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Man mows Maryland strangers' lawns for free as part of 50-state mission

Wearing safety glasses and a purple T-shirt, Rodney Smith Jr. methodically pushed a lawnmower across an Anne Arundel County lawn, sending the smell of freshly cut grass into the air.

He grabbed a trash bag from his car for the grass clippings, looked up and squinted toward the sun.

“Is it Tuesday?” he asked. Smith, 28, has been mowing so many strangers’ lawns recently that he’s starting to “forget the days,” he said.

Smith was in Maryland on Tuesday as part of his mission to mow lawns in all 50 states, free of charge, for seniors, disabled people, single mothers and veterans. It’s the second time he’s attempted the feat for his foundation, Raising Men Lawn Care Service.

Inside their home in Linthicum Heights, Joseph S. Gruzinski, 85, and Mary J. Gruzinski, 84, said they were impressed by Smith’s meticulous lawn-mowing — but even more impressed by the man’s mission.

“He pays a little more attention to [veterans] than the average Joe,” said Joseph Gruzinski, who served in the Air Force during the Korean War.

It’s not the first time Smith has shown up at their door. Mary said she was “shocked” when Smith first came to the couple’s door in 2017 and asked if he could mow their lawn for free. She was thrilled when he returned to the area this year, his nineteenth stop on a 50-city tour.

“It’s charity work, as far as I’m concerned,” Mary said. “When he talks to the people and he explains what he does, you think, ‘Gee, that’s really wonderful.’”

Smith, who was born in Bermuda, was studying computer science at Alabama A&M University in 2015 when he came across an elderly man having difficulty mowing his lawn. Smith helped him out, the first of many lawns Smith would later mow around Alabama.

From there, he started the Raising Men Lawn Care Service in 2016 — a national group that encourages children ages 7 to 17 to give back to their communities in the same way Smith has.

When young people sign up for Raising Men Lawn Care Service’s 50-yard challenge, they receive a white shirt, glasses and ear protection. After every 10 lawns they mow for free, the volunteers receive a different colored shirt, and after mowing 50 lawns, Smith or someone from the organization will visit the volunteer, cut lawns with them and provide them with a brand new lawnmower.

A dozen people have already received the lawnmower, Smith said, and 130 are currently taking part in the challenge.

In 2017, Smith made the same tour around the country, logging 15,000 miles in a car as he drove to 48 states and flew to Alaska and Hawaii to mow lawns. This time around, he is hoping to meet some of the young people who have accepted the 50-yard challenge and educate children on lawn mower safety and community service.

Smith’s car is stuffed with mowing equipment — a weed whacker, a leaf blower, trash bags — provided by engine maker Briggs and Stratton, which has also contributed funds to help him with his travels. He stays in hotel rooms around the country sponsored by donors and uses social media to fuel his mission.

Smith’s efforts “are an embodiment of our company values,” Rick Carpenter, vice president for corporate marketing at the engine company, said last month when Smith was preparing for his current tour. “We are excited to see his movement expanding into year two.”

Smith’s announcements on Twitter and Instagram that he had arrived in the Baltimore area and was looking for lawns to cut quickly brought hundreds of likes and scores of suggestions of which blades to cut next.

The Gruzunskis’ neighbors nominated the couple last year and again this year, a pleasant surprise for Mary, who said her son would now be off the hook.

Standing in the driveway of the Gruzinski home, Smith said, “I’m physically able to do this and I come across a lot of elderly people who are disabled and really can’t afford to pay anyone to mow their lawns.

“So when we can come cut it for free,” he continued, “they can use those funds for medication and food and other things they really need.”

Next year, Smith said he plans to mow seven lawns on seven continents and teach children around the world the importance of serving those in need.

“I found my purpose, and it’s helping people out,” he said, recalling his abrupt transition from computer science to social work. “I made a switch.”

nbogelburroughs@baltsun.com

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