Like, really not too cool. That's the reaction to the abrupt departure of Melissa Kendrick, executive director of COOL - the Campus Outreach Opportunity League, after four years in the thankless job of encouraging and promoting college campus-based student-led community activism. COOL seemed well past its recommended shelf life in 1996 when Kendrick moved from the Community Kitchens of Birmingham, Ala., to take over COOL's two-person operation tottering on the verge of being discarded into the dumpster of national service history.
Founded in the Twin Cities in 1984 by Wayne Meisel, now president of the Princeton, N.J.-based Bonner Foundation (assets $150 million) and others, the then-Ford Foundation-supported group moved to D.C. in the '90s, all the better to lobby for and be near the treasury of the Corporation for National Service, COOL's post-Ford major backer. COOL's largely inactive board of spent activists is now chaired by Meisel's deputy at the scholarship-awarding Bonner Foundation, Bobby Hackett. Even though the group's bylaws require twice-a-year meetings, the board, with only two college students, hasn't met since February 1999. Kendrick says COOL's board has 12 members, Hackett says 11. You get the picture.
Since her appointment, Kendrick has doubled COOL's budget to $1.2 million and its staff has grown to eight. COOL's recent annual conference at St. Anselm's College in Manchester, N.H., drew over 1,300 people.
Still, Hackett and others just didn't like COOL's aroma. Says Hackett of COOL, "It hasn't had a program to offer a campus." That assertion came as news to Kendrick, who received "excellent" ratings from COOL's board in August 1998. Kendrick announced she was leaving, but not soon enough to suit board president Hackett, who iced Kendrick in April. "I wouldn't characterize it that way" says Hackett. What's the big deal? "I've been interviewing candidates [to run COOL] with Melissa's knowledge for months."
What is needed, says Hackett, is to "reinvent COOL's relationship with campuses," citing a dues-paying membership of only 150 colleges as an indicator of COOL's malaise. The eminently employable Kendrick is looking ahead, while the rest of COOL's rattled staff remains in pain, but on board. But then, no one ever promised that social activism would be a cool cup of iced tea. Contact: (202) 265-1200.