Three Local Companies Recognized for Exemplary Giving & Service

October 18, 2017

The Washington County Community Foundation (WCCF) is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2017 Charles C. Keller Excellence Award for Corporate Philanthropy: Rice Energy (large employer category), Model Cleaners (medium employer category), and Crossgates (small employer category). All three companies will be recognized for their generosity at the WCCF’s annual Philanthropy Banquet on Thursday, November 2 at the Hilton Garden Inn at Southpointe.  Banquet attendees are encouraged to bring coats, either child or adult size, to donate to the second annual "Coats for Kids" coat drive, sponsored by Model Cleaners.

Created in 2011 and named in honor of Founding Trustee and past WCCF Chairman Charles C. Keller, the award recognizes local for-profit businesses for exemplary giving and community service. 

“That the award should bear my name is an honor I shall treasure. I have always felt committed to a spirit of giving, and I have been proud of the development of the WCCF as a vehicle to encourage and enable people to engage in philanthropy,” remarked Keller.  “My greater joy is in recognizing that a long parade of deserving businesses and professions will receive this honor and recognition in the years to come."

Criteria for the award are as follows: Demonstrate a company philosophy of community service, such as time-off or flexible scheduling for employees to perform community service; Encourage employee commitment at multiple levels of the company; Donate resources including financial, personnel, facility or product; Orchestrate a sustained effort to address a community need;  Promote active community participation by others.  

Rice Toby

Toby Rice of Rice Energy

Rice Energy

Toby Rice is connected.  He’s connected to every layer it takes to bring gas out of the ground and get it to market. Connected to the infrastructure, connected to the vendors, connected to his employees and possibly most importantly, connected to the landowners and the communities in which they live.

“The landowners are our partners. We realized the community will recognize its friends.” 

The three Rice brothers started their company a decade ago, going into landowners’ homes and making their pitch. Rice Energy quickly became one of the major players in the Marcellus region.

“From the beginning, we wanted people to know our values: stewardship, teamwork, seeking excellence and innovation. To be the best, to be the operator of choice, both for leasing and drilling and to be environmentally safe, we have to relate to the community.”

And relate they did.

Their most visible community initiative is Marcellus Mania, a celebration featuring family activities and a fundraising campaign that benefits local first responders. Held this past year at the Greene County Fairgrounds, it offered live music, petting zoo, face painting, balloons, ice cream, bingo, and bounce houses, all free to participants.  By leaning on vendors and other contacts, Rice raised more than $800,000 for local Volunteer Fire Departments.  The decision to fund local VFD’s was an obvious one.  Most gas drilling is done in rural areas, where the VFD is often a focal point of community activity, and everyone needs them, including the gas companies. In its six-year history, Marcellus Mania has raised more than $2.5 million for 45 teams of local first responders.

Rice Energy has found ways to partner with the community - fun ways, creative ways, ways that make a difference in the lives of the people they serve.  One initiative started as a quirky idea in a meeting: During the drilling process, people get annoyed with the increased truck traffic in their neighborhoods.  So, the team thought, what kind of trucks do people look forward to seeing?  How about an ice cream truck!  Now, the Rice Cream Truck can be found distributing free treats to people living in the communities where Rice Energy operates.  It doesn’t mitigate the truck traffic, but it does bring a smile to people’s faces.

Toby Rice also encourages employees to join the Blue Crew, a group of Rice employees who regularly partner and volunteer with local non-profits. Since its inception, members of the Blue Crew have dedicated about 7,000 hours of volunteer time, 3,700 just last year. Volunteer events included Adopt-A-Highway cleanups, serving meals with City Mission, ringing bells for the Salvation Army Kettle Campaign, wrapping presents for Operation Christmas Child, and many others. Last November, Rice Energy volunteers prepared, cooked and served a delicious Thanksgiving meal and distributed just as many winter coats to over 1,000 Washington and Greene County residents at its annual Plate of Plenty events.

“I am so proud of our people, working a long day and then going out and helping others. The Blue Crew is one way we try to make the world a better place.”

Rice is also a loyal supporter of groups that help facilitate youth leadership and learning. They have contributed more than $350,000 to local 4-H groups and county fairs, including their long-standing tradition of purchasing the Grand Champion Rabbit at the Washington County Fair. “Our demographic is farmers,” Toby said. “4H teaches leadership and responsibility at a young age.”  That fits with the Rice vision of making the world a better place.

Because the company demonstrates a corporate philosophy of community service, Rice Energy is deserving of the Charles C. Keller Excellence Award for Corporate Philanthropy. 

But Toby Rice said it better.

“To maintain our social license to operate- we have to be welcome and supportive.”

La Carte Family Cropped For Cc

The LaCarte Family of Model Cleaners

Model Cleaners

Talking to Model Cleaners’ Dan LaCarte is uplifting. This is a man who takes his family-owned company’s mission to heart: Care for our customer, our community, and each other like family

LaCarte and his brothers Dave, John, Joe, and Mike run the successful business started by their father Jack in 1986. The business has since grown to include the establishment of LaCarte Development Company in 1992 and the purchase of Stoney’s Brewing Company in 2017. But Model Cleaners remains the heart of the company. It has opened numerous new stores, acquired competitors, established a successful pickup and delivery service for more than 5,200 homes every week, and taken on uniform rental and industrial cleaning.

LaCarte notes, though, that this success was achieved following hardship and disappointment. His father Jack originally worked with his own father as a cattle farmer in the 1960s and 1970s while raising his growing family of five sons. It was tough, all-consuming work and ultimately ended with the sale of the farm and long-lasting financial difficulties.

Jack decided he wanted to create a viable family business his boys could one day join and run together. Model Cleaners became the means to achieve Jack’s vision, and today each of the five brothers runs an integral part of the business.

