When he was nine years old, Charles “Chuck” Frank, BA ’74, spent eight weeks at a summer camp in northern Wisconsin and fell in love.
“Some people love baseball, tennis, golf, or cars,” says the Illinois native. “I just fell in love with camping and haven’t stopped since then.”
Indeed, the married father of four has camped or backpacked around the world including Alaska, Patagonia, Thailand, and all over the contiguous United States. Although he’s abandoned the idea of a bucket list, Chuck has two remaining goals: the Wonderland Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail.
“As I get older now, I’m finding that I really enjoy being out in the wilderness and not checking off a list,” says Chuck, who still found time to enjoy nature during his GW years, including his first backpacking adventure with his sophomore roommate in Shenandoah National Park. “I found that being outdoors and hiking really provided me the emotional stability and meaning that to this day keeps me sane and keeps me going. It’s really an essential part of my soul and being.”
Like many GW alumni, Chuck was drawn to Foggy Bottom by a desire to study politics in the heart of the nation’s capital. However, after one political science course, he determined that a political career was not for him and changed his focus to English and European history in GW’s Columbian College of Arts & Sciences.
Though his major may have changed, Chuck did take advantage of being so close to the heartbeat of political discourse. It was through his experience as an intern for U.S. Senator Adlai Stevenson III of Illinois in the summer of 1972 that Chuck found that his passion for the outdoors could be translated into a lifetime of advocacy. Shortly after graduating from GW, his love of the outdoors moved him to support the budding environmental movement—he joined the Sierra Club and now sits on its Board of Directors.
Impressed by the sustainability program and initiatives at GW, Chuck established The Charles and Deborah Frank Fund for Veterans Studying Sustainability, which provides an annual internship with the Sierra Club for a GW student veteran studying sustainability. According to Chuck, “This fund will not only honor our veterans, but also provide them an opportunity to leverage their experiences in ways that will have multiple benefits for the environment, themselves, and the community.”
While not a veteran himself, Chuck was inspired to support veterans in this manner due to his experience with and the success of the Sierra Club’s Military Outdoors and Inspiring Connections Outdoors (ICO) programs. The Military Outdoors program provides veterans and their families access to the outdoors and promote healing and leadership development, and ICO exposes urban youth to the outdoors and the benefits of hiking and camping.
“Many of the kids have never traveled more than six blocks from their home,” Chuck explains. “ICO has an enormous impact on their perspectives of the world.”
It did not take long for the Sierra Club to see the positive changes in program participants and realize that veterans and urban youth could help each other. Now the two programs are combined. “Many of the kids in ICO are also suffering from PTSD due to urban violence, and they are connecting well with the veterans,” says Chuck.
This collaboration inspired Chuck’s gift to GW.
“I saw an opportunity here to provide support for the university, the sustainability program, veterans, youth, and the Sierra Club,” he says. “It just seemed to be a great way to bring all these elements together to create a many faceted positive outcome.”