Kyle Van Frank: A Hands-on Approach to Service

Kyle Van Frank, a nonprofit leader and creative storyteller, was honored with the prestigious Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award at the University of Alabama. This award, which celebrates service to others, is a testament to Van Frank’s lifelong commitment to making a positive impact on his community. His journey from Memphis, Tennessee, to his current role as Executive Director of the FIRE Foundation of Denver began with service being a focal point of his youth and continues to this day. Most recently, he joined 18 of his fellow Alabama alumni when he was recognized in the class of 2024, 18 Under 31 Young Alumni Awards by the university.

Van Frank’s roots in Memphis, Tennessee, played a role in shaping his character and values. Memphis, a city known for its rich musical heritage and southern charm, provided a vibrant backdrop for his formative years. The city’s deep connection to music, culture, and community seems to have influenced his outlook on life, instilling in him a sense of responsibility and a passion for service.

Attending Catholic schools from kindergarten through 12th grade, Van Frank explained that an emphasis on service to others was a fundamental part of his education. “I think for that reason, I would say I’ve been involved in philanthropy since I was five years old,” he recalled. From a young age, he was actively involved in various philanthropic activities, which shaped his character and influenced his future endeavors.

One of Van Frank’s earliest memories of service was participating in book collections for local libraries and schools. He and his classmates would gather books to donate, ensuring that children in less fortunate circumstances had access to educational resources. Canned food drives were another aspect of his early philanthropic efforts. During the holiday seasons, his school would organize these food drives to help families in need. Van Frank was actively involved in collecting, sorting, and distributing the donations. These experiences not only taught him about the logistics of organizing charitable events but also opened his eyes to the realities of food insecurity in his community. Fundraising for breast cancer research was another cause where Van Frank helped raise funds and awareness. He participated in various events, from bake sales to walk-a-thons, to raise money for research and support services for those affected by the disease.

Van Frank’s involvement in these activities was more than just a series of isolated events; it was a continuous journey of learning and growing. Through these experiences, he developed a sense of empathy and a commitment to making a positive impact on the lives of others. “Each act of service, no matter how small, reinforced the idea that we all have a role to play in making our community a better place,” he explained.

Education and Early Philanthropy

Van Frank’s commitment to service continued through his college years, a period that further solidified a dedication to helping others. He attended The University of Alabama, where he graduated magna cum laude with a BA in Theatre, specifically focusing on Musical Theatre. His time in college was marked by academic excellence and a deep involvement in extracurricular activities that centered on service and leadership.

During his undergraduate years, he became a prominent figure in the Alpha Psi Omega National Theatre Honor Society. This organization provided a platform for him to merge his passion for theatre with his commitment to philanthropy. As a leader in the society, Van Frank spearheaded efforts to support Five Horizons, a Health and Human Services organization that addresses various medical and social needs in West Alabama and East Mississippi. Under his guidance, the society’s contributions grew from sporadic donations of a few hundred dollars to a substantial annual support amounting to over $6,000.

Van Frank’s approach to philanthropy was hands-on and personal. “I was always inspired to not just raise funds but to actually come into contact with the individuals we were supporting and ask them what they needed,” he said. This philosophy drove his efforts to engage directly with the beneficiaries of their support, ensuring that the funds raised were used in the most effective and meaningful ways possible.

In addition to his work with Alpha Psi Omega, his college years were filled with various other philanthropic activities and leadership roles. He was a fellow at the Blackburn Institute, where he developed programs to engage with civic communities and partner with nonprofits, government, and for-profit entities around social challenges. His dedication to service and leadership was also evident in his involvement with the Student Government Association and other campus organizations.

These experiences during his college years not only seemed to hone Van Frank’s leadership skills but also reinforced his commitment to service. He had a knack for blending his academic pursuits with meaningful philanthropic efforts and it set the stage for his future endeavors in the nonprofit sector.

The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award at the University of Alabama

Receiving the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award remains a defining moment in Van Frank’s life. “It’s the greatest honor I’ve ever received,” he reflected. The award, prominently displayed on his shelf, serves as a daily reminder of his commitment to service and the high standards he strives to uphold.

