- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 7, 2017

SHERIDAN, Wyo. (AP) - With a lawnmower as his only companion, Rodney Smith Jr. has embarked on a nationwide mission to lend a helping hand and inspire others to do the same.

The 50 States 50 Lawns project kicked off May 10. Smith will cut one lawn in each state and meet with local youth interested in their communities.

The Huntsville, Alabama, resident and student founded Raising Men Lawn Care Service less than two years ago; it provides free lawn care to elders, those who are disabled, single mothers and veterans. The bigger mission of the organization is to set youth on a positive path and get them involved in community service through its 50 Yard Challenge.

Smith said the program rewards kids with a different colored T-shirt after every 10 yards completed. He said RMLCS will send interested kids eye and ear protection when they start and at 50 yards RMLCS members will travel to the participant, mow lawns with them and give them a new lawnmower.

The 50 States 50 Lawns project is an effort to bring awareness to the organization’s 50 Yard Challenge program.

He said nationwide there’s more than 50 kids participating in the program with two more in England. In 2016, Smith said two people completed the 50 Yard Challenge and so far this year, the program has seen one finisher.

Wyoming is Smith’s 19th state to travel to for the 50 States 50 Lawns project. He recently mowed the lawn of Dr. Sy Thickman.

Smith said he started by posting on Facebook, looking for people to suggest lawns for him to mow nationwide. That’s how Maggie Bergstrom contacted him, asked him to come to Sheridan and mow Thickman’s lawn.

Bergstrom said Thickman is a family friend and veteran. She said he’s done a lot for her and the community, including giving services for free to the women’s prison in Lusk.

“Sy has done so much for this community over the years and I just thought it’d be nice to give back to him for once,” Bergstrom said.

Smith said he’s gotten different reactions from those receiving the service, including tears from an elderly woman in Texas who hadn’t had her lawn cut in about a year.

According to the press release, Briggs and Stratton made a contribution to RMLS to support its mission and help with travel expenses and equipment.

Rodney and Raising Men Lawn Care Service are living a mission that’s making a difference in peoples’ lives on a daily basis,” said Briggs and Stratton vice president of corporate marketing Rick Carpenter in a press release.

Smith said he’s focusing on this group of people to help because lawn care can be a timely, financial burden that among other things can lead to city fines when not maintained.

“From what I’ve seen, that’s the group of people that have a hard time paying for lawn care, especially the elderly,” Smith said. “They’re on a fixed income; a lot of them can’t really afford to get their lawn cut.”

From Wyoming, Smith said he’ll travel to Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota and make his way to the East Coast continuing his mission.

“My hope is to encourage kids to get out there and make a difference with a lawnmower,” Smith said.

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Information from: The Sheridan (Wyo.) Press, http://www.thesheridanpress.com/

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