Fairfax-area tire dealer Steve Craven didn't have a lot of time to talk Aug. 29 about winning the 2005 Tire Dealer Humanitarian Award.
A volunteer pilot and president of Angel Flight Mid-Atlantic, he was on his way to the Leesburg, Va., airport and his six-seat Piper Saratoga. The assignment: fly an advance team from Mennonite Disaster Services to Mobile, Ala., the only airport open in the area, shortly after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast area.
In all he spent six days in the devastated region on the first of two missions, doing a fly-over with the disaster services team on Aug. 30 to determine where help and supplies were needed most. He followed this up with several trips between Orlando, Fla., and Gulfport, Miss., carrying medical supplies-all provided at his own cost, on his own time, using his own airplane.
``He was one of the first pilots who said, `I will go,''' said Stephen Patterson, executive vice president of Angel Flight Mid-Atlantic. The non-profit organization is made up of volunteer pilots who provide air transportation in private planes for patients with financial and medical needs.
While Angel Flight's main mission is flying needy patients and their families to and from treatment facilities, the organization also has taken on the responsibility, through the Homeland Security Emergency Air Transportation System, of flying high-priority personnel and small cargo to hurricane-ravaged areas.
During his missions to the Gulf Coast, Mr. Craven helped evacuate two people-one a 15-year-old girl who had been trapped on the roof of her New Orleans home for three days. Mr. Craven flew her from a Baton Rouge, La., shelter to Knoxville, Tenn., where her family had resettled.
He also flew a 65-year-old man to Raleigh, N.C., from the Baton Rouge shelter. He, too, had been trapped on the roof of his home, before a helicopter had pulled him to safety.
``That is Steve,'' said Mr. Patterson, citing these examples of Mr. Craven helping others. ``He called me and said, `Wherever you need me to go, whatever you need me to do.' He loves the Lord and has a servant's attitude.''
This attitude applies not only to Angel Flight but also to his church, Mr. Patterson said.
For his work as a volunteer pilot and president of Angel Flight Mid-Atlantic, as well as his charity efforts on behalf of those less fortunate, Mr. Craven has become the 12th recipient of the Tire Dealer Humanitarian Award. The honor is presented annually by Tire Business to a tire dealer or retreader who is making a difference in his or her community through civic and charitable contributions.
Mr. Craven, owner of Craven Tire & Auto, a seven-outlet dealership based in Fairfax, was chosen for the award by judges from The Volunteer Center in Akron, a United Way organization dedicated to helping and promoting volunteerism in the local community.
The judges cited his continued ``commitment to the Angel Flight program and the impact he has made to the population utilizing the services of the program.'' This includes not only the close to 200 missions he's flown but the use of his own airplane, fuel, time, talent and resources, the judges said.
Mr. Craven, 52, was honored Nov. 1 during the Tire Industry Association's annual convention in Las Vegas, where he received an engraved medal and a $1,000 donation from Tire Business to the charity of his choice. This year the money is going to support Angel Flight Mid-Atlantic.
Focus: helping others
Although Mr. Craven owns a thriving retail tire and automotive service business, Randy Mills, director of operations for Craven Tire, estimates his boss spends about half his time on organizations and charities outside the business.
Mr. Craven calls it an outreach of the company, which was founded in 1954 as a gas station by his late father, Bill.
Besides Angel Flight, Mr. Craven is involved with local churches that refer to him needy people, such as single moms, to have service work done on their vehicles.
``We maintain a budget to help broken families with children who've been referred to us by their church,'' Mr. Mills said. ``We repair their vehicles charging from zero to whatever they can afford. More often than not it's zero.''
Mr. Craven also has donated cars to missionaries and needy families, Mr. Mills said. Sometimes they give them back and when they do, the cars are recycled and offered to someone else.
And he supports 15 to 20 local charities, providing goods, money and services for raffles and any other kind of fundraisers.
On top of his charitable activities, Mr. Craven is active in numerous Christian organizations, including serving as an elder in the Destiny Church of Leesburg, as a board member of Faith in the Family, an organization devoted to strengthening families, and as a member of the Christian Businessmen's Committee.
He also serves on the advisory council of the Joe Gibbs' Youth for Tomorrow Foundation, which provides a residential group village for at-risk teenagers ages 11 to 17.
As a devout Christian, Mr. Craven runs his dealership following Christian principles. The company's vision, which is posted in all stores, is ``To please God with the quality of our work.''
He established this business philosophy about 10 years ago after attending a Zig Ziglar ``Born to Win'' motivational seminar in Dallas.
