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50 States 50 Lawns: Alabama college student embarks on road trip to help elderly, veterans

Posted by on Sep. 16, 2017 at 10:04 AM
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50 States 50 Lawns: Alabama college student embarks on road trip to help elderly, veterans

In between college classes, Rodney Smith Jr. can usually be found mowing lawns.

On the surface, his schedule doesn't look much different than it did a year ago, when he mowed lawns between classes for his undergraduate degree in computer science at Alabama A&M University.

And yet for the 20-something immigrant from Bermuda, everything has changed.

"I believe God gives you what you can handle, and I can handle this," said Smith.

His organization, Raising Men Lawn Care Service , isn't yet two years old. Smith and dozens of kids he mentors have mowed hundreds of yards at no charge for the elderly, disabled, veterans and single mothers in North Alabama who don't have the ability or resources to keep their yards clean.

Raising Men Lawn Care Service is part lawn care, part youth program. Last April, Smith had about 20 kids, age 7-17, cutting lawns and working through a mentoring program where they learn the value of developing a strong work ethic, self-esteem and high moral standards.

Then a photo he posted on social media, of himself and his partner with an elderly woman whose yard they'd just cut, went viral . National news outlets picked up his story: a college student who served the community by cutting lawns for free and by encouraging youth to get in involved.

Today the program has more than 60 kids in the Huntsville area, and it's growing. Chapters have opened in Texas, Tennessee, Ohio, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Smith said he gets contacted by people as far away as Australia who are interested in starting their own chapters.

He's determined not to lost that momentum.

Today he packed his lawnmower and yard tools in the back of his car. He's heading on a one-man, 50-state mission spread the lawncare gospel: that a simple act can make a huge impact on the most vulnerable in a community.

Mowing and mentoring

It all started in the fall of 2015, when Smith saw an elderly man mowing grass in front of his home. He appeared to be struggling.

"I was watching him and it just hit me," he said. "I could do something about it."

He asked friends for names of people who were elderly or disabled and needed their grass cut. He didn't have his own lawnmower, but he challenged himself to cut 40 lawns by the winter. He searched Craigslist for a used lawnmower so he could cut grass for people who didn't own mowers.

He reached his goal by October. A month later, he'd cut 100 lawns. WHNT News Channel 19 gave him a $319 grant as part of a "pay it forward" segment and he launched Raising Men Lawn Care Service.

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Today, the kids in the program - many of whom are considered at-risk youth - cut grass, rake and bag leaves, and use weed eaters and trimmers. They visit their clients every couple of weeks to make sure their lawns stay tidy.

The program uses colored shirts in a karate belt-style system. Kids start out with a white shirt. Once they've cut 10 lawns, they get an orange shirt. Another 10 they get a green, then blue. Once they've cut 50 lawns, they get a black shirt and a new lawnmower, paid for through donations to the program.

"The kids are learning teamwork and learning how to interact with different people from different backgrounds," Smith said. "It's like a brotherhood, where they learn leadership and so many other skills.

"A lot of kids have told us that if it wasn't for us, they'd be getting caught up in trouble."

Smith said sometime around the fifth lawn the kids start to understand the importance of what they're doing.

"We don't have to call them," he said. "They call us up and want to do it every weekend. That's a great sign of the impact we have in their life."

Change of course

Smith is from Bermuda, where "everybody helps everybody if they can." His father built houses for a living, and Smith thinks his father's love of helping others rubbed off on him. He came to the United States in 2009 and earned an associate's degree, then a bachelor's degree in computer science.

After he started Raising Men Lawn Care Service, he knew the course of his life was going to change.

"I found my true passion," he said. He's currently working toward his master's degree in social work At Alabama A&M and plans to graduate next May.


Smith's organization has attracted the attention of other businesses.

Last December, Smith's truck was totaled in a wreck while he was out mowing lawns. Local dealership Woody Anderson Ford gave him an F-150 pickup truck to haul his mower so he could continue mowing lawns.

Briggs & Stratton, the lawn mower engine company, featured Smith in a video for its You.Powered campaign last year. Since then, Briggs & Stratton has contributed funds and a lawnmower for Smith's 50 States 50 Lawns tour.

"Rodney and Raising Men Lawn Care Service are living a mission that's making a difference in peoples' lives on a daily basis," said Rick Carpenter, vice president of corporate marketing at Briggs & Stratton, in a statement. "That unbridled passion to help others is the essence of You.Powered and Rodney embodies it in the truest sense."

Hitting the road

Smith left today on his two-month tour of the United States. His first stop is Fultondale, Miss. and his last stop will be in Wetumpka, Ala. after flying to Alaska and Hawaii. He has lined up at least one lawn in each state to mow. A map of his route is on his website, 50states50lawns.com and Smith will chronicle his journey on his Facebook and Instagram pages.

He's already had kids from other states send him photos of themselves with lawnmowers, holding signs that say "I accept the 50-yard challenge." He hopes to meet some of them on his tour and encourage others to mow lawns in their communities at no charge.

His ambitious goal for next year is to mow lawns on all seven continents.

More information is available at Instagram/rodneysmithjr and on Facebook at facebook.com/rjr.smith and facebook.com/raisingmenlawncarehsv/

https://articles.al.com/living/index.ssf/2017/05/50_states_50_lawns_alabama_col.amp

The post about the boy mowing the White House Lawn reminded me of this.
by on Sep. 16, 2017 at 10:04 AM
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