These diamonds shine brightly in the Meadville and western Crawford County area as well as within their respective industries, according to the Meadville-Western Crawford County Chamber of Commerce.

    Now in its sixth year, the Diamond Awards given annually by the Meadville-Western Crawford County Chamber of Commerce honor small and large businesses and non-profit groups as well as one young, emerging local leader.

    This year, Ainsworth Pet Nutrition was named the Large Business of the Year (more than 50 employees) with Family to Family Home Healthcare Agency named the Small Business of the Year (less than 50 employees). Bethesda Children’s Home was named the Large Non-Profit of the Year while the Academy Theatre was named the Small Non-Profit of the Year. Elisabeth Smith. president and chief executive officer of Acutec Precision Machining Inc. was named as the Emerging Leader for 2015.

    Selection is based on the organization’s success while supporting initiatives and organizations that enhance the quality of life in Meadville and western Crawford County. Businesses in both the large and small categories must be under the same ownership or management for at least three years.

    The emerging leader award was established to foster young leadership and retain young people in the community. It is given to an individual under age 40 who is in the first years of his or her career and has demonstrated leadership qualities within business and the community. Nominees must live and work in the Meadville-Western Crawford County area and work for a Chamber member firm.

    A panel of judges analyzes nominee applications to narrow down a list of finalists in each category before subsequently reviewing and debating the list of nominees and ultimately choosing a winner in each category.

    The Raymond P. Shafer Award for Distinguished Community Service is a community award recognizing those who have made a significant contribution to the quality of life in western Crawford County outside of their paid employment. Eligible individuals must live or work in western Crawford County. It is sponsored by the Shafer Law Firm in association with Allegheny College and the Meadville-Western Crawford County Chamber of Commerce.



    Though Doug Burdick may try to avoid the spotlight, those who know his work with kids at French Creek Community Theatre say it’s time he has it shine on him.

    Cambridge Springs resident Burdick was recognized with the Shafer Award this year for his almost four decades of work with French Creek Community Theatre as well as his work as a coach with Special Olympics.

    Burdick, who works as a sewer and water plant operator, has been a volunteer with French Creek Community Theatre since the mid-1970s when it was then known as Cambridge Springs Community Theatre. He has been directing productions since 1993.

    “I feel so unworthy, but I do just thank you,” Burdick said in accepting the award during the annual Meadville-Western Crawford County Chamber of Commerce’s Awards Night. “It’s hard to believe 39 years have gone by.”

    Burdick said he never become frustrated working in the theater or in sports with kids – whether they were his own children or others.

    Burdick said what has driven him for nearly four decades is just wanting to do something positive for children. “They actually gave me more back than I ever give them,” Burdick said. “I just wanted to make a difference.”

    The children and adults who have come to know Burdick say he truly helps young people fulfill their potential.

    “He has singlehandedly built this program with he mission of providing opportunities to kids to perform on stage, regardless of experience, personality or talent,” Nancy Frambes said in her nomination application of Burdick for the Shafer award. “my son has been one of the benefactors of Doug’s work, and I have seen him blossom through Doug’s patient and nurturing direction. My son even used his experience in FCCT and the modeling that Doug has done as the basis for his college application essay.”

    In making the nomination, Frambes wrote that kids involved in the theater say “It is a safe place, a place where they can explore who they are and their own potential, without fear of judgment, reprisal, or ridicule. It is difficult to tweeze out what is Doug and what is FCCT in creating this safe place, except to say that Doug has built this organization and demanded that all who are involved follow the same mandate of acceptance and inclusion.”

    Burdick’s nomination also contained numerous accolades from students involved with the theater.

    “French Creek Community Theatre’s resident director, Doug Burdick, has been utterly amazing in allowing me to explore directing while also maintaining himself as a  guide and inspiration for everything you are about to see,” says Jonah Foxman, a 2014 graduate of Meadville Area Senior High School and a cast member of “Godspell” from August 2014. “Thank you, because without you, no one would be here today.”

    “You have no idea how amazing you are,” said Alexa Lobins a 2013 graduate of Meadville Area High School and a member of the cast of “Footloose” from March 2013. “You don’t give yourself enough credit for all that you do and I hope you realize how very important you are to this group and to me.”

    Burdick was drawn to theater while participating in chorus and band at Cambridge Springs High School in the early 1970s. In 1973, when Burdick was a junior in high school, Rick Orr, a teacher at Saegertown High School, contacted him to play drums for a musical at Saegertown High School.

