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Main Content

Mowing to Make a Difference

By Erin Brereton; Photos by Evy Ross

A chance encounter led a college student to launch a national organization, providing free lawn care services to those in need

Rodney Smith Jr. was a senior at the Alabama A&M University when, one summer day in 2015, on his way home from class, he drove by an elderly man who appeared to be struggling to mow his front lawn.

Rodney pulled over and offered to mow it for him. That night, he decided he’d start providing gratis lawn care services for the elderly, veterans, disabled individuals, and single parents on a regular basis.

“I just thought about groups of people who might need it the most, and those four groups came to mind,” he says. “I posted on Facebook that if people knew [someone] to let me know, and I’d mow their lawn.”

At the time, he didn’t even have a mower of his own. But that quickly changed when he resolved to mow 40 lawns by that winter. He found a second-hand mower on Craigslist. When the seller heard what he planned to use it for, he gave it to Rodney for free. Rodney didn’t just meet his goal that year; he surpassed it by 60 lawns.

In January 2016, he officially formed Raising Men Lawn Care Services (R.M.L.C.S), an organization dedicated to providing free lawn maintenance, leaf raking, and snow removal, and encouraging community service among youth (boys and girls) in the process.

The 50-Yard Challenge

While Rodney initially focused on recruiting kids in the Huntsville, Alabama, area, in May 2016, a woman in Wichita, Kansas, reached out to Rodney on Facebook about getting her son involved. Then a grandmother in Ohio contacted him to volunteer her grandson’s assistance. Word was spreading and Rodney was once again inspired.


“That gave me the idea for the 50-Yard Challenge,” Rodney says.

Word was spreading and Rodney was once again inspired.

After signing up for the challenge, kids receive protective eye gear, earplugs, and a white T-shirt. Once they reach their goal of mowing 50 lawns or yards for those in need for free, Rodney visits them to deliver a brand-new lawnmower, trimming device, and blower. Donations from people and companies have made the program possible.

Participants, mostly between 10 and 14, can complete in the challenge at their own pace, Rodney says, because some need a parent to take them to locations.

Jami Weirich drove her 14-year-old son, Caleb, and his best friend, who’s also named Caleb, to many of the lawns around Indianapolis they tackled together in the challenge. Between May and August 2017, the two mowed more than 100 lawns, including some with grass overgrown to above-knee length.

“He definitely built up a great work ethic,” Jami says of her son. “He was able to do it with his best friend, and it gave them a sense of teamwork.”


In January 2016, he officially formed Raising Men Lawn Care Services (R.M.L.C.S), an organization dedicated to providing free lawn maintenance, leaf raking, and snow removal, and encouraging community service among youth (boys and girls) in the process.

As part of the challenge, Rodney sends participants T-shirts for different milestones they achieve. Not all complete the full challenge, and these shirts reward kids for reaching smaller goals they may have.

“It works like a karate belt system,” Jami says. “After every 10 lawns, they got a different [color] shirt, until they reached the 50th yard and got a black shirt, a certificate, and a lawnmower, and Rodney mowed a couple of lawns with them that day.”

An Ongoing Commitment

Rodney embarked on two nearly-50-state tours in 2017 and 2018 to promote the 50-Yard Challenge, driving to all the contiguous states to speak at schools, community events, and other venues. Social media posts and an appearance on the Kelly Clarkson Show also helped garner interest in the program.

To date, more than 600 kids have participated in the 50-Yard Challenge, including young people in Canada, Bermuda, England, Australia, and Germany. Some, like Erika Channel’s two sons, Michael, 12, and Jonathan, 11, who live in Sanford, Florida, have continued volunteering lawn services to those in need even after meeting their 50-yard goal.

“They just like helping others,” Erika says. “I wish there were more Rodneys in the world, because he inspires so many kids. It’s a great thing—it’s teaching the kids to give back, [which] makes them be better people.”

In addition to instilling the value of community service in kids, the program is teaching them important life skills.

“You hear a lot of stories from parents—‘My kid was a quiet kid; now he’s out there and interacting with people,’” Rodney says. “Just to see kids opening up and becoming themselves is beautiful. Some see it as a way to start a lawn mowing business […] It’s also creating entrepreneurs.”

Interest in the 50-Yard Challenge and R.M.L.C.S in general has remained high, according to Rodney; currently, the organization has young volunteers in every state except for Rhode Island and Vermont.

Rodney—who still mows daily whether he’s home or traveling—hopes to someday have kids involved in each major city and state.

“The goal hasn’t changed at all: an organization trying to encourage kids to get out and make a difference with a lawnmower in their community,” he says. “I want to keep encouraging more kids nationwide—and more and more worldwide. There’s a need everywhere I go.”

To learn more about R.M.L.C.S and get involved, visit the organization’s website.