© Jake Gravbrot

The Edwards family in Laredo, Texas, started a new family tradition about two years ago: mowing lawns free of charge on weekends for families in need.

The family of seven goes out to the Laredo community with mowers, weed eaters and blowers most Saturdays and Sundays to perform maintenance jobs for elderly or disabled people, veterans and single mothers. Charles Edwards, a firefighter in Laredo, says even their youngest daughter who is 4 years old helps by picking up debris or pushing a mower with mom or dad. Since 2016, he says the family has performed free lawn maintenance on at least 200 lawns.

“We’ve kind of lost count,” he says.

Edwards says his family was inspired to give back to their community in this way after seeing a post on social media by Rodney Smith Jr., founder of Raising Men Lawn Care Service, about a 50 Yard Challenge. Smith regularly posts about this challenge, which encourages kids across the U.S. to mow 50 lawns for people in need for free. Kids who complete the challenge receive a free lawn mower and T-shirt from Raising Men Lawn Care, which is a nonprofit in Huntsville, Alabama.

“It sounded like a great idea,” Edwards says. “It was pretty easy to get our kids involved in it, and it was a great service. This small service benefits people, especially the elderly, who have problems mowing lawns.”

When the Edwards children completed the 50 Yard Challenge, Edwards says Smith visited them to give the kids gifts and a free weed eater, a lawn mower and a blower. He also helped the family mow lawns in the neighborhood. While the Edwards family completed the challenge, they decided to keep on giving back to their community. They started a chapter of Raising Men Lawn Care to encourage others to join them in serving people.

“Our kids told us, ‘Why stop at 50? Let’s keep going,’” Edwards says.

The Edwards family is just one group of many that have taken on Smith’s 50 Yard Challenge in the past two years. Smith says there are more than 190 kids who have participated in the challenge since he first posted about it.

“We have kids who have done the 50 Yard Challenge in over 25 states, including one in Canada and seven in Bermuda and England,” Smith says. “Today, 12 kids overall have completed this.”

Whenever Smith provides lawn service to a family in need on his 50 States, 50 Lawns tour, his one request to the family is to take a selfie with them and post it to social media.
© Jake Gravbrot
Starting small.

The 50 Yard Challenge has gone viral in the past year and Raising Men Lawn Care is now a recognized nonprofit as of 2018, but Smith says it all started as a favor for an elderly man who needed help on July 25, 2015.

“Back in 2015, I was leaving school one day and I (drove by) an elderly man outside mowing his lawn,” Smith says. “He looked like he was struggling, so I pulled over and helped him out.”

Smith had no experience with lawn maintenance or lawn care. He grew up in Bermuda and came to the U.S. for high school and college to study computer science, but he says he knew he had to help that man mow his lawn. Later that day, Smith says he felt led by God to continue providing that same service to others free of charge in between his classes. He posted about this decision to Facebook that day:

“So today as I was driving, I saw an elderly man outside mowing his lawn. It looked like he was having a hard time doing it due to the extreme heat out here, so I pulled over and finished it for him. So I’ve decided that from today on, I’ll be mowing lawns FREE for the elderly, disabled, single moms and veterans. If you know any of the 4 needing their lawn cut please contact me.”

From that post, Smith’s friends sent him names and contact information of people he could serve by mowing their lawns for free. He says he initially set a goal to mow 40 lawns by December, but he quickly achieved that goal and upped it to 100. One month later, he achieved the revised goal.

“I would encourage (people to) at least mow one free lawn a day. If mowing companies can mow one free lawn a day for someone, it would make a huge difference in their community.” Rodney Smith Jr., founder, Raising Men Lawn Care Service

“That’s when I came up with an idea,” he says. “I came up with the idea of Raising Men Lawn Care Service, where I could still mow free lawns for the elderly, disabled, single moms and veterans, but I would also include kids ages 7 to 17 to show them the importance of giving back to their community with a lawn mower.”

Smith saw this as an opportunity to teach kids how to give back to their communities as well as provide a free service to more people in need. Raising Men Lawn Care launched as a group for kids to get together to mow people’s lawns for free in the Huntsville community. To keep the program going as a nonprofit, Smith receives donations from people through websites like GoFundMe. He also posted the 50 Yard Challenge to social media to involve kids outside of Huntsville, as well.

