"Whatever I'm doing...
I'm helping someone, somewhere."
Robert Craven, 113th Pioneer Award
Recipient, Class of 1966
I've interviewed hundreds of people since graduating from Frankford High School, but never have I met someone so humble and self-less who carries his life's purpose with such grace and dignity.
Whether he's serving his country as a medic in the U.S. Air Force from 1967 to 1971 in Alaska, California. He received his draft notice, while he was in basic training. Or as a special agent, gathering criminal evidence against drug smugglers and money launderers over a span of 34 years for the U.S. Customs Service, and since 2001 for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, retiring in 2004.
Or volunteering his time and talent for five organizations/causes to make a difference in the lives of veterans and their families--and paying formal last respects to those veterans interred at Washington Crossing National Cemetery, who had no one to witness their interment.
What was Bob's reaction to receiving the prestigious Frankford Pioneer Award? He asked himself, why me?
His answer came in the form of a fellow classmate who contacted him when he found out. He said that he was so glad Frankford was honoring a grad for his volunteer work.
Join me as we trace his volunteer steps, paying-it-forward
for years to come.
We begin with a visit to the website of the Guardians of the National Cemetery where Bob serves as President. Gratitude comes to mind when you read the first words you see:
Honor Those Who Served.
They gave all that was asked, now it's our turn.
Underneath, you'll see this quote from Bob
“We exist exclusively for charitable and educational purposes in order to advocate for, preserve and support the Washington Crossing National Cemetery in Bucks County on behalf of the veterans of the Armed Services of the United States of America.”
Bob guides us through our first visit with the Guardians of the National Cemetery, reiterating...
"We are the Official Support Committe for the National Cemetery for veterans in Newtown, Pa. We agreed to be a support committee to help it achieve national shrine status. And to make sure every veteran has full military honors at interment."
Now suppose you were an honorably discharged veteran, who died without anyone to make arrangements, attend your funeral or place a flag on your coffin? Guardians of the National Cementery have monthly unattended services (which are well-attended) for veterans who have no one to pay their final respects. They receive a funeral with full military honors.
"We also established a Never Forget Garden Memorial to honor the 100th anniversary of the tomb of unknown service men at the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. It's a 9 ft. x 9 ft. rock garden painted as an American flag at the Washington Crossing Cemetery."
"Our current project, which is scheduled for completion in February 2024, is a 10 foot statute of George Washington kneeling and facing the graves."
"We support special events on Memorial Day and Veteran's Day--the Wreaths Across America--provide beautification for the cemetery--and also help families with grief."
Our next step is the Travis Manion Foundation in Doylestown, PA where Bob serves as an Abassador of Character Does Matter. Travis Manion was a marine killed by a sniper during his second deployment in Iraq. His family established a foundation that helps veterans transition back into their lives after they serve their country.
"We mentor students at schools in Philadelphia and the suburbs that character does matter. They include: Edison, St. Joseph's Prep, Frankford, University of Pennsylvania and sports teams."
"Character does matter. If it helps one student. That's one student that will make it through life."
Why I do it?
"I see the impact of the beautification project; the importance of the unattended burials with full military honors; and the individuals we help through the grieving and transition process."
Our next stop is the Scott Craven Mentoring Fund (SCMF). Bob is the director. The fund is a continuation of the mentoring his son, Scott Craven, provided to children of military families before he was killed in an accident in 2006.
"Scott was an instructor pilot. He was asked to mentor elementary children whose parents were deployed. The children trusted him because he wore the same uniform their parents wore. The program was renamed in his honor." One way they raise funds is through an annual golf tournament.
From the SCM Mentoring Fund Website
In the fall of 2005, the number of kindergarten students at the Sallas Mahone Elementary School in Valdosta, Georgia, with one or even both military parents deployed had grown. Their teachers noticed changes; some had trouble paying attention, some seemed withdrawn and others started acting out in class.
To help, it was determined that these children would benefit from additional one-on-one attention that could be provided in a mentoring setting. ...Nine pilots from nearby Moody Airforce Base generously volunteered their time. The program was able to increase its mentors to 40 and include policemen and fire fighters. In addition to spending quality time together, the children and mentors have participated in local parades, activities and a shopping spree during the holiday season.
Our final stop is the American Legion.
Here are some of American Legion's outreach efforts:
Comfort for the Recovering--Operation Comfort Warriors helps active-duty military personnel and newly-discarged veterans recover and adust to lifestyle changes.
Education Assistance--Conducts student-veteran roundtables, networks with Student Veterans of America as well as, college campuses, and works with agencies to improve on applying military experience toward professional and vocational licenses and certification credits.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Student Veterans of America acts as a catalyst for student veteran success by providing resources, network support and advocacy to, through, and beyond higher education. Their goal is to empower veteran students to live their best lives.
Family and Community Support--Cash grants and volunteer aid are among the ways the American Legion reaches out to families of military service members and veterans during times of financial difficulty, short-handedness at home or natural disasters.
Homeless Veteran Outreach--The American Legion offers hundreds of opportunities for homeless veterans across the country, including temporary housing, mentoring and job training.
What advice does he give current Frankford students?
"Don't give up. You can do anything you set your mind to do. I didn't have any significant interests when I graduated. It doesn't matter where you start, you can always change. So many students are not aware of what is available to them, while they are in school.
Take full advantage of all opportunities."