What a difference a year makes. Last September Rodney Smith, a student at Alabama A&M in Huntsville, challenged himself to mow 40 lawns for senior citizens, the disabled and single mothers. In between classes he astonished himself by mowing 100 lawns over the next few months and was surprised by the joyful reaction he received from his customers. Born in Bermuda Smith says
“Giving back is just normal. A lot of elderly people are on fixed incomes and paying for their lawn to get done prevents them from getting other things they need like medication.”
He says in Huntsville some areas fine homeowners for not keeping up their lawns and this seemed an undue burden for many of his clients.
One man mowing lawns in Huntsville has started a movement. In December, Raising Men Lawn Service was born and in just one year, there are official chapters in six states and young people all over the country stepping up to Smith’s 50 Yard Challenge on their own. Any child that answers the call on Facebook is sent a white T-shirt. After they mow 10 lawns, they get an orange t-shirt. It progresses a new color shirt every 10 lawns until they hit 50. Then Smith personally delivers an official Raising Men T-shirt, a new lawn mower and does a few yards with the volunteer.
Nationwide there are now 90 young men and 10 young women ages 7-17 providing lawn service to the elderly, disabled, single moms for free. With the expansion of the program, Smith also added veterans to the list of customers. Raising Men received a contribution in May of equipment and assistance from Briggs and Stratton, a manufacturer of outdoor products, who featured the group in their #YouPowered campaign.
Now, he has even bigger plans. This year, Raising Men will start raking leaves and doing snow removal. Smith even has plans to go north to his chapters in Michigan and Pennsylvania to throw snow with the volunteers.
The organization is not just about yard work. Smith ensures his young participants are receiving passing grades in school and a scan of his Facebook profile shows he’s got some star students among his volunteers. It’s about learning to work together as well. He says he has children of all different backgrounds and works to foster a team environment with group meals and a book club that get books donated from across the country.
This experience and the positive experience of the customers as well as the children has changed Rodney’s direction in life. Having completed a degree in Computer Science he is now returning to school to study for a masters in Social Work. He still mows lawns between classes and says he’s mowing significantly more now that the kids are back in school because they have taken on so many regular jobs.
Raising Men’s current source of funds to provide and repair equipment as well as expand the program is a GoFundMe site and t-shirt sales. They received a generous contribution in May of equipment and assistance from Briggs and Stratton, a manufacturer of outdoor products as well. According to Smith, the future of Raising Men is very bright. If you are interested in beginning a chapter in your community or donating contact Rodney on Facebook. Beginning October 15th, volunteers nationwide will be able to sign up at www.weareraisingmen.com.
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