Frank Allison, the Collegiate Recovery Initiatives Coordinator at UNC, died unexpectedly from a heart attack on Aug. 12 at the age of 52.
Allison worked at the Student Wellness center and Carolina Recovery Program as a clinical addictions counselor, mentoring students in their recovery journeys.
“There’s no way to capture this in print, but he had the best and loudest voice I’ve ever heard and the best and loudest laugh I’ve ever heard,” said 2018 UNC graduate Morgan Vickers, recalling the most salient characteristics of her former mentor. “I think the balance between his loud voice and his kind and gentle heart was a really funny dichotomy."
Vickers connected with Allison when she was directed to Student Wellness for a recovery program. As a counselor, Allison lead addiction recovery groups on campus and met one-on-one with students who were in active recovery during their time at UNC.
Before becoming an addictions counselor, Allison owned a successful business. He struggled with substance use himself before beginning his recovery journey in May 2006. After expressing a desire to return the help he had received during his struggle with substance use, Allison came to UNC to complete his bachelor's degree in psychology and master's in social work. Allison graduated from the UNC School of Social Work in May 2018.
During his time at UNC, Allison was instrumental in building and securing funding for the Carolina Recovery Program and other substance-use counseling programs on campus. He was also involved in helping establish substance-use recovery programs at other universities across the state.
“As a singular person it’s tough to do something like that, but he was so committed to investing in the wellbeing of all of the students and really all of the people around him," Vickers said. "I don’t think I would’ve gotten through college, much less survived my sophomore year of college without him."
Allison is remembered by his colleagues for his advocacy work and persistent positive outlook. In addition to his responsibilities at UNC, Allison briefly served as treasurer on the executive board of the Association of Recovery in Higher Education before his passing.
“I think with our field, the whole collegiate recovery field, it’s tough," said Tim Rabolt, executive director for ARHE. "Most programs are understaffed and underfunded, and they’re trying to crawl their way along to do everything they can to support students in recovery. It can get tough, but when you have someone like Frank, who brought such a positive attitude to every interaction, meeting or phone call, it speaks a lot as to who he was.”
Dean Blackburn, the director of Student Wellness, said one of Allison’s main goals was to raise awareness about and destigmatize collegiate addiction. As a part of his awareness outreach, Allison spoke with faculty and staff members about the signs and symptoms of addiction and on-campus resources available for students.
Blackburn, a colleague and friend of Allison, recalled how he continually went “above and beyond” during his tenure with Student Wellness. Blackburn said program participants might experience some grief and anxiety following Allison’s passing, but added the University would continue to offer the same level of support to recovery programs that it had in the past. He acknowledged that Allison left “huge shoes to fill.”
“Around our office he was known for two things: a very big heart and a very loud voice. He was loud as much as he loved, for sure,” Blackburn said.
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