Rodney mows through 50 states for childhood cancer
It’s been quite a while since Rodney Smith Jr was in Bermuda.
His focus has been on his charitable foundation, Raising Men Lawn Care Service, and getting his Green Card after his initial application was denied last year.
“Once I get my Green Card I’ll be back there to visit,” he said. “At the moment I have to see through the process. It’s a pretty long process.”
Despite the stress of the bureaucracy, despite the pandemic, the 32-year-old travelled through all 50 US states in May with a goal of helping others.
“I mow for different causes to bring awareness and raise money and that was my tenth 50-state tour,” said Mr Smith, who covered the 12,000-odd miles in 19 days. “Last year I was supposed to do four or five [tours] but with Covid hitting, I was only able to do one. The most recent one I mowed for was childhood cancer.
“I customised a lawnmower with gold ribbons for childhood cancer and then I went to all 50 states – driving to 48, flying to Alaska and Hawaii – and mowing for families who have kids with childhood cancer or have lost a kid to childhood cancer. I mowed the lawn, interviewed them and auctioned the lawnmower off that I’d customised.”
With his efforts come a team of more than 2,000 girls and boys between the ages of 7 and 17. Spread across all 50 US states and also in Canada, England, Australia, Germany, Japan, South Africa, Switzerland and Bermuda, they have all accepted Mr Smith’s challenge to mow 50 lawns for “the elderly, disabled, single parents, veterans and anyone in need of help in [their] town”, for free.
The volunteers receive a different colour shirt to celebrate each milestone. Once they complete 50, Mr Smith goes to congratulate them in person taking a black T-shirt, lawnmower, weed eater and blower with him.
“[It] is basically a challenge that we issue to kids to mow 50 lawns for free, wherever they live,” he said. “In return we send them a white Raising Men or Raising Women T – shirt, along with safety glasses and ear protection.
“Every ten lawns they mow they get a new colour shirt. Once they mow ten lawns they get orange; 20, green; 30, blue; 40 red, and once they mow 50 lawns they get a black shirt. There’s 2,000-plus kids nationwide taking part in it; we have kids in eight other different countries and Bermuda has one kid by the name of AJ [Lugo] that’s taking part in the 50-yard challenge.”
Although the world has slowed down due to Covid-19, Mr Smith hasn’t let the pandemic have much impact on his movements this year.
“I’ve got more kids in the organisation so I’m out delivering a lot more mowers and on the road more often these days,” he said, in an interview from his home in Huntsville, Alabama.
“I’m still able to move around, get to places. There’s nothing stopping me. I’m getting around and doing what I’ve got to do. Even when Covid first hit, with the restrictions and stuff, I was still able to move, there was just less contact.”
He drives from state to state in a car Ford Motor Company donated to his charity last year. Mr Smith started RMLCS in 2015 after a chance encounter with a senior citizen in his town.
“It just started naturally. It was just the grace of God; God’s work. I came across an elderly man outside mowing his lawn. He was struggling. I pulled over and helped him out and that’s what gave me the idea of starting to mow lawns for free,” he said.
“Everyone has their own unique story. It’s a pleasure too. When kids take part in a programme they always send pictures of each lawn they do and when they complete [it] it’s always a pleasure to meet them in person, to get to see who they are and ask them about how [the challenge] was and stuff like that.”
He finds it most heartening to hear how children have changed as a result of getting involved with his charity.
“You always hear from the parents especially, how the challenge has inspired their kids to step out and do something they wouldn’t normally do,” he said. “They get out there and meet people they normally wouldn’t have met. It just impacts their lives in a positive way. It builds character.”
His long-term plan is to “just keep growing the organisation”. Mr Smith, who was last here in 2017, enjoys that he learns something new at every step.
“Everything’s a learning experience,” he said. “You see the country, get to meet new people and just experience life. I’ve gotten to do something that most people would never have the chance to do – go to all 50 states not just once, but ten times. I get to see different cultures, I get to try different foods, to meet people and inspire kids to run America and the world.”
His hope is that RMLCS shows young people that they “can grow any idea”.
“A lot of people just don’t know where to start. The first step is doing it. Just start it. Don’t worry about how it’s going to work. Just start it and figure it out along the way.”
Although his is a familiar face in the US thanks to appearances on CNN, ABC, CBS, Fox News and other media, Mr Smith isn’t treated as anyone special in his neighbourhood.
“I’m just a regular guy that mows lawns – except that more people know me. But that’s about it. I’m no celebrity,” he said.
For more information visit weareraisingmen.com. Follow Rodney Smith Jr on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram
Bermudian Aaron “AJ” Lugo Jr has accepted Rodney Smith’s challenge of mowing 50 yards for free. The Royal Gazette spoke with the 12-year-old and his mom, Monique Lugo.
RG: How did you hear about it?
AJ: I heard about Rodney Smith’s challenge on Facebook. I saw him mowing the lawn for the single mothers, veterans, elderly and the disabled.
RG: Why did you sign up for it? When did you sign up for it?
AJ: I signed up because I wanted to help the community. I like to help other people. I signed up February 8, 2018.
RG: How did you learn to mow a lawn? Do you mow for your mom and dad?
AJ: Yes. I really just learnt from looking at my parents do it most of the time and how they would mow the lawn.
RG: How many lawns have you mowed as part of the challenge?
AJ: I have mowed 37 lawns.
RG: When do you hope to finish the challenge?
AJ: It as been hard finding people to mow for and we have had difficulty transporting the equipment because we only have bikes.
ML: And of course the pandemic hasn’t helped. But there are definitely plans to complete the challenge this summer.
RG: How long does it take to mow a lawn?
ML: It depends on the size of the lawn really. Anywhere from 45 minutes up to two hours plus. Our lawns in Bermuda are definitely not like the size of the lawns in the US. He’s done lawns repetitively but of course doing a lawn once is all that counts. So if he does a lawn three times then it’s still just counted as one as part of the challenge.
RG: And he does it repeatedly because there is need?
ML: Exactly. He also helps down at St David’s County Cricket Club. He’s mowed down there tons of times with us. He was 9, 10 when he started but he’s persevered and we’re still going.
RG: How can people contact AJ if they would like their lawn done?
ML: I guess the best way is they can reach out to my husband and I [on] Facebook – Monique Lugo and Aaron Lugo. They can reach out on messenger. If they have a lawnmower that’s great and if they don’t we’ll figure a way to get it out there and mow the lawn – if anybody has a car or truck they want to donate, we’ll take that too! Also if anybody wants to be a part of the challenge feel free to hit us up and we can definitely get them started.