As the business grew, so did the family’s commitment to community-based activities, shaped in large part by its personal experience with adversity and the resulting desire to help others in need. “We’re part of a lot of communities and are out there in a lot of neighborhoods,” says Dan LaCarte. “With this business, we can touch a lot of people in the communities we serve.”

Model has donated to numerous causes and activities, including giving backpacks to children in need, holding food drives, supporting local WPIAL basketball, and holding customer appreciation days. Employees participate in local walks, raise money for breast cancer awareness, and contribute to the March of Dimes through employee lunches.

But the company’s hallmark event is its new Coats for Kids Competition. From 1992 to 2015, Model held a coat drive every November for the Salvation Army and collected approximately 2,500 coats a year. “Last year,” says LaCarte, “I thought, ‘We need to spice this up a little bit,’” and 2016 became year one of the competition. “I see on the news all the violence and all the hate that’s out there. You want to teach kids how to love one another, to treat one another with kindness and respect. So I said, ‘Let’s bring this down to the school district level.’ I wanted to create a competition among the schools.” He put collection bins in five local schools — Belle Vernon, Charleroi, Peters Township, Seton LaSalle, and Upper St. Clair — for students to fill with donated coats. Model collected the coats once a week, cleaned them, and posted the standings on Facebook. Students enthusiastically embraced the competition, personally posting on social media and spreading the news. Year one of Coats for Kids was a huge success, with 4,500 coats collected. Model donated the coats to local Salvation Army offices, churches, and district schools. “We donated $54,000 of free cleaning in eight weeks.” Upper St. Clair, the school with the highest number of coats collected, per student enrolled, won $1,000 from Model for their efforts.

Model will soon kick off the second year of the competition, which will run from November 6 through December 15.  Eight area school districts and a major local university are involved this year including North Allegheny, Seneca Valley, Mars, Seton LaSalle, Peters Township, Upper St. Clair, Belle Vernon, Charleroi and the University of Pittsburgh. The Pitt-Miami football game will be a Coats for Kids game, with bins on hand for fans to fill. Model’s goal for 2017 is to pick up, clean, and deliver 10,000 coats to area kids in need this winter.

LaCarte says, “You’ve got to be able to use the business as a platform to give back to people.” He’d like Model Cleaners to be known as a company that helps less fortunate children and perhaps helps get a family back on track by employing someone and promoting them internally. As for its legacy in the community, he hopes today’s young family members someday come on board and that Model continues to be “. . .that company that reaches out and really does live its mission statement daily.”


Ryan and Arthur Schwotzer of Crossgates


Arthur Schwotzer, founder and chairman of Crossgates, Inc., has a simple, yet effective philosophy for corporate and personal giving — “Give where the need is.” It’s a credo he has followed for many years.

Schwotzer graduated from the University of Pittsburgh as an engineer. He and a partner started a building company in 1952, and he initially specialized in constructing single-family homes. In 1959, he founded Crossgates, a full-service real estate and construction company. Over the years, the company has built apartments, nursing homes, offices, hotels, warehouses, and manufacturing plants. Schwotzer’s son, Gregg, joined the company in 1972. Grandson Ryan became president of Crossgates after his uncle Gregg’s death in 2014 and today runs the company, “. . . with a little bit of aid from me here and there,” says a smiling Schwotzer. 

While Crossgates has made a significant mark on the community through its numerous real estate and construction activities, the company also encourages its employees to give generously to those in need. Every holiday season, says Schwotzer, the company and its employees donate to three or four charities, usually the Washington City Mission, the Salvation Army, one organization chosen by the company’s Harrisburg office, and one other organization. In 2016, for example, employees proudly participated in the Salvation Army Treasures for Children Christmas Gift Program, which supports local children and their families.

Crossgates has supported numerous other charities and organizations as well, including the Holiday Acres Summer Food Service Program in Latrobe, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Catholic Charities, Wesley Institute, St. Clair Hospital, and HACC Central Pennsylvania Community College. Also, Schwotzer notes, “People here walk an awful lot” for charities such as muscular dystrophy. His employees often make him aware of instances where there is a specific or urgent need. “They like to see good things happen and are enthused by it.”

When a local car company needed a place to park its cars while building a new facility, it asked to rent one of Crossgates’ parking lots. Schwotzer agreed, with the proviso that the car company donate the money it would have paid in rent to either the Washington City Mission or the Salvation Army.

And Schwotzer’s profession has enabled him to personally make a difference in the lives of others in the community. Over the years, he has worked to build several churches at cost for congregations without the means. Several years ago, he combined resources with other builders, developers, and contributors to build a home for a disabled veteran and his family, making it possible for them to move in debt free. Schwotzer provided the stone and brick masonry for the home.

As for how much he’s given over the years, he says he doesn’t know. His focus is clearly on the need and not on the dollar amount. He traces his generous spirit back to his parents, who taught him through their own example in giving to others, and to his grandmothers. One of his grandmothers lived with his family when he was growing up; the other lived next door. “We lived way out in the country,” he says, “and there was always a pot of soup or something to feed those who needed it.” His grandmothers knew that down-and-out individuals or even their own relatives might be in need, and those people appreciated the “soup kitchen.” This made an impression on him. “It gets your heart beating in the right direction!”

“Overall,” he summarizes, “it’s been a good ride. People to whom we have given and donated have been rewarded with those gifts. The buildings we’ve helped to create are still there and are important to the community. And if you can see something that benefits the community, it makes you feel it’s worth it, that you did a pretty good job.”

When asked what he would like to see as Crossgates, Inc.’s legacy in the community, he characteristically replies, “Staying successful and continuing to be involved in different realms of giving and social work that add value to [employees’] lives and the lives of those they help.”

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