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A giving state of mind

July 15, 2015 -  By
LM0715_jacobsen-Shiloh-Bible-Camp Photo: Jacobsen Landscape Design & Construction

The Jacobsen team poses for a photo at the Shiloh Bible Camp project. Photo: Jacobsen Landscape Design & Construction

In one New Jersey community, a big company 
is making a big difference.

It’s been nearly 14 years since 9/11. For many people, life has gone on. But in some places, like Midland Park, N.J., just 20 miles outside New York City, the loss still feels fresh.

When Glenn Jacobsen, LIC, owner of Midland Park-based Jacobsen Landscape Design & 
Construction, was asked about his company’s latest volunteer efforts, he had to go back a few years, because it was a 2012 project his company was involved with—a 9/11 garden memorial at a neighboring firehouse—that set the standard.

Mark Milidantri, LIC, landscape design/sales at Jacobsen, designed and coordinated that 9/11 project.

“We were contacted by the local fire department to design a 9/11 memorial garden,” he recalls. “They had acquired a six-foot, 2,800-pound piece of steel from the World Trade Center, and they wanted to include it in a memorial.”

Over two months, the Jacobsen team enticed local landscape contractors and contractors from other trades to donate their time and talents to the garden’s creation. “It was an easy sell because of the proximity of the community to New York,” Jacobsen says.

In the end, more than 25 companies collaborated on the memorial over 10 weeks, crafting a poignant tribute to the area residents, firefighters and first responders lost on 9/11.


Graphic: LM Staff

Valued at more than $30,000, the garden is circular, with the steel as its centerpiece. “We had competing companies working together on this project, and that was pretty fulfilling,” Jacobsen explains. “It was a neat concept, and it worked.”

About 300 people attended the garden’s dedication ceremony. It was an emotional commemoration highlighted by bagpipers and the unveiling of the World Trade Center beam.

“Designing this memorial garden, being able to rally our competitors and get everybody together for this common cause, it was truly gratifying,” Milidantri says.

A group effort

Over the past 10 years, Jacobsen Landscape has engaged in projects with 33 nonprofits and charities, including family and youth organizations, schools, churches and community centers.

Employees, too, are paying more attention to needs in their own neighborhoods and bringing their own ideas to the table, Milidantri says. The management team used to select the projects. Now employees are driving change. For example, Project Supervisor Matt Touw, LIC, had a passion for his alma mater, Eastern Christian High School. And for eight weeks last summer, the Jacobsen crew and partners from 10 companies worked to make Touw’s vision for an outdoor classroom a reality.

Most materials for the project were donated by area suppliers and vendors, and the contractors involved were Eastern Christian alumni. While Jacobsen’s labor on the project can be valued at $6,000, the large-scale project in all was worth about $40,000. The outdoor classroom seats about 30 students. The site also 
features an area for socializing, a large patio and a 
garden used to grow vegetables for the community.

Coordinating the contractors and student volunteers wasn’t easy, Jacobsen says, nor was transporting materials into and out of the building. Logistically, he says, “it was a challenging project, but we made it happen.”

Giving ingrained in company culture

The company lifts in equipment for improvements at Eastern Christian High School. Photo: Jacobsen Landscape Design & Construction

The company lifts in equipment for improvements at Eastern Christian High School. Photo: Jacobsen Landscape Design & Construction

While Jacobsen Landscape has been committed to community service since its origins, it reinvigorated its dedication to the cause in 2007, executing one big project annually in the style of “Extreme Home Makeover.” But there were inherent logistical challenges to that. Eventually, the company took on smaller projects that required fewer people on a team and found its rhythm.

As company owner, Jacobsen asks his employees to devote at least one day a year to community 
service, and between 60 and 90 percent of them oblige. The company values volunteerism because its leaders—Jacobsen and his wife, Melissa (CFO)—value volunteerism. “It starts with me and the 
management team,” Jacobsen says.

On the job, employees get a “feel-good feeling” from helping others on a project, Jacobsen says. Even Milidantri says the 9/11 garden filled him with pride and made him feel responsible for something meaningful. Projects always boost morale, he says.
Customers, meanwhile, see the company supporting the community and identify it as a business that cares. “The biggest benefit is we’re known as giving back to the community,” Jacobsen says. “People like doing 
business with a company that’s community minded.”



About the Author:

Geraci is a freelance writer based in Cleveland. She has worked as a professional journalist for more than 15 years, including six years as a writer for the Chicago Tribune. A graduate of Allegheny College and Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Geraci began her career as an editor at a newswire service in Washington, D.C., where she edited and distributed press releases from the White House and congressional leaders. She went on to become the community news reporter at the Jackson Hole Guide newspaper, winning two national feature writing awards. Her other experience includes working as a book editor in Chicago and as a professor of business communications at Cleveland State University.

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