CHICAGO (Jul. 15)
When Al Frank was discharged from the U.S. Army in 1947, he was able to attend the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign thanks to the G.I. Bill, which helped fund college educations for tens of thousands of former veterans.
Now he and his wife are helping to inaugurate a program that has been called a GI Bill for combat veterans of the Israel Defense Force.
The program, named Project Impact, will be administered under the auspices of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. It will provide 200 Israeli veterans a year with full-tuition scholarships for college or vocational training. Frank and his wife, Pat, are donating the funding for the first 200 scholarship winners, expected to be announced this fall.
The recipients must be combat veterans who could not afford to go to college without the scholarships. Druse and Bedouin soldiers will be eligible as well as Israeli Jews. So will women veterans, since many serve in units classified as combat units — even if few see actual combat.
The idea for the scholarship program began to germinate several years ago when the Friends of the IDF helped arrange a tour of Israeli army bases for Frank and his grandson, who was celebrating his Bar Mitzvah, Frank said. Shortly afterwards the organization approached him for a donation to a scholarship program that gives $1,000 for college to every combat soldier when he or she leaves the army.
“I said I wouldn’t do it because not every discharged vet needs it,” said Frank, who became a successful real estate developer and the founder of the village of Buffalo Grove, Ill., a Chicago suburb that has a large and thriving Jewish population. “And if you’re really poor, $1,000 doesn’t mean anything — it’s just a teaser.”
College tuition is Israel is around $4,000 a year.
He asked the organization to devise a program to help former soldiers who could not afford to attend college otherwise.
Working with the IDF, veterans organizations and Israeli and American business people, the Friends of the IDF came up with what would become Project Impact. The Franks agreed to fund the scholarships for the first 200 recipients for a year. Now they and the organization are seeking other donors with the goal of raising $10 million over the next four years and adding 200 scholarships a year.
Aside from being a combat veteran and needing the scholarship to attend college, a potential recipient must apply within two years of leaving the army and must attend an institution — college, university, junior college or technical or vocational school — in Israel. Recipients must also agree to donate 130 hours of community service a year in such areas as mentoring younger students or coaching children’s sports.
Frank said the recipients will be encouraged to write to the donors to establish personal relationships with them.
He has been active in the Jewish community and is a former vice president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.