Since May 17, Rodney Smith has driven nearly 19,000 miles across 46 of the 48 continental United States.
His goal is simple: mow a lawn in each state for someone who needs help — a veteran, a single mother, the elderly or someone who is disabled.
“I saw a guy traveling the world with acts of kindness,” said Smith, 29. “So I decided to travel to all 50 states last year and then again this year.”
His stop Tuesday checked Kansas off of his summer list with a “surprise knock” at the Overland Park home of Kay Sizelove, 81, and her husband Phil, 70. Kay said she has a lot of energy, but has had recent health problems that limit her in outside yard work.
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“I thought it was just wonderful, what (Smith) is doing. Just think if this could grow and grow what it could mean to so many other people,” she said.
Sizelove said she was a schoolteacher in Indiana before moving to Kansas in 1985. Through her work, she learned about the value of helping others.
“To instill in people that when things seem like they just can’t keep moving, that you can, because there are people out there who want and need to help you, because we all need to help other people,” she said.
Smith got the idea to start Raising Men Lawn Care Service while completing a master’s degree in social work at Alabama A&M University, but said it came from a higher calling.
“I think it’s God’s plan. God wanted me to do this. I’m just doing what he’s telling me to do,” he said.
On his first 50 yards in 50 states challenge in 2017, Smith went at it mostly alone. This year, however, he’s encouraging younger kids to be a part of his efforts and take on a challenge of their own and mow 50 yards for those in need. He had some help with that Tuesday from Erron Blockmon, a 9-year-old who loves helping others.
“He wants to take the 50-yard challenge, but I told him to come work with Rodney before he makes the commitment,” said Erron’s mom, Jessica Lyon, of Lee’s Summit. “He’s always wanted to help people. He helps our elderly neighbors carry in groceries and hands out gloves and scarves in the winter. It’s just his nature.”
Smith uses social media to update where he is and connect with people who need their yards mowed. He has nearly 40,000 followers on Twitter, more than 22,000 on Instagram and 68,000 people following his Facebook page.
Finding Erron's help Tuesday was no different. Lyon said they saw he was in the area on Facebook and were happy to make the short drive to Overland Park.
"It's people helping people," she said. "It makes the world a better place."
He checked off the state of Missouri early in his trip, visiting St. Louis on May 19, according to his Twitter account. By Tuesday afternoon, he posted that he was in Iowa, where he will mow on Wednesday. Then he'll go to Minnesota to finish off the continental United States Thursday before flying to Alaska and Hawaii.
Smith has funded his travel through public donations and funds from Briggs & Stratton, a small engine manufacturing company that built the mowing equipment Smith uses. People typically sponsor his hotel rooms each night, he said, and the trip has cost around $9,000 total.
As for next summer, Smith’s goals are only increasing — he wants to mow a lawn on each continent.
“I’m just doing what God wants me to do, and I encourage people to get out there and do the same. It doesn’t take much to make someone’s day or be kind to someone,” he said. “And it doesn’t have to be with a lawn mower. There’s many ways to make a difference.”