“For the challenge, each kid has to mow 50 free lawns for their community,” he says. “If they accept this challenge, they make a sign saying, ‘I accept the 50 Yard Challenge.’”

To provide an extra incentive for kids to join the challenge, Smith mails T-shirts to kids who mow lawns for free, thanks to donations given to Raising Men Lawn Care. For kids who accept the challenge, he sends a white T-shirt. Once they hit 10 lawns, they receive an orange shirt. For 20 lawns, they receive a green shirt. For 30 lawns, they receive a blue shirt. For 40 lawns, they receive a red shirt. And finally, for 50 lawns, they receive a black shirt, a lawn mower and a visit from Smith himself.

Although Smith graduated in 2016 with his undergraduate degree in computer science at Alabama A&M University, he chose to refocus his career on Raising Men Lawn Care.

© Jake Gravbrot
Nationwide effort.

With a goal to expand Raising Men Lawn Care across the U.S., Smith came up with the idea to travel to all 50 states to mow a few lawns for people in need in each state. In 2017, he saw a documentary on Netflix about a man who traveled the world to share acts of kindness.

“I immediately thought, ‘50 states, 50 lawns,’” he says. “That summer, I decided to travel to all 50 states mowing free lawns for the elderly, disabled, single mothers and veterans to make people realize my foundation as well as get kids involved in the 50 Yard Challenge.”

Smith planned to spend the summer of 2017 traveling to all 50 states to mow. Like with the 50 Yard Challenge, he shared his plans on social media and received requests of people who needed help with mowing their lawns.

To fund the tour, Smith requested donations online through crowdfunded support. Raising Men Lawn Care also had a partnership with Briggs & Stratton since about 2016, so the company also helped with financial support for the tour. They also provided him with one mower for the tour, which would be used in all 50 states.

“We helped alleviate some of the travel expenses for him,” says Lauren Vagnini, corporate communications manager at Briggs & Stratton. “(The partnership) has worked really well. We genuinely feel he is just a good guy. We like working with him; we like what he does.”

So last summer, Smith hopped in his car with lawn maintenance equipment and drove across the U.S. to perform free maintenance services in each of the 48 mainland states. He flew to do the same in Alaska and Hawaii. Smith posted pictures with the people he helped along the way to social media and shared details of his journey.

With the success of last year’s tour, Smith decided to do it again this summer. Briggs & Stratton helped him kick off this year’s tour on May 17 by having their employees work alongside him to mow 110 lawns in Milwaukee. They also sent him off with a new mower to use on this tour. For the 2018 tour, Smith added in a few meetings with kids in different communities to educate them on mower safety.

Charles Edwards, his wife Liz and five kids started a chapter of Raising Men Lawn Care to serve people in Laredo, Texas.
Photo courtesy of the Edwards Family

Many have taken notice of the 50 States, 50 Lawns tour the past two years. Even the Queen of England recognized Smith’s efforts this past year as she had the Governor of Bermuda present Smith with an award for community service last November.

Edwards says Smith’s 50 States, 50 Lawns tour inspired his family to try to mow lawns in every state as well. While the Edwards won’t be able to do this in one summer, he says he hopes his family can do this in lieu of vacations, Thanksgivings or Christmases.

“How we’re thinking of doing it is instead of Christmas with family or going on vacation, we’ll visit a different state to cut grass,” Edwards says. “It will be a long process – a little here and a little there – but our goal is to reach all 50 states.”

Raising Men Lawn Care officially became a 501c3 nonprofit in 2018, around the same time Smith received his graduate degree in social work from Alabama A&M. Smith says he hopes to expand his reach globally next year by traveling to different continents to provide free lawn maintenance to those in need.

Smith adds that he never imagined he would be providing free lawn maintenance to people in need when he was in college. Today, he says this is his main passion.

“There’s a lot of people who can’t afford (lawn maintenance), and it doesn’t take much to just go outside and mow someone’s lawn who needs your help,” Smith says. “I’m hoping to encourage more kids to do the same, just like me, one lawn at a time.”