Alabama man cuts lawns, cultivates hope in Minnesota

Rodney Smith founded Raising Men Lawn Care Service.
Rodney Smith founded Raising Men Lawn Care Service. He mowed a lawn in Bloomington, Minn., on July 12, 2018.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

Rodney Smith is a man on a mission.

Smith has driven 19,000 miles this summer with a Snapper mower in the back of his SUV on a quest to mow at least one lawn in all 50 states.

He's the founder of Raising Men Lawn Care Service and he's encouraging kids, particularly boys, to look for ways that anyone can help the elderly, disabled and others.

The Alabama man brought his campaign to Minnesota on Thursday. Minutes after pulling up in front of Charlene Frederick-Schrupp's house in Bloomington, he was opening her front gate and cutting her grass, no questions asked — one of at least three lawns he cut on a hot, humid day in the Twin Cities.

"A few years ago, I had a one-on-one conversation with God, and I asked him to use me as his vessel," said Smith, 29. "He didn't give me an answer that day, not a week later, not a month later, not even a year later."

A native of the Bahamas, he was wrapping up his senior year in college in Huntsville, Ala., when one day he saw an elderly man outside mowing his lawn.

"It looked like he was struggling, so I pulled over and helped him out," Smith said. "And that night I decided to mow free lawn for the elderly, disabled, single moms and veterans. At the time I was getting my bachelor's in computer science, so I thought I could mow 40 lawns by the end of winter. But I moved 40 lawns so quick, that I upped my goal to 100."

Charlene Frederick-Schrupp posed with Rodney Smith after he mowed her lawn.
Charlene Frederick-Schrupp posed with Rodney Smith after he mowed her lawn.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

It grew from there. He started his own nonprofit and started recruiting boys and girls in Alabama and then online, offering them a series of T-shirts as they mowed more and more lawns.

"We just want to show them that they, too, can make a difference. There's many ways to make a difference. I have simply decided to pick a lawnmower, and I hope to inspire kids around the nation, and even worldwide," said Smith.

Bekki Bonesteel, a friend of the homeowner where Smith made his first Minnesota stop, called Smith a mowing celebrity.

"I've been following him for about a year now on social media, and when I knew he was making this trip again, I filled out the thing online that he wanted and he called up and said, 'I'll be there,'" said Bonesteel. "I'm taking the day off, because I really want to meet him. You know, you're here and you're doing such a phenomenal job."

Smith now has 42,000 Twitter followers. Small engine maker Briggs and Stratton, which makes the engine that powers his mower, is helping pay for his tour. Smith said people are giving him cash and restaurant and gas cards wherever he goes.

Rodney Smith founded a charity encouraging people to care for neighbors.
Rodney Smith, of Alabama, founded a charity to encourage people to take care of their neighbors, in part by mowing their lawns.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

Minnesota is Smith's last stop in the contiguous U.S. states. He's off to Alaska on Friday, and he hopes to wrap up his nationwide tour in Hawaii on Sunday.

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