Rich Wartel offers each of his 130 employees at Two Labs $1,500 annually to donate to a cause of their choice or put toward good deeds of their own.
The noisy workshop inside the Hilltop nonprofit Run the Race Center was filled with buzzing saws cutting into wood and whizzing drills connecting the pieces together.
Helping things along was 11-year-old Grayson Wartel, who set his tool in a screw already half in — thanks to help from his dad, Rich — and pushed the trigger.
“It’s really powerful,” said Grayson, steadying the drill enough to finish the job.
With that particular screw, the wooden twin bed frame was complete. Two other volunteers carried it into the gymnasium, where it would be sanded before being paired with a mattress and new bedding and delivered to one of the low-income youths served by Run the Race, which provides a safe place for neighborhood children to learn, play and eat.
The father-son duo went quickly to work on the next bed frame in the charitable effort to build 55 beds for adolescents who use Run the Race.
Dozens of the volunteers at the event earlier this month were employees from Two Labs, the Powell-based pharmaceutical consulting company Wartel founded 16 years ago that helped sponsor the build-a-bed event, now in its second year.
Those Wartel works with say he has fostered a culture of giving at the company that goes beyond the occasional fundraiser.
A wall inside the offices at Two Labs features a large mural of a tree, said Michelle Adams, a friend and fellow entrepreneur. It’s titled “The Giving Tree,” and on the leaves employees write the charities they are serving, both with time and money.
“He’s a brilliant person, but what I love the most about him is his big heart,” said Adams, who also spearheaded the build-a-bed initiative through her business, Prism Marketing. “He feels so blessed in life — blessings of a great family, a great office. He wants to give, and he’s extremely passionate about that.”
Wartel offers each of his 130 employees $1,500 annually to donate to a cause of their choice or put toward good deeds of their own.
“Kerry — my wife — and I fund that personally,” said Wartel, a 50-year-old father of three who lives in the Powell area. He estimates the couple has donated upward of $200,000 to charities large and small, locally and beyond, on behalf of his employees. “We try to do a lot. We’re very fortunate. I believe in karma, balance.”
Wartel helped Marcy Rowley, a Two Labs account executive, fill out her IRS paperwork to establish her nonprofit, the Significance of One.
Rowley said she began the endeavor six years ago to help tornado victims of her hometown in Washington, Illinois, but since she joined Two Labs in 2014, it has taken on a life of its own. Now, the Significance of One builds schools in Haiti and sponsors children in the Caribbean nation.
“In that time, we grew from 40 to 120 students,” Rowley said. “If not for Rich and his belief and input in the Significance of One, especially financially, we wouldn’t have been able to grow that school.”
Rowley said Wartel even offered to go to Haiti with Rowley and her husband.
“Sometimes in the world, it’s very difficult to see the non-selfish side of people,” Rowley said. “We put ourselves first, but that’s not his mentality.”
When Rachel Muha, founder and director of Run the Race, first met Wartel about two years ago, he came into the center “unassuming,” wanting to learn all he could about her story. Muha created the center in honor of her son, Brian, who was murdered in 1999.
He offered to help Adams with the bed project after Muha explained to them that often when she visits homes “there will be three children on one mattress on the floor with no sheet, or they’ll be sleeping on a couch.”
Not only did he provide funds, volunteers from Two Labs and his own sweat, Muha said, but Wartel also has been a huge asset to her team as they have reevaluated their efficiency and mission.
“He’s been a joy to bounce things off of,” said Muha, adding that he invited young adults from the center to visit his office. “He gives quality information and advice that doesn’t come with any strings attached.”
Muha’s own efforts inspired Wartel, especially as he learned more about the struggles of the kids the center serves — and her ability to forgive her son’s murderers.
“These kids are incredibly high-risk,” Wartel said. “The parents have no idea what’s going on. In the suburbs, there are hyper-helicopter parents, and these kids have nothing.
“The question I have is, my God, could I be as good as her … could I forgive that person?”
He said it’s humbling for him and his children to work with the organization.
Though he is generous with his checkbook, Wartel said he and his wife prefer to be hands-on with organizations — such as the central Ohio chapters of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation and Cystic Fibrosis Foundation — whenever his busy travel schedule allows.
His latest nonprofit project — an idea he has been working on for roughly seven years — is called Reward Good Deeds. The website, set to launch by the end of the year, will allow people to buy gift cards from retailers to give to those who might need them, with 15% of the proceeds donated to a local charity.
“He’s so creative with his ideas,” Adams said. “People see his leadership, and he’s quietly beyond inspiring and effective.”