Rodney Smith Jr., fired up his Snapper lawn mower Thursday morning and cut the grass. He used a weed-whacker to trim along the sidewalk, fence and foundation of the house, then finished the job by cleaning up the clippings.
Notch another one in a summer full of good deeds.
Smith stopped by the Twin Cities Thursday as part of his summerlong mission to mow lawns for free in all 50 states for those who are elderly or disabled and single moms and veterans. Minnesota was his last stop in the 48 contiguous states before he flies off this weekend for Alaska and Hawaii.
“A million thank yous from the bottom of my heart,” said 60-year-old cancer survivor Marcia Dietz of northeast Minneapolis. “In today’s world, for somebody to go around and give like that and want nothing in return is amazing to me.”
Smith also cut the grass at homes in Bloomington and St. Paul.
This is the second year Smith has traveled the country mowing lawns. The 28-year-old college student said he had a one-on-one talk with God in which he asked to be used as a vessel. That night in 2015, in his native Alabama, Smith saw an elderly man struggling to mow his lawn. He stopped and helped him finish the job, and that was the start of his Raising Men Lawn Care Service. One lawn soon grew into several lawns.
Smith is a student at Alabama A&M University in Huntsville, where he’s working toward a master’s degree in social work. But during the summers, mowing has been his calling.
For the past two summers he has crisscrossed the nation, logging thousands of miles and using his own mower to trim more than 2,500 lawns without taking a dime.
“It’s love thy neighbor,” Smith said. “It makes a big difference, because a lot of people I mow for are on fixed incomes and they are limited on what they can spend.”
Smith has recruited 190 boys and girls throughout the United States — including three in Minnesota — Canada, Bermuda and England to his 50-Yard Challenge.
The community service challenge asks participants to mow 50 lawns in their communities for people in need. Those who reach the goal of 50 — so far 12 have — get a new lawn mower. Others receive eye shades and ear protection and a different color T-shirt for every 10 lawns they cut.
Dietz learned of Smith’s visit to the Twin Cities from a morning news program and sent him a note on Twitter. Dietz told him her story, and said he probably had more needy people on his list, but if he had time to swing by, she’d love to see him.
A few hours later, when Smith rang the doorbell, Dietz felt as if she’d won the Publishers Clearing House. “I could not believe he was here,” a beaming Dietz said.
Smith relies mostly on social media to select recipients. He has more than 41,000 followers on Twitter, more than 22,000 on Instagram and 68,000 people following his Facebook page.
Supporters have rallied behind his cause with donations totaling more than $23,400. The money is used to cover his lodging, food and gas. Briggs & Stratton donated its 725 Series EXi Snapper for the trip, now in its 57th day.
Smith said he loves everybody he meets.
“I want people to know that somebody cares for them,” Smith said.