the mistake of thinking, "He's too busy," or, "She's too important." That person can be a strategic alliance. There are resources within arms' reach that go unclaimed all the time because we just don't utilize them. It takes initiative. In the book Is Your Net Working? Anne Boe says you are only three people away from anyone you want to access. One time she told me she wanted to be on the Donahue Show. Six months later she called me and said, "Gary, I'm going to be on the Donahue Show tomorrow." It really works!

With Dreams Are Free, I feel like I'm a small piece of a big vision, but I think I've been a catalyst to Sister Gilchrist--she's a brilliant woman and I was able to help her bring out her potential. She'd been sitting in a class teaching 30 kids. Now she's helping thousands and thousands of children and parents all over America.

I saw the massive potential in what she had before she could see it. I remember in the early days saying we can access this person or that person, and she'd say, "But I don't know them." I'd say, "Neither do I, but we'll meet them." She'd say, "How are we going to do that?" and I'd reply, "I don't know--but we'll do it." It came down to networking: those of us involved had to find others who would take up the cause, and that's when the momentum started this upward spiral.

-- G.A.

Uma Outka is a contributing writer for Networking Times.