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.”