A man by the name of Rodney Smith, Jr. was enduring a period in life whereby he fell upon difficult times and sought countenance. He prayed to God for guidance. As Rodney tells it: “I was having a rough time. I asked God to use me as His vessel. He didn’t give an answer that day, not a month later, not a year later. He gave me an answer the day I came across an elderly man outside mowing his lawn and it looked like he was struggling. So I pulled over and helped him out. That night I decided to mow free lawns for the elderly, disabled, single moms and veterans.”
And that is exactly what this service-above-self man did. In 2016, Rodney set out to gather the bare essentials, help members of the community in which he lives, and keep on giving. But it didn’t just remain a one-and-done Good Samaritan deed. It spread to another demographic: Youngsters.
As Rodney set out to do good for those in need of cutting-edge lawn service, he saw the entrepreneurial potential in training a force of helpers, young ones, so that they can learn a trade while also giving to those less fortunate. He had no idea of the work force, which grew beyond his wildest expectations. With the blossoming non-billing business model based on donations for upkeep and maintenance, Rodney’s concept sprouted across property lines. He was embraced by benefactors, citizens, and observant corporate figureheads. He was heralded and humbly portrayed across social media under the iconic dog tag series “Military Kind.”
He caught the attention of everyday-Joes who were intrigued. One such fan is an engineer, Destin, who posted to the YouTube channel Smarter Every Day 2. Destin met with Rodney in Alabama, where both men live, and filmed a slo-mo (slow mow?) A/V clip depicting the mower blades in action. I guess it was the engineer in Destin which opted for that particular view. While conducting the rather informal interview/footage, Rodney received a call from a New York Post columnist wanting to do a piece on him and his business model.
Rodney took his concept and gave it the name Raising Men Lawn Care Service based in Madison, Alabama. He engages young individuals in the age range of 7-17. And, although the RMLCS moniker does state “men,” females are a part of the team as well—perhaps a name change will evolve. He teaches young folks the fundamentals in lawncare, instills safety factors, sets them in motion, and they grind the grass. With that, the 50 Yard Challenge was born.
The 50 Yard Challenge seeks to deploy youngsters throughout their own communities all across America. It’s also taking root in other nations. Rodney’s incentive to get kids busy and productive? Cut 50 lawns for the elderly, single moms, veterans, and disabled citizens…and you receive a free lawn mower. With each batch of 10 lawns mowed for any of the aforementioned demographics, youngsters receive a Raising Men Lawn Care Service shirt in a specified color based on the quantity of cut lawns. It serves much like martial arts schools doling out certain colored belts as kids (“grasshoppers”) graduate in skill levels and accomplishments. Each set of ten lawns garners the next color among the RMLCS spectrum of shirts.
Rodney asked God to tell him his purpose. He found it when he saw an elderly man struggling to mow his lawn.Watch Salute to Veterans this Independence Day: https://usat.ly/2u58k6C
Posted by Humankind on Wednesday, July 4, 2018
“It’s for the Kids”
Rodney relies on donations and the kindness of others for equipment, gasoline, and maintenance. It is paying off, apparently. In a few interviews, Rodney shows and expresses gratitude to Briggs & Stratton, a mega lawn care equipment company. Rodney receives lawnmowers and accoutrements from Briggs & Stratton which, in turn, he gifts to kids when they achieve the 50 Yard Challenge successfully. Inherent are win-win-win dividends: Rodney’s field force serves neighbors; Briggs & Stratton receives walking advertisements; and the kids gain a machine to grow the business model and organically feel good about themselves. Rest assured, tips are lining these kids’ pockets: Living without expectation is a life lesson while receiving gifts is another via which the giver and receiver benefit.
By paying it forward, Rodney’s business model and purpose is sustained by others giving to the cause. The ultimate litmus test is in what he says the kids admit when they are trained and out manicuring plots in their community. “A lot of kids get a sense of pride in knowing that they’re making someone’s day and making a difference in their community,” says Rodney.
It reminds me of when I were a young lad. Growing up in Brooklyn, NY did not afford much grass to be cut—too much concrete. However, helping newspaper delivery truck crews package and “throw” newspapers at street-corner magazine stands was the gig I garnered to gain some pocket change. Back in the day, there was an art to flinging heavy bundles of newspapers—the truck did not necessarily come to a complete stop in order to “make time.” The angles which I needed to master to land that hulk of New York Daily News square at the feet of the magazine stand became a thing for me. I guess it was the urban equivalent of the suburban newspaper delivery boy tossing rolled-up news on lawns or front porches.
For me, it was an ideal way of not only making gum money (and free newspapers for dad), it also allowed me to cruise the neighborhood. I already had my sights set on being a NYPD cop, so my eyes were peeled for street activities well before I even knew what a felony or misdemeanor meant.
What Rodney does for kids among his cutting-edge workforce the newspaper delivery drivers did for me and a few other “neighborhood boys.” It felt good to be in a productive mode with a mentor behind me to ensure I did what I was supposed to do, providing guidance and incentives.
In his seemingly Louisiana dialect (research indicates he is from Bermuda), Rodney boasts, “It makes me feel good because a small idea has blossomed into something pretty amazing, and it’s inspiring kids not just in America but kids nationwide and even worldwide.”
A man of actions behind his words, Rodney maintains grass-cutting chores also. He is currently chalking-up visits in 23 states with plans to trim greens in all 50 states. His Instagram page chronicles where he has been (cut grass) and where he is headed for a trim. I wondered: How does he go about locating individuals in the predetermined demographics he seeks to help?
The Raising Men Lawn Care Service has a website which anyone can visit to fill out a “Service Request” on behalf of self or neighbor or anyone who befits any of the military veterans, single moms, the elderly, or disabled categories. According to Rodney’s specs, “The service we provide them is completely free. Please allow us up to 6-8 days to get your lawn due to the increase in the amount of lawns we have received.” That sounds like the absolute success of a nationwide rollout. In case anyone is wondering about other related property maintenance woes, RMLCS also offers snow-shoveling and leaf-raking for free.
Incidentally, the story you just read was influenced by the first video attached above. As of this writing there are almost 4 million views, so Rodney is no longer in the gray zone wondering what he should do with his life. It is fair to say he has received his spiritual answer, found his calling, and carved a niche by cutting greens, investing in neighbors, and shaping the lives of kids who can learn to pay it forward in all aspects.
And it all started with one man who knew the service above self mantra has no expiration. Rodney completed a baccalaureate degree in computer science and is currently studying for his graduate degree in social work. Fair to say he has his field work already maintained.