A Huntsville, Alabama, resident aims to inspire boys and girls across the country to help others one lawn at a time.
Rodney Smith Jr.’s “50 Yard Challenge” asks kids to help the elderly, disabled, single parents and veterans by cutting their grass for free. It falls under the umbrella of Smith’s Raising Men & Women Lawn Care Service as a way of giving back to the community and bridging the gap between youth and the elderly.
The challenge encourages kids to find 50 yards of qualifying people and mow their lawns for free. The kids earn T-shirts along the way, and after yard 50 has been mowed, they receive a new lawn mower, weed eater and leaf blower for their efforts. (If you want to donate cash to help the cause buy equipment, gasoline, t-shirts, etc., go to the “donate” tab on the lawn care service’s website.)
Smith Jr. shares his goals with Zenger, goes into detail about the “50 Yard Challenge” and much more.
Percy Crawford interviewed Rodney Smith Jr. for Zenger.
Zenger: What you are doing in your community and have inspired others to do in theirs is nothing short of remarkable. What has it been like to watch the growth of Raising Men & Women Lawn Care Service?
Smith Jr: It’s been a good experience. You learn different stuff every day. It’s like you start a little adventure. You didn’t know what to expect, and along the way things start happening.
Zenger: This idea started when you witnessed an elderly man struggling to cut his grass, and you went and finished it for him. Has this turned into something that is beyond your wildest imagination?
Smith Jr: Yes! I didn’t expect it to be what it is today. God works in amazing ways. He will have the book already written for you, it’s just up to you to read the book. I came across the elderly man, and since that moment, I have been mowing free lawns. I believe I’m on a journey by God to encourage kids to get out there and make a difference in their community and a positive impact on the world.
Zenger: Was that the thought process in inspiring kids from all over to join this movement?
Smith Jr: I was just looking for ways to involve kids, locally at first … and eventually kids in other states wanted to take part in it, and that’s when the “50 Yard Challenge” came about. It started off small and the last few years, [it] has taken off. Right now, we have over 2,400 kids nationwide taking part in our challenge… We also have kids in eight other counties taking part as well, so it’s good.
Zenger: Tell us more about the “50 Yard Challenge.”
Smith Jr: Say a kid in New York or wherever they may be wants to take part in the challenge. They make a sign saying, “I Accept The 50 Yard Challenge,” and in return we will send them a white Raising Men & Women T-shirt, along with safety glasses, and ear protection. Once they mow 10 lawns, they get an orange shirt, once they mow 20 a green, 30 a blue, 40 earns a red shirt and once they mow 50 lawns, they earn a black shirt, and I will drive to them wherever they are in the United States, or fly if it’s international, and present them a brand-new mower, weed eater and blower for completing the “50 Yard Challenge.”
Zenger: Not only are you teaching these kids the value of giving back to their communities, but you’re also encouraging them to learn a skill in lawn service that not all young adults learn.
Smith Jr: Yeah, it’s definitely a skill. And what we are finding out is that most kids that complete the “50 Yard Challenge” are going on to start a new business, and most of them still mow lawns for free for those in need. So, we are making entrepreneurs, as well.
Zenger: What’s the age range for kids wanting to be involved with Raising Men & Women Lawn Care Service?
Smith Jr: They range from 7 to 17.
Zenger: What’s the end goal for your company?
Smith Jr: Just to continue to grow the organization and eventually start going into different states. That would be the big goal — to have people doing this everywhere. … Once we get more people involved, we can help more people.
Zenger: For anyone involved in this or thinking about getting involved this, especially kids, could you explain the importance of staying hydrated, especially down South?
Smith Jr: It’s very important to stay hydrated, especially in the summertime when you’re doing most of your grass cutting. It’s real hot out there. For the last 11 months or so, I have only been drinking water. It’s really helped me a lot, especially when you’re out there on those hot days. … And it’s important to always have a hat on, take water breaks and take your time. This heat could be very deadly at times, so take all precautionary measures.
Zenger: Do you only handle those in need in your state of Alabama, or do you take on accounts or situations in other states as well?
Smith Jr: I just take care of the Huntsville, Alabama, area, but the kids we acquire find their own lawns. … That’s how it works. They are responsible for finding their own lawns and that’s a good way to give them the opportunity to meet people who they normally wouldn’t have met. … Sometimes people reach out to us and ask if we have a kid in their area, and we put them in touch with the kid if we have one in their area, but when it comes to me mowing throughout the year, I have a group of people who I mow for.
Zenger: We need unity and interaction more than ever now, and you’re absolutely right, it allows these kids to open dialogue with someone who they typically wouldn’t have that dialogue with.
Smith Jr: Definitely important in this day and age. A lot of elderly people are stuck at home, with families that may be in another state and can’t travel to them. They don’t get to have that human interaction a lot. When a kid comes by, they can talk, get to know each other and get to build relationships. They learn things from each other.
Zenger: Rodney, I think what you do is awesome and to encourage others to do it is amazing, man. Please continue the great work and any way I can help spread the word, let me know.
Smith Jr: Thank you so much. I really appreciate the opportunity.
Edited by Judith Isacoff and Matthew B. Hall
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