For the first time since its founding in 2005, HALO has a new executive director.
Kevin Cookman has been hired to replace Cheryl Buckley, who came out of retirement as a YMCA director to head the Homeless Assistance Leadership Organization since its beginning. He will take office on Oct. 19.
Cookman, 47, admits he is an "unusual" choice for the position. His training is as an electrical engineer, and although he's been in Racine for the past three years, before that he spent 14 years overseas, while his wife, Noel, worked as a manufacturing and supply chain executive for SC Johnson in China, Japan and London.
During that time, Cookman started a computer company in China and worked on projects for big companies; for example, overseeing the creation of a new ticketing website for the Italian airline Alitalia, from their base in London. "I ran the contractors, oversaw the program managers, supervised a couple hundred people," he said.
So how does one go from that to HALO? you might ask. Like this: "While we were in London, we adopted two children from the Ukraine, a son in 2002 and a daughter in 2005. And during that process we learned that many do not get adopted." Those kids are called "graduated orphans," and they are set out on their own from the orphanages at age 16, or maybe 18, regardless of their readiness.
Cookman started a charity called "A Full Life," to create transition homes and to provide individualized programs to help them. HALO does pretty much the same thing for its residents. "In some of the worst countries, the kids might run away at 12," Cookman says. A Full Life is working with challenged teens in Asia, 20 or 30 so far. "We started with small numbers, providing them a place and a program. Most of these places are in agricultural economies, so we teach them farming, animal husbandry, beekeeping. In Tashkent there's a rice cleaning mill. We're also starting one in Kurgistan."
Cookman's work has been on a volunteer basis, "to get it going." Mission trips taking people from the U.S. or the UK to Central Asia. Last Spring he took a group of child development specialists and Rotarians. "We want to get girls with babies off the streets; we built a security wall around the place where we'd have the girls.
"And as I got to the point where I'm just doing mission trips, getting staff working in local countries, one of the things as founder that you want to do is step back. I don't want to go back to engineering; this is much more satisfying. And then I saw that HALO was looking for an executive director..."
While in Racine, Cookman had already worked with HALO, through his church, Evangelical United Methodist, taking volunteers to the shelter to provide services. "I know the staff and their program," he said.
"I was the unusual candidate. I'll bring some weaknesses; I'm not used to dealing with all the U.S. grants. But the individual success plans are similar to what we've been doing, and I want to find ways to make HALO more financially self-sustaining so we don't have to rely on getting government grants, or depending upon the United Way. That will be one of my main pushes in the beginning, to help HALO as an organization be able to sustain itself."