Little did Rodney Smith, Jr., know that day when he stopped to help a senior man mow his lawn that he had taken the first step of an inspiring journey.
Rodney Smith, Jr.’s classes at Alabama A&M in Huntsville were done for the day that scorching August afternoon in 2015. All he wanted to do was get home, crank up the air conditioner and tackle his computer science homework.
He jumped in his car but, for some reason, took a different route home than usual. A left here, a right there, then up a hill. That’s when Rodney saw an elderly man struggling to mow his lawn. He would take a couple wobbly steps, using the handle to stabilize himself, pause, then slowly push the mower again. Something inside Rodney said, You’ve got to help him.
Rodney pulled over to the curb, got out and introduced himself. “Sir, can I help you? You’ve got a pretty big lawn here to cut.” The older gentleman, Mr. Brown, said he lived alone and wasn’t able to hire anyone to help keep his lawn in shape. “Aw, let me do it for you,” Rodney said. “It’s on me.” He got the job done in 20 minutes. Mr. Brown thanked him profusely, and Rodney went home feeling gratified.
Sitting at his computer to do his homework, Rodney couldn’t get Mr. Brown out of his mind. There must be other Mr. Browns out there—many others. He went on Facebook and posted on a local yard sale page that he would mow lawns for free for senior citizens.
Messages flooded his in-box. Seniors who couldn’t cut their lawns because of medical conditions. Seniors who could get fined by the city if their yards weren’t kept up. Seniors who couldn’t afford to pay for professional yard services. He also heard from people with disabilities, veterans and struggling single moms. Rodney included all these folks on his list.
He set out to cut 40 lawns before Christmas, doing it between classes and school assignments. “Sometimes I’d get to class all sweaty, with fresh-cut grass on my sneakers,” he says. “But I’d promised these folks I’d help them.”
People told Rodney, “Your parents must be so proud.” Yes, Rodney’s mom and dad were. But he had to chuckle. He grew up in Bermuda, known for its lush, manicured lawns. When he was a kid, his chore was cutting the lawn, and he’d do everything he could to procrastinate starting up that mower. Now here he was, doing it for others for free!
His only problem: He couldn’t help folks who didn’t have their own mowers. He searched Craigslist. A guy nearby was selling a used mower, but it was way out of his price range. When Rodney told the seller what he needed it for, the guy let him have it for free. Rodney heaved the mower into his car’s trunk. Have mower, will travel! He finished 40 lawns by November, so he upped his goal to 50. Then 100.
Rodney was doing more than mowing lawns. He was building relationships with his neighbors. One day he called a woman battling cancer to say he was running late. She said she wasn’t having a good day. After he finished mowing, he knocked on her door. “You’re going to win this fight, Ms. Chaplain,” he said. Then he got on Facebook and asked folks to pray for her.
Word of Rodney’s mission spread. He got a message from a grandmother in Ohio. She said he’d inspired her 12-year-old grandson to mow lawns too. He got a letter from a seven-year-old boy in Kansas. “Mr. Rodney, I would like to be a part of your program, and I’ll make you proud,” he wrote.
That gave Rodney an idea. Maybe he could make this a national movement for young people. He came up with a name—Raising Men Lawn Care Service—and created an incentive with colored T-shirts. Kids get a white shirt to start, then orange for 10 lawns mowed, green for 20, blue for 30 and so on. Like earning karate belts.
One hundred fifty kids now mow lawns, and there are chapters in seven states. After a kid mows 50 lawns, Rodney visits and buys the volunteer a new mower through donations. And, yes, Rodney has a new mower too, courtesy of lawn mower maker Briggs & Stratton. It’s always in his trunk. Have mower, will travel.
RMLCS is a nonprofit now, a combination of a yard maintenance service and a program to inspire young men and women to choose a positive path for their lives and gain a sense of accomplishment and purpose. Services have expanded to include leaf raking and snow shoveling. “The kids learn the joy of giving back,” Rodney says. “I want to encourage them to make good life choices and to develop self-confidence.”
Today Rodney is finishing his master’s degree in social work. “I found my true calling—a love for helping people,” he said. This past summer, he accomplished his goal of mowing lawns for those in need in all 50 states. Next summer, he plans to mow the lawn of someone in need on each continent.
Rodney’s life changed that hot August day when he took a different route home. He thinks it was God telling him which way to go, showing him how he could make a difference in this world, one lawn at a time.
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