    “I fell in love with musicals,” Burdick said of his experience.

    That evolved into volunteering with the community theater working in various aspects of local productions. Burdick took over directing shows in 1993 and his focus shifted from adult community theater productions to youth shows as his own children became active and began to participate.

    “We all want to make a difference,” Burdick said of why he’s been involved with children for so long. “That’s what it’s all about. They make a difference in my life. It’s a amazing what you can get when you give.”




    A national company in the pet food industry, Ainsworth Pet Nutrition  chooses to keep its roots in Meadville – roots that can be traced back in the community through the Lang family to the early 1930s.

    Ainsworth is involved in the communities where it does business in numerous ways – donating time, funds or products to many organizations.

    It’s part of the overall consciousness of company, according to Doug Lang, a member of the board of directors of the privately-held firm.

    “We were taught that way,” Lang said. “We’re part of the communities where we do business.”

    Lang said the company focuses on community stewardship – working to make the area a better place to live.

    “We have a tough time seeing the separation between life and work,” Lang said of the firm’s corporate philosophy. “It has worked for us.”

    “We have a tremendous sense of obligation to each other (at work),” Lang said of the corporate culture. “And through that, a tremendous sense of obligation to the communities where we work.”

    Taking pride in community is stressed.

    “We talk with employees about it as an important part of our culture,” he said. “Pride in community is such an important part of that experience. “We would be fools not to encourage that.”

    Members of what Lang terms “the Ainsworth family” are everywhere, he said, whether it’s volunteering as a coach for a youth sports team to cleaning up a stream to serving on a community group board.

    “They’re just good people – dads and moms – wanting to make the community better,” he said.

    The company has more than 350 employees with about two-thirds of the total in the Meadville area.

    Ainsworth is looking at health, well-being, education and recreation as sectors all coming together to strengthen the community.

    “The whole community should have conversation about how we can improve the conditions,” Lang said. “Recreation supports both educational development as well as wellness. We have a good start on this. We can make it (the Meadville area) a point of destination.”



    Family to Family Home Healthcare Agency LLC of Meadville offers nursing care and home services as well as personal care to its clients.

    The company provides nursing, physical and occupational therapy and nurse’s aides to clients in Crawford, Erie, Mercer and Venango counties.

    Family to Family also recently started its own private residential home program in Meadville offering individualized care plans for clients with a care ration of one caregiver to three residents.

    “We  bought our first home in October 2014,” said Deb Pavlek, Family to Family’s owner and its vice president of marketing. “We’re looking to purchase a second home in Meadville and a third in Cochranton this year.”

    The company has grown from three employees when it started in 2010 to 40 employees today, Pavlek said. Pavlek attributed the firm’s growth to need in the area.

    “Our seniors want to stay in their home as long as they can,” Pavlek said. “That’s our goal – to try to keep them in their home.”

    Family to Family offers help 24 hours a day, seven days a week to meet clients’ needs and preferences for care.

    The firm’s home services range from routine housework to heavier home cleaning; planning, cooking and serving meals; running errands and shopping for clients; serving as companions and friendly socialization activities; packing household goods when changing residences; caring for pets and plants; and monitoring clients’ safety comfort and welfare.

    The firm’s nursing care services include intravenous infusion therapy; wound care, medication set-up and education; disease and pain management; occupational, speech and  physical therapy; cardiac and pulmonary care.

    Personal care services offered by Family to Family Home Healthcare Agency includes assisting with grooming needs; assistance with dressing and undressing; assistance with toilet needs; assistance with eating or feeding; assistance with self-administered medications; and monitoring vital signs of a client such as blood pressure, pulse and respiration.




    Bethesda Children’s Home has been serving Crawford County and beyond for more than 95 years.

    Originally an orphanage, Bethesda has grown to become a recognized leader in providing a continuum of health and behavioral health services to children, youth and families.

    Bethesda offers a variety of educational programs from its after school, summer and daytime education programs for children ages 6 to 18; to its most restrictive residential treatment program for youth ages 13 to 18.

    “We surely appreciate the award,” said Dave Johnson, Bethesda’s director of development. “We’ve been around a long time and been a staple in the community not just to kids, but for employment opportunities.

    Bethesda has 175 employees in Meadville and Erie with its main campus just north of Meadville and two community-based facilities in downtown Erie.

