Earlier this year Rodney Smith Jr. made headlines when he drove eight hours from his home in Huntsville, Alabama, to cut the lawn of a North Carolina veteran who couldn’t find anyone to help him with his yard work. “There are many ways to be kind,” Smith explains. “This is mine.”
That wasn’t the first time the twenty-nine-year-old Bermuda native had garnered attention for his generosity. Several years ago Smith founded Raising Men Lawn Care Service, a nonprofit whose volunteers mow the lawns of veterans and single mothers, as well as those of the elderly or disabled persons. To do his good deeds, Smith harnesses the positive power of social media—he often finds leads for those in need through Facebook and Twitter.
In 2017 Smith took his cause further, issuing a challenge to girls and boys ages seven to seventeen to mow the lawns of people who couldn’t do it themselves, for free. Since then his call has gone global—now more than 270 children in five countries as far afield as Australia have participated—and Smith, who just earned his master’s in social work at Alabama A&M University, devotes himself to his philanthropy full time.
Now Smith is making his way down the East Coast for his annual “50 Lawns, 50 States” initiative, for which he cuts at least one yard (though it’s usually more) in every state. Here, he explains what sparked his desire to make a difference, one lawn at a time.
This endeavor started with a small act of kindness several years ago, right?
Back in 2015 I was driving home, and I came across an elderly man outside mowing his lawn. He looked like he was struggling, so I pulled over and helped him out. I founded a nonprofit, Raising Men Lawn Care Service, in 2016 to help people who weren’t able to do yard work for themselves.
What about that encounter made you realize there was a need for this type of community service?
In 2013 I had a one-on-one conversation with God, and I asked him to use me as a vessel. He didn’t give me an answer that day, but when I came across that man outside mowing his lawn, I knew. And since then I’ve been mowing free lawns, mainly for the elderly, the disabled, veterans, and single mothers. I wasn’t supposed to be cutting grass. I got my bachelor’s in computer science and a master’s in social work. God led me in the direction of what he wanted me do.
You’ve gotten children involved too. What happens when they sign up for the 50 Yard Challenge?
It made sense to get kids involved because they’re able, and I thought it would be a good way to teach lawn safety, responsibility, teamwork, and the importance of community service. The 50 Yard Challenge is a mission we have issued the kids worldwide to mow fifty lawns in their community for free. The kid makes a sign that says “I accept the 50 Yard Challenge.” In return we send them a white Raising Men Lawn Care Services T-shirt, as well as eye and ear protection. Once they mow ten lawns they get an orange shirt. For twenty lawns they earn a green, thirty a blue, forty a red, and at fifty lawns they earn a black shirt. Once they reach fifty, we fly or drive to wherever they are, we do lawns with them, and we also give them a brand new lawn mower, leaf blower, and weed eater. I’m working on securing funding to also give out scholarships.
You’ve already had some kids complete the challenge. How do they feel when they’re finished?
They feel a sense of achievement that comes with knowing they made a difference. A lot of kids, they feel like they accomplished something major. Many of them continue doing free lawns after they finish the goal.
What do you wish people understood about what you’re doing?
Yard work seems like a small, simple thing, but taking care of the lawn means a lot to the people we do it for, because a lot of them are on fixed incomes and they can’t afford to pay someone to do it. When I mow their yard for free, they can use the money for medication and food and all of the things they really need. It means more than you would think.