When The Arc of Howard County decided to create an annual award for compassionate leadership, its longtime benefactor Jim Greenfield, founder of Columbia Builders, was the obvious choice.
"It's really his compassion for people that defines the person that he is," said Kari Ebeling, director of resource development at the Arc. "His leadership and compassion for wanting the best for people is very broad-based in our community. This will be given in subsequent years to people who embody the same characteristics, qualities and contributions that Jim represents."
The Arc of Howard County, an agency that supports children and adults with cognitive and developmental disabilities, will honor Greenfield, 65, tomorrow night at a fundraiser for the organization. The Columbia resident is the first recipient of the new award, which comes in the form of a crystal prism bearing his name.
The honor gives the Arc the opportunity to recognize individual contributions that have spanned years, and Greenfield typifies that kind of giving, Ebeling said.
"He doesn't just talk about doing something," she said. "He leads the way. He was always a doer."
Greenfield's first encounter with the Arc came the day after his son, Markie, was born with Down syndrome in April 1976. The Arc sent a couple who had a child with the condition to provide guidance and support for the family.
"We had no idea what we were dealing with," Greenfield said. "The next day, there was this real-life couple sitting with us telling us the real thing. They're there for you all the time. They do a tremendous job of bringing you into that community and assimilating you into the world you've stepped into. It's there to add some normalcy into this not-normal situation."
Although Markie never was able to talk, he rode everywhere in his father's truck as Greenfield toured properties and traveled throughout the community. Markie died in January 2001, his father said.
Greenfield has two adult children and three daughters ages 3, 5 and 7.
As a builder, Greenfield bought land and subdivided it to build a specialized group home in Ellicott City for his son and two others about eight years ago. He is working on another house, in Oakland Mills, that will house four clients who need round-the-clock medical care and the staff to care for them.
Columbia Builders will supply the development expertise, trucks and manpower at cost. Subcontractors also will do their work at cost, he said. Greenfield hopes to complete that project this fall.
"If anything, Jim's commitment to Arc is even greater than when Markie was alive," said longtime friend, Greg DesRoches, president of Cornerstone, an advertising and public relations firm. "Jim Greenfield, over the course of his life, has had compassion and civic involvement and a generous desire to help others at the very core of his being every waking moment."
DesRoches said Greenfield has stepped in many times to help when he saw a need.
"I have seen an unbelievable number of circumstances where he has intervened in peoples' lives anonymously," he said. "What he's done is to combine his business savvy and his compassion to help make the lives of individuals better."
DesRoches believes that Columbia founder James W. Rouse was a significant influence for Greenfield, who seemed to see the planned community as an opportunity to set down roots and help complete Rouse's vision.
"He is being saluted for much more than his commitment to the Arc," DesRoches said of his friend of three decades. "It's for his commitment to the community."