The Lawn Mower Man
by Donna Johns
It started with a small act of kindness.
Rodney Smith Jr. saw an elderly man struggling to mow his lawn. He pulled over and offered to finish the job for free. While he was mowing, he thought about all the people who might need this kind of help: the elderly, the disabled, single mothers, veterans. By the time he finished his first lawn, he had committed himself to mowing fifty lawns. He found his clients through Twitter and word of mouth.
Fifty lawns turned into a hundred. Since Rodney didn’t own a mower and some of his clients didn’t have the equipment, he contacted someone on Craigslist who was selling a mower. When Rodney explained his mission, the man gave him the mower. That’s when Rodney realized he could ask for what he needed and people, inspired by his mission, would be happy to help.
Rodney’s next project was more ambitious. He decided to mow lawns in all fifty states. Underwritten by lawn mower companies and private donations, he set out in 2017 to meet his goal. Every family he helped was featured in his Twitter feed. They included veterans suffering from PTSD, moms working three jobs to keep food on the table, elderly widows living alone. He also sampled cuisine from each state; he was not a fan of New England clam chowder.
Returning home to Alabama, Rodney completed his Masters in social work but decided that his true calling was on the road, highlighting the needs present in every community. He grew his one act of kindness by forming a group for young people called the Fifty Lawn Challenge. Hundreds of children have pledged to mow fifty lawns in their communities for free, and the numbers grow with every state he visits.
After a second summer touring the fifty states, Rodney had raised a significant amount of money. He spent part of this past winter reaching out to the homeless in his home state of Alabama. Armed with a trunk full of survival kits (sleeping bags, heavy socks, warm jackets, gloves) and cash cards donated by businesses, he traveled through the state highlighting the plight and the dignity of the homeless. He would approach a homeless person and simply ask them what they really wanted or needed.
Many of them longed for a hot shower and a soft bed for the night. Rodney handed out vouchers for two days at a local hotel. A lot of them wanted cell phones so they could look for work and have a way to have an employer call them. Two brothers in North Carolina just wanted bus tickets so they could go home to see their family. Rodney left each person knowing that someone cared enough to reach out and connect with them.
His newest project? He’s raising money each month for someone in short term financial trouble. Each month he asks his supporters to vote on some candidates submitted to him through his huge social network. Last week he delivered a check to a single mother in Texas whose son has a serious medical problem.
And, of course, he still mows lawns when he sees someone in need.
You can support Rodney’s work at http://weareraisingmen.com/ and you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
Donna is a teacher/librarian, writer of unpublished romance novels, sometime director of community theater and BOLLI member. She has two fantastic faux knees which set off the metal detectors at Fenway Park.