On Tuesday, January 21st, Rodney Smith, Jr of Raising Men Lawn Care Service arrived at Randolph-Macon Academy after traveling up the East Coast from Huntsville, AL.
Mr. Smith was invited and hosted by R-MA parent Cheryl Williams, who had been inspired by his story. “After doing some research, I too was inspired by his commitment to give back to others,” said R-MA Middle School Principal Tony Ballard, who introduced Mr. Smith to the students. “Community service and giving back are a big part of what we value here at R-MA, so I hope that hearing his story will motivate you to do more in your community here in Front Royal, or in the community that you call home.”
Mr. Smith gave a brief bio of his life to start. He was originally from Bermuda, and later attended a boarding school in upstate New York. He started ITT Tech, but disliked being in Florida by himself. He returned home and considered becoming a police officer. Finally, his father told him to go to Huntsville, AL, to be with family. He was there for 10 years, completing his associate’s degree and working on his bachelor’s degree.
“In my senior year, I came across this elderly man outside mowing his lawn. It looked like he was struggling, so I pulled over to help him,” he said. “At that moment, I decided I would start mowing lawns for free for the elderly, disabled, single parents and veterans in Huntsville, AL. That one small act of kindness would change my life forever.”
On July 25, 2015, Mr. Smith posted what he had done and what he wanted to do onto his Facebook account and offered up his services. He had a goal of mowing 40 lawns by the end of winter; a month and a half later, he had already hit his goal. He upped his goal to 100, which he hit two months later.
People were quick to get involved. When he went to purchase a lawn mower for $100, he shared his story, and the man gave him the lawn mower for free.
As he reached his second goal, Mr. Smith came up with the idea for Raising Men Lawn Care Service. He would still mow lawns himself, but now he wanted to inspire kids ages 7-17 to mow lawns and give back to their communities. The organization was officially founded in January 2016.
As his story spread, Mr. Smith was contacted by teenagers who wanted to participate, and the idea for the 50 Yard Challenge was born. “The 50 Yard Challenge is a challenge that we have issued to kids nationwide and even worldwide to mow 50 yards [for] free in their community for the elderly, disabled, single parents and veterans.”
When children sign up, they receive a white “Raising Men” or “Raising Women” shirt, shades, and ear protection. For every ten yards they mow, rake, or even snow shovel, they receive another T-shirt, each a different color. Getting children and teens to complete the 50 Yard Challenge is still rare enough that when a student completes it, Mr. Smith drives to them and presents them with their black T-shirt as well as a brand-new lawn mower, weedeater, and blower. More than 600 kids have completed the 50 Yard Challenge.
Mr. Smith has completed five tours of all 50 states and hopes to take an international tour soon. His tours have each had a different focus: he took one with Spider Man, visiting hospitals to bring cheer to terminally ill children; for another he dressed as Santa and brought blankets and goods to those in need. His fifth tour honored veterans. His sixth was the “cop tour,” which encouraged police officers to mow lawns in their communities and build relationships; this tour prompted Toro to create mowers decked out in police car colors and lights. Mr. Smith has even dressed in pink, painted his mower pink, and mowed lawns to help raise funds in the fight against breast cancer.
At the end of his presentation, 24 Randolph-Macon Academy students stood up and accepted the 50 Yard Challenge, a number which brought a big smile to Mr. Smith’s face. To top it off, he got to meet a child from the local community who had already accepted his challenge and came to the presentation just to meet him.
It was indeed an inspiring afternoon for all–even for the presenter.