- The Washington Times - Monday, July 17, 2000

BROOMFIELD, Colo. Visit Up With People's international headquarters in the Interlocken Business Park and you might be so overwhelmed by the beauty of the campus that you stumble into its one imperfection: a sizable sinkhole filled with water at the south end of the curving steps leading to the front door.

Inside, the organization reveals the same incongruity.

Celebrating its 35th anniversary this summer, Up With People is respected worldwide for its long history of bringing together youths from around the world to live, work and perform. Its casts have entertained princes and paupers and popes. And, yes, even some Super Bowl audiences.

But focus too much on those smiling, clean-cut faces and you might miss the sinkholes.

Up With People can't seem to keep a chief executive officer, even when paying $350,000 a year. Its shows are faltering, bringing in 34 percent less revenue during the past five years while being relegated mostly to second-tier stops such as Fort Morgan and Lamar.

Its financial books are shaky, with the company operating in the red and racking up debt.

Even the way the organization achieves its mission is under fire inside its boardroom.

"We're at a crossroads of clarification of mission and vision," said Tom Sullivan, a longtime board member who, along with Peter Coors and others, helped bring Up With People here nine years ago.

"You can't point to a nonprofit organization in this world that has a better track record of changing lives. Yeah, we have problems major problems and we could be a dinosaur if we don't solve them. But was this a great experiment in social consciousness? Yes. Is it still relevant? Yes. Does it need to change? Yes."

Up With People is in the midst of a three-year turnaround plan that will ensure its long-term success, said Bill Lively, the organization's president and CEO. He is leaving this summer to become vice chancellor at the University of Denver.

Up With People was born in 1965 on a road trip from Tucson to Michigan. The carload of college students was on its way to a youth conference. As they drove, they searched for a positive theme that could unite young people during those unsettled times. Up With People, originally called Sing Out, was their answer.

While Up With People is best known for its musical performances, those are just the window dressing. Its mission is to educate students in the real world by having them live with host families and perform community service in the towns they visit around the globe.

Today, there are 17,500 Up With People alumni living in 90 countries. And for every one of them, there are dozens of others who have seen their shows, hosted them in their homes or donated to their scholarship funds.

Few originally questioned the integrity of the organization. Perhaps that's because Up With People touched so many lives. Perhaps it was the roster of well-respected Colorado names names such as Coors, Anschutz, Robinson and Magness that make up its board.

But when Mr. Lively, Up With People's president and CEO, announced his resignation two weeks ago after completing just half of his four-year contract, some people within and outside the teal-topped, 40,000-square-foot Broomfield headquarters began questioning the integrity of the organization.

Some of the findings didn't sit right.

One concern centered around executive income, including Mr. Lively's $350,000 annual salary. He was also given $500 a month for a car and would have received $50,000 a month in deferred compensation had he fulfilled his contract. Also, an eight-member executive staff was hired by Mr. Lively, earning a combined total of more than $650,000 annually.

Another problem: a bottom line under Mr. Lively that went from $607,000 in profit during the 1998 fiscal year to an $870,000 loss the following year. The organization's assets, including its endowment, dropped $1 million, or 5 percent, during that year.

Other findings that caused concern: a 14 percent increase in expenses; show revenues that have decreased 34 percent during the past five years; and an endowment that has grown just 15.7 percent in three years, from June 30, 1996, to June 30, 1999, during the same time the economy has boomed, doubling the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

"If I were on that board, I'd be extremely concerned," Mr. Graham said.

Some board members, however, say that despite appearances, Mr. Lively has revived the organization.

"It's not as healthy as we'd like it to be, but we're not bankrupt," said Peter Coors, CEO of Coors Brewing Co. and a board member.

• Distributed by Scripps Howard.

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