The Sullivan Award, presented during the University of Alabama’s Honors Week, is considered one of the most prestigious honors bestowed at the university. “At the University of Alabama, the Sullivan Award is presented in conjunction with their honors week, which happens each April,” Van Frank explained. “You didn’t really know if you were chosen to receive the award until about a week or two before honors week, and you usually got a phone call and found out that way.”

The process to be considered for the Sullivan Award at Alabama involved articulating his philosophy of service and leadership in an essay, which highlighted his extensive involvement in philanthropic activities and his commitment to helping others. Letters of recommendation were also provided from mentors and advisors who had witnessed his dedication and impact firsthand, attesting to his exemplary character and contributions.

“To receive an award based on character and leadership and service to others is extremely impactful,” Van Frank recalled. “It felt like someone was saying to me, ‘You’ve done a good job, and we expect you to keep that up for the rest of your life.'” The recognition not only honored his past achievements but also served as an encouragement to continue his journey of service and leadership.

The Sullivan Award holds a special place in the traditions of the University of Alabama. It is presented at the Tapping on the Mound ceremony, an event that has been a part of the university’s history for over a century. During the ceremony, the university also inducts new members into its senior honor societies, making it a significant and memorable event for all honorees.

Professional Journey

After completing his undergraduate studies at The University of Alabama, Van Frank pursued a Master of Science in Nonprofit Leadership with a concentration in Mission-Driven Operations & Management from the University of Denver. “I wanted to go to a program where I could continue to have a job and be able to take both what I was doing in the professional world in the classroom and what I was learning in the classroom into the professional world in real time,” he explained. His graduate studies provided a solid foundation in nonprofit management, financial sustainability, and strategic planning, all of which have been crucial in his career.

Blending Arts with Service

Van Frank’s professional journey has been a perfect blend of his passion for the arts with his commitment to service. As the Director of Alumni at St. Benedict at Auburndale High School, he managed all alumni programming, engagement, and stewardship. In just one year, his efforts led to a 60% increase in overall giving, a 20% rise in the Annual Fund, and a remarkable 300% boost in Alumni Giving. “It was a great place to be able to learn and get my feet wet while I was growing and getting some more skills,” he noted. His success in this role demonstrated his aptitude for fundraising and community engagement, skills central to his future endeavors.

At Florida Studio Theatre in Sarasota, Florida, he also merged his theatrical skills with education and outreach. As a Directing & Education Fellow, he taught children from diverse backgrounds how to write and perform plays. “I worked with kindergarten through fifth graders, and I would go into schools where children had never seen a play, they had no artistic exposure previously,” he recalled. Many of these students came from low-income families or were children of immigrants, and English was often their second language. Van Frank’s bilingual abilities in Spanish enabled him to connect with and support these students, providing them with a valuable artistic and educational experience. “The arts give people the opportunity to know how to express themselves and articulate their feelings and their emotions and experiences in new ways,” he explained.

Leading the FIRE Foundation of Denver

Currently, Van Frank serves as the Executive Director of the FIRE Foundation of Denver, an organization dedicated to providing children with special needs the opportunity for an inclusive Catholic education. In this role, he oversees a wide range of activities, including fundraising, financial management, program development, and community engagement. “We give grants to local Catholic schools to support special education programs,” said Van Frank. The foundation, an affiliate of the FIRE Foundation of Kansas City, aims to foster inclusive religious education. Despite occasional misconceptions about their mission, he finds joy in explaining the foundation’s true purpose and impact. “We do laugh because folks tell us all the time that they think we support firemen or fire departments,” he said. “It always requires a little bit of an explanation about what we do.”

Van Frank’s leadership at the FIRE Foundation of Denver further illustrates his dedication and ability to drive meaningful change. His professional journey, marked by a blend of arts and service, reflects his commitment to making a positive impact on the lives of others. Through his work, he continues to uphold the values of service and leadership to which he has adhered throughout his life.

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