``I realized that one of the things you have to have is a vision and a mission and to build your business around something,'' Mr. Craven said.
Greg Wigfield, senior pastor of Destiny Church in Leesburg, describes Mr. Craven as one of those small percentage of business owners who have moved beyond the desire for success into what he calls the ``realm of significance.''
``These few people have an untiring resolve to use their God-given talents and resources to help people in need and to enhance the quality of life for those around them,'' he wrote in a letter supporting Mr. Craven's humanitarian award nomination.
``He in some circles may be remembered as an astute businessman, but I think people will remember Steve like I do, as a man who lived his life for others,'' Mr. Wigfield said.
A high-flying ministry
While Mr. Craven is involved in a myriad of charitable activities, it's his love of flying and his work with Angel Flight that consumes much of his time. A licensed private pilot since 1995, Mr. Craven also sits on the board of Angel Flight America, an organization he helped found in 2000 bringing together similar Angel Flight groups across the country.
Nationwide, the Angel Flight program has about 6,200 volunteer pilots, while the 10-state Mid-Atlantic region has some 1,200.
In the organization, Mr. Craven is respected for his leadership and professionalism, Mr. Patterson said.
``Steve has the ability to create a team environment where he can lead the team and yet every member of the team feels valuable,'' he said. ``So you might say he has a coach style of leadership and a servant-hood. It doesn't matter which position you play on the team, your role is important.''
He's also instilled Angel Flight with his enthusiasm and dedication, Mr. Patterson said.
``He's never too busy to listen to a personal problem. He's a counselor. He's a leader. He's ministerial. Never reluctant to respond with positive action,'' he said.
``He has a keen ability to anticipate potential problem areas or external factors which impact current or future operations.''
Mr. Craven also sets an example as a ``go-to guy.''
``If we have an Angel Flight mission and for some reason we can't staff it, at the last minute we can call Steve and he'll say, `Tell me what airport I need to pick them up at, and I'll be there. I'll do it,'' Mr. Patterson said.
Craven Tire employees greatly respect these efforts, said Mr. Craven's son Joey, age 26, manager of the firm's Tysons Corner, Va., outlet.
``They know he's not out playing golf'' when gone from the office, Joey Craven said. ``Instead, he's shuttling a child with cancer to a hospital who otherwise couldn't afford to go. We know that's what he is doing.''
Brought to tears
Tears well up in Mr. Craven's eyes when he talks about some of the patients he's flown during his nearly 200 volunteer missions as a pilot for Angel Flight.
``Most of the time you're dealing with a family that's stressed out,'' Mr. Craven said. ``They're fighting cancer or a rare disease for months. They're spent down financially and physically exhausted. They find out about a new treatment or a new procedure from their physician. We really provide a level of hope.''
That was the case with a sheriff from West Virginia who had cancer. He was not someone who would be considered a needy person, Mr. Craven said. He was an average middle-class man, but the cost of treating the cancer-the co-pays and insurance-had stripped him and his wife of every asset they had.
``He was dependent on Angel Flight to get him to Boston for the specialized chemotherapy,'' Mr. Craven said. ``I flew him several times.''
The sheriff was so thankful, he sent Mr. Craven a plaque thanking him for what he had done. Not long after, the sheriff died.
``This is something I'll always remember,'' Mr. Craven said, holding the plaque.
Mr. Craven also mentioned two young people for whom he provided transportation.
One was a 12-year-old girl from Manassas, Va., whom he flew to Shriners Hospital in Boston, which is known for its pediatric care of children. The girl had been severely burned in a house fire. Her face and arms were scar tissue. She had two slits for eyes, holes for nostrils, a hole for a mouth.
``I flew her three times,'' Mr. Craven said. ``She had such a wonderful attitude, and she tried so hard to smile.''
Another was a little boy who had accidentally tipped a pot of boiling oil on himself, searing the skin over a good portion of his head and body.
This was one of the first flights Mr. Craven had made through his association with Angel Flight.
He met the boy and his father at an airport in Manassas. The father was sobbing, Mr. Craven recalled. He flew them to the Shriners Hospital in Cincinnati. ``The father was so grateful.''
Seeing such tragedy and difficulties has put things into perspective for Mr. Craven.
``I suddenly realized I have five healthy children,'' he said. ``I realized how traumatic health issues can be to people's lives. I've been blessed with good health and healthy children, and I realized God intended for me to do this-that this was what it was all about.''
These kinds of things, he continued, ``changed my life. I don't know what else to say.''