Frank Chiarelli’s walk through Dubois County is part of a personal endeavor to raise awareness about a national issue that doesn’t necessarily pass through the fences of our perspectives.
But the Chicago native has lived on both sides of that fence; a fence that separates one child from ending up dead or in jail from the child that succeeds in life.
On Frank’s website, https://www.sevenmillionstrides.com, he gives a glimpse of the moments that led him to decide to walk the 3,100 miles — or 7 million strides — across the United States. He writes that his mother’s addictions led to instability in his home and touches on how it led to her eventual death.
What he doesn’t say is that as a single child with separated parents, he was the one finding his mother passed out, he was the one calling his aunt for help, and he was the one who eventually left to live with his father as she continued her destructive spiral. Then, when he was 12, his mother passed away.
For Frank, this was a turning point. He got involved with a local gang. He drove stolen cars and was a lookout during crimes. He was involved in robberies and dealing drugs. He was arrested.
His saving grace was the work ethic his family had instilled in him. His father, a successful business owner and no-nonsense man, wouldn’t put up with Frank’s criminal turn. So Frank committed to hard work, put himself through school and helped in his father’s business.
He also set back enough money to travel around the world. He headed to South America, Europe and hiked portions of the Pacific Trail. Straddled with a hard work ethic, a broken family and a shaky faith, he was searching for something.
“For a long time I had wanted to help kids,” Frank explained. “So I was looking to help kids in the refugee camps in Syria. I thought about teaching English in Bogota with a buddy of mine. But I didn’t really feel a connection to it.”
He wanted to help kids facing the same circumstances he had as a child.
“I came from a bad situation, not nearly as bad as a lot of the kids I am trying to help,” he explained. “I got help from my family. Without help from my father and my aunt, I don’t think I would have made it.”
The headlines in Chicago speak for themselves in regards to violence and youth. The city is approaching bankruptcy and people are leaving.
Returning to Chicago, Frank began to seek out organizations that were supporting the city’s youth. He found Kids Off the Block and connected with the group’s sincere efforts to help any kid that needs help.
Diane Latiker founded the organization in 2003, but the movement had its roots in her simple act of opening the doors to her home to children seeking a safe place in their neighborhood. What started as a couple of kids coming to her home to do homework, grew to youth activities and eventually the recognition by philanthropists that stepped in to help build the organization’s impact in Chicago.
While traveling in Bogota, Frank found the impoverished villages he was visiting had three elements holding them together: family, hard work and faith. Kids Off the Block is built on those three foundational elements of family, hard work and faith.
With plans to raise a family and live in his hometown for the rest of his life, Frank was determined to do something to help change things for the better. He also wanted to show the country the good things that are happening in Chicago as well as point out that the problems they have there are found to some degree everywhere.
He decided to walk across the country to raise money, talk about the problems with youth that are occurring everywhere and maybe inspire people to do something in their communities.
He garnered some support for the idea, sold all of his furniture, cashed out his 401k and headed to Delaware to begin his mission.
It’s not been easy. First, he didn’t do a lot of research before heading out. With some mountaineering experience and a relatively healthy lifestyle, he figured he would learn as he went.
“There is a beauty in ignorance,” he said. “If I had read something, I may not have followed through with what I am doing.”
Early on, some lessons were tough. He was carrying too much stuff. On a long country road with little shade crossing from Delaware into Maryland, Frank passed out from heat exhaustion.
He cut down on some weight and added a push cart to better distribute the load.
While camping in Warsaw, Kentucky, a deluge turned the ground around his tent into a pond. On a positive note, his video of the soaking experience upped his viewership on Instagram.
So far he’s averaged between 20 to 25 miles a day. The length depends on where the next city or town falls in line with his route. His route is mapped out on the website and follows the American Discovery Trail that runs across the country ending in Point Reyes, California.
He’s met a lot of good people, and parts of the mission have been successful so far. He’s had donations but the money is a just a drop in the bucket; the biggest changes need to start in the communities he passes through.
“I want to influence the most people I can to follow in my footsteps and get involved in helping in their community,” he explained. “It doesn’t have to be something like this, it can be something they do once a week to make a difference.”
And he’s been able to inspire a couple of people along the way. One guy said he was going to go back to church. Another decided to walk to raise money for a cause.
“One guy was so inspired by just my act of doing this thing that he decided to do something he’s always wanted to do, become a motivational speaker,” Frank said.
On Wednesday, Frank stopped in at Van’s Country Table in Marengo. After hearing his story, a group of 20 women gave him about $10 a piece.
Moments like those as well as the donations that come into the site from strangers are what keep him moving. But, some days, it’s hard to stay inspired. His feet hurt constantly. When he stands up after sitting for awhile, he hobbles a bit before the kinks are worked out.
Sometimes he finds inexpensive places to sleep and other times, he sleeps in a friendly yard or in a park. Sometimes it rains and sometimes it’s really hot.
But his plan is to make it through one way or another. To talk with anyone who will listen as well as the political leaders who will give him the time to discuss the merits of building our youth up with a strong work ethic and the skills to succeed.
Frank will be in Huntingburg Thursday and is heading for Oakland City Friday with Whitney Houston playing in his earbuds. His mom really liked Whitney Houston.