Changing the World One Lawn (and T-shirt) at a Time
A man, a lawn, and a t-shirt design are working on changing the world.
On a fateful day in 2015, Alabama A&M Computer Science major Rodney Smith Jr. was running late for class when he drove past an elderly man struggling to mow his lawn. Seeing how difficult it was for the man to get the job done, Rodney put all thoughts of school out of his mind and pulled his car over to help. Little did he know, this one act of kindness was about to become a major turning point in his life. Since Rodney had come to the United States from his native Bermuda six years earlier, he had been searching for some sort of a sign to show him what his purpose could be. Now he finally felt like he’d found what he’d been looking for.
Rodney says it was that night that he decided to start mowing lawns for free for more people in need, focusing on the elderly, the disabled, single moms, and veterans. “I thought about people that a lot of times aren’t physically able to do it. So, that’s why I picked those four groups.” He set a goal to mow 40 lawns by the end of winter. “But I mowed 40 lawns so quick,” he says, “that I upped my goal to 100. A month and a half later, I reached my hundredth lawn, and that’s when I came up with the idea.”
He knew to get started he would need a name, a design, and custom t-shirts, so he went to the Custom Ink website for inspiration. “I was thinking about just the name, and was on there looking at t-shirts trying to design something, and typed in lawnmower or lawn care.” Clicking through the clip art in the Design Lab, he found an image showing someone growing from a baby into a man mowing a lawn. This sparked an idea. He could call his company Raising Men Lawn Care Service. He added a crown above the man’s head and the name below and ordered his first shirts. Soon, he began mowing lawns for free for other people in need under his new company name in his new company shirts. He posted about his efforts on social media, and just a few months later, Raising Men Lawn Care Service went viral.
Everyone wanted to tell his story. He started getting coverage from news outlets like The Washington Post, Today, CBS News and more. “That’s when a lady by the name of Shannon, who lived in Wichita, KS and a lady by the name of Laurie, who lived in Ohio, said they wanted to get their sons and grandsons involved in the program.” Rodney saw what could happen if he made it possible for kids to join the movement he had started and he set up “The 50 Yard Challenge.” It was a simple idea. Any kid over the age of six could sign up and commit to mowing 50 yards. Then, the kids could earn t-shirt rewards based on how far they had gotten. Much like the martial arts belt system, the shirt color would change based on the level they had reached. Mow 10 lawns, get an orange Raising Men Lawn Care shirt. 20 earns green, 30 blue, and once they hit 50, they’d get a coveted black shirt. Not only that, but Rodney would go see them to present it, along with some other gifts. “Once they mow 50 lawns,” Rodney says, “I drive or fly to wherever they are, I do lawns with them, and I also get them brand new lawn mowers, weed-eaters, and blowers.”
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The 50 Yard Challenge starter pack! If your son/daughter accepts the 50-yard challenge all they need to do is make a sign saying " I accept the 50-yard challenge", in return they will receive their white shirt, shades and ear protection that's in the picture. They have to mow 50 free lawns for the elderly, disabled, single moms or veterans in their town. Once they cut 10 lawns they get an orange shirt, 20 lawns earn a green shirt, 30 lawns earn a blue shirt, 40 lawns earn a red shirt and 50 lawns earns a black shirt. Once they reach 50 lawns, we will come visit them in their city, cut a few lawns with them, and give them different color Raising Men Lawn Care Service shirts. And we will also give them a brand new lawn mower! For kids world wide! Sign up here : http://weareraisingmen.com/50-yard-challenge/
“It started off slowly, with those two kids and their respective cities and just like that, I started pushing it, pushing it, pushing it. Then kids in different areas, states, started joining up.” Currently, there are 340 kids in the program in six countries: the U.S., Canada, Bermuda, England, Australia, and Germany. Rodney hopes to someday have kids participating in every country.
He has incorporated the name Raising Women so that girls can also participate and get a set of shirts recognizing them as well. “We’re trying to get boys and girls to get involved in the program,” says Rodney. He also didn’t want to leave out those kids who are too little to operate the real mowers. “I came across these toy bubble mowers online, and they gave the idea of getting younger kids, six and below, to join in the program. I just put these little bubble mowers on my website, and people sponsored them. I started taking them to the younger kids to get them involved. They wear our t-shirts now, and they put the bubbles, and make people smile.” For Rodney, it’s all about putting as much good out into the world as possible.
Now, he’s taking on his biggest project yet, and he’s doing it all to honor veterans. With his “Thank You For Your Service Tour,” Rodney is setting out to mow one veteran’s lawn in all 50 states, and Custom Ink is pitching in to help. In addition to providing his lawn care services, he’ll be gifting each veteran a specially designed t-shirt, donated by Custom Ink, recognizing the veteran’s service and a personal framed letter.
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He’s getting a special lawnmower wrapped in camouflage vinyl and will be wearing custom shirts and custom hats. He’s hoping that this will bring more attention to veterans and inspire others to help.
“Everywhere I go, people want to have this service in their community. People are struggling, a lot of people are on fixed incomes, especially the elderly and the veterans, so when I can come mow their lawn for free, it means so much to them. I hear a lot of times, especially from the veterans, when they were able, they took care of their lawns. But now, a lot of them are not able to do it, and when I can come mow their lawn, it just brightens their day.”
Rodney also ran a successful a t-shirt fundraiser to help raise awareness and funds to benefit The American Veteran’s Center charity.