They say the grass is greener on the other side, but for one group of young men in Huntsville, Alabama, that grass is only greener if it’s freshly cut.
Last fall, Rodney Smith Jr., 26, noticed an elderly man struggling to cut his lawn one afternoon — when he had an idea.
“My father always told me, ‘If you have an idea, go for it,’” Smith told TODAY. “When I saw that man, it hit me. I felt I needed to do something and I went for it.”
The next day, Smith took to Facebook, where he offered to provide free lawn care services for the elderly, disabled or single mothers in need who lacked the time, ability or resources to maintain their own yards.
In a little over a month, Smith surpassed his goal of mowing 40 lawns before the winter season arrived. But that didn’t mean he ended his mission early. Instead, he challenged himself to a new goal: complete 100 lawns before the arrival winter. And he accomplished that, only two short months later.
By December, Raising Men Lawn Care Service was born. Smith, his co-founder and friend Terrence Stroy, and their team of 20 young men (ranging in age from 7 to 17) keep their neighbors’ lawns looking crisp on a biweekly basis. Their going rate, however, is $0. Instead, they sustain the business via donations on their GoFundMe page.
“It was amazing to see how many people were actually in need of help,” he said. “You have no idea what someone could need unless you extend a hand.”
Originally from the island of Bermuda, Smith came to the United States at the age of 16, and says that the “Bermudian” way of life has been his ultimate inspiration behind Raising Men’s mission.
“When you come from a country with less than 65,000 people, everyone knows everyone, so everyone helps each other,” Smith said. “We call it ‘the Bermudian way.’ It’s a culture of giving back, of paying it forward.”
That's why Smith decided to put the Bermudian way to good use, and sent out requests to local mothers asking if they had sons who would join him in giving back to the community.
“In some cities, you can pay a fine for having an unkempt lawn,” Smith said. “Those who don’t have the means to take care of it should not have to suffer, so that’s where we come in.”
Still, what has become essential to the team’s objective goes beyond the free services: Smith says it's the influence on young men that keeps them going. In fact, that positive impact is the very reason why he’s decided to find a way to incorporate young women into the team as well.
“They’re young, but they say, ‘It’s cool to give back.’ They see the faces of the single mothers, or the senior citizens when they finish the job and they know they’ve made a difference as part of a team," he said. "That makes them feel good, and I think it puts a good head on their shoulders.”
That ethos caught the attention of Briggs & Stratton, a company that focuses on the engineering, manufacturing, and development of outdoor products. When they heard of Raising Men and its mission, they decided to not only provide them with brand new, state-of-the-art outdoor equipment, but they even paid off the team’s GoFundMe fundraiser as part of their You.Powered campaign.
"It’s about the millions of people doing great things to help their neighbors and communities with the assistance of outdoor power equipment,” the company’s president of marketing, Rick Carpenter, told TODAY about the campaign. “Maybe it’s snow-blowing a neighbor’s driveway. Maybe it’s helping single moms, the elderly and kids — like Rodney has done.”
In a video for the campaign, the team was able to spread their message to more than 400,000 people. Now, Smith says he hopes this will motivate volunteers from across the country to join their team and expand Raising Men’s outreach.
In the meantime, Smith is studying computer science at Alabama A&M University, a field which he credits for helping him set up the logistics of the organization. But he tells TODAY that he's had a change of heart since launching Raising Men. After graduation this month, he says he plans to go back to school and obtain a master's degree in social work because he wants to devote his life to helping and supporting not just many people, but many communities.
But for now, Smith says that he’s fulfilled seeing the seemingly small but effective impact that Raising Men is having on his local community.
“I’m just happy knowing that we’re making other people happy,” he said. “That’s what helping people is all about.”