    Its after school programs in Erie offer academic help as well as drug and alcohol education programs along with a kids cafe to ensure a meal for children ages 6 through 13. Its leadership center helps teens and young adults from ages 14 to 21 develop independent living skills including preparing meals and job readiness.

    Its Meadville-area campus, located in Woodcock Township, has residential alternative education programs for about 75 at-risk students who have been removed from their home schools for disciplinary reasons. Components of this program include academic instruction/remediation, an academic  and behavioral level system, and group counseling for social skills, anger management, goal setting, and other relevant topics.

    There is also a daytime schooling program for students from PENNCREST, Conneaut and Crawford Central school districts who have been unsuccessful in their home schools.

    Bethesda is building a $3 million, 19,000-square-foot, two-story addition to its existing school building on its Meadville-area campus. It will include additional classroom and meeting space as well as a cafeteria.

    “There is just a growing demand for our programs,” Johnson said.



    Celebrating 130 years in 2015, the Academy Theatre in Meadville offers live productions of plays, musical performances and other theatrical events year-round.

    First opened in December 1885 as the Academy of Music, it housed local productions and touring vaudeville shows. In the early 1900s it began to show films and did so through 1980. After a fire in the mid-1980s, a group of citizens formed the Friends of the Academy to restore the theater.

    Today, in a addition to live performances, the 470-seat theater offers summer and winter camps, as well as educational programs that are open to the public.

    One of the oldest community theaters in the area, the Academy relies heavily on between 200 to 300 volunteers for staging its productions, according to Sarah Wolford, the Academy’s artistic director.

    It also has its own foundation to fund and promote the theater.

    “It’s truly amazing how many people care about the theater,” Wolford said. “They are truly dedicated to bringing quality theater to the community.”

    Theater volunteers do visible things like performing as well as everything from painting sets and mending costumes to folding programs, teaching music and selling concessions, Wolford said.

    The Academy has only three full-time staff members, Wolford as artistic director, Liz Kuhn as the theater’s executive director and Matt Anderson as its marketing director.

    “It’s a small working staff so we rely on people who are willing to give up their free time,” Wolford said.

    It’s the dedication of those involved with the Academy that keep it going and, in turn, make it an anchor in the community, she said.

    “We’re dedicated to keeping downtown (Meadville) thriving with the Academy,” she said. “People enjoy dinner out, maybe shop, then catch a show. There’s a lot more here downtown than people realize.”



    Elisabeth Smith is the new president and chief executive officer of Acutec Precision Machining Inc., an aerospace and power generation manufacturer, and a board member of the Crawford Heritage Community Foundation, the community philanthropic organization.

    “It’s an honor to earn the award,” Smith said of being named the Chamber’s Emerging Leader of the Year, “but it’s also a big responsibility being a leader in the community. I’m excited by the opportunity.”

    Before taking over the leadership role at Acutec, Smith previously held posts of director of strategic operations and interim quality director at the company.

    Acutec, founded in 1988, is a privately held manufacturing company with more than $80 million in sales annually. It has plants in Meadville and Saegertown as well as in South Caroline. As president and CEO of Acutec, Smith succeeds her father, Rob Smith, who has become executive chairman of the company.

    A 2000 graduate of Meadville Area Senior High School, she first started part-time at Acutec while in high school and established her credentials in the aerospace manufacturing industry before returning permanently to Acutec in June 2013.

    In 2004, she earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Haverford College, near Philadelphia, which included a year of study at the London School of Economics.

    She then worked for three years as a consultant for the aerospace and defense practice of Charles River Associates of Washington, D.C.

    A master’s degree in business administration in manufacturing operations was earned in 2009 from the University of Michigan’s Tauber Institute for Global Operations. Her MBA program included an internship at Alcoa Howmet, a maker of metal castings for the aerospace industry.

    After obtaining her MBA, Elisabeth accepted a position in the operations leadership program (OLP) with United Technologies Corp., rotating through its aerospace divisions. She held positions at Pratt & Whitney as a machined components cell supervisor; as a highly engineered components supply chain project manager at Hamilton-Sundstrand; and as a transmission testing supervisor for Sikorsky Helicopter. Upon graduation from the OLP, she spent two years as a manager of the Blackhawk UH-60M medical evacuation helicopter final assembly line for Sikorsky.