NEWAYGO, Mich. (WOOD) — With one good pull, Ace DuChemin is off to work.
Back and forth for nearly two hours, he tidies up the lawn of a man who, last year, was a complete stranger. Through the work, he’s learning the importance of staying in the lines and that by cutting down the weeds of his neighbors he’s growing with his community.
“I know that Croton has a lot of people that do fit the description that are, you know, older and they need help,” Ace said of those in his community that would benefit from the service. “I think it’s good to help them. They’ve been helping other people their whole lives, they need help sometimes, too.”
Last year, Ace and his grandma were online when they found Raising Men Lawn Care Service. It’s a nonprofit that was started by Rodney Smith in 2015. Smith says he was walking home from school in Alabama one evening when he saw an elderly man struggling to mow his lawn — so he finished it for him.
What came after that was a national program asking kids between 7 and 17 to help their community. They offer lawn services for the elderly, veterans, disabled, or single-parent families, all completely free.
What Ace and his grandma stumbled upon that day was a call to action from Smith, the 50 Yard Challenge: Mow 50 yards for free in your community, document it and when you’re done, the organization awards the participant with their own brand new mower, weed wacker and leaf blower. The challenge though is teaching Ace more about who he is and how he fits into his community.
“The first lady I did, she had me push mow and she had a decent size yard back in the woods. And that one was fun,” Ace said in his green challenge shirt, which signifies he has completed at least 20 yards. “I got started, I actually did quite a few right in a row. I got my first 10 done pretty fast.”
Around the same time Ace came across the challenge, Brad Curtis was running into his own. The retired audio engineer was also online looking for a hand. He had just injured his back and was told by his doctor mowing his three acres wasn’t a good idea.
“Our area has two local Facebook sites, so I wanted to put up a posting that says, I’ll pay somebody to come to mow my yard, you know, brush, weed-whack, and brush hog my yard,” Curtis said. “Lo and behold, I opened up these two pages and here’s this kid with a kind of like a little poster that says, ‘If you’re elderly, if you’re disabled, you’re a veteran, if you’re a single parent family and you can’t do your yard, I’ll come to mow your yard for free.’ What?
“And then of course my cynical brain kicks in and said, OK, now here’s someone on the internet that is offering you something for nothing,” he continued. “Yeah, right. Like that’s for real.”
Curtis turned back to the internet and did his own digging on what Smith had started six years ago. He found that it was, in fact, real. He gave Ace a call.
“I said, ‘I need somebody to do my lawn,'” Curtis remembers about the call. “He said, ‘Well, how soon do you want it done?’ And I didn’t even get two words out, he goes, ‘How about now?’ And I went, ‘OK, now would be fine.'”
Fifteen minutes later, up rode Ace on his bicycle. He admits his eagerness was met with worry when he got to Curtis’s house and saw the size of his yard. But as he cut the lawn, that worry was bagged along with the clippings, he was growing something he didn’t anticipate.
“We’re definitely friends. You know, I came over just to see his dog one day after doing a job because he got a new dog and, you know, me and him talk about things,” Ace said. “He’s helped me out with the business.”
Curtis has recruited other lawns to