Rodney Smith Jr. is on a mission to change the world, one lawn at a time.
It was 2015 when Smith, then 26, came up with his idea. Smith was driving home from school one day near his home in Huntsville, Alabama, when he saw an elderly man struggling to mow his lawn. Without giving it a second thought, Smith pulled over and helped. The man was so grateful that Smith realized how difficult it was for many people to keep up with the basic lawn care and maintenance.
"There are so many people who are elderly, disabled, single moms, and veterans who cannot afford to pay for lawn care service," said Smith on his Instagram account. For many of those folks, it can be a choice between paying for expensive lawn care or paying the fines imposed by the local government for not keeping their lawns in order.
Smith wrote a post on Facebook letting people in his community know that he wanted to offer free lawn care services for those in need who lacked the time, ability or resources to maintain their own yards. He set a personal goal to mow 40 yards. Within two months, he had mowed over 100.
A few months later, Smith founded Raising Men Lawn Care Service with the mission to inspire boys (and girls) to help their neighbors in need. In 2017, he took things one step further by organizing the 50 Yard Challenge, inspiring kids worldwide to mow 50 lawns for free for people in their community who are elderly, disabled, veterans or single moms.
The challenge has a reward system similar to the belts used in the martial arts. Kids are rewarded with a new colored T-shirt for every 10 lawns they cut until they reach their goal of 50 lawns. Once they hit that milestone, they get a black T-shirt, a visit from Smith, and a brand new lawnmower to continue their work. Smith and his co-founder, Terrence Stroy, keep Raising Men Lawn Care going via donations from private sponsors and through their website. Monetary donations go towards lawn equipment, gas, drinks and snacks for the kids, etc.
There are currently around 204 kids in the 50-yard challenge, which means 10,200 yards will be mowed for free throughout the U.S.. Smith himself recently completed his annual goal of mowing lawns in all 50 states. In May, he started in Wisconsin and finished in Hawaii in July. But just because he's met that goal doesn't mean he's done for the year. There are still many requests to fulfill and grass to cut.
Editor's note: This article has been updated since it was originally published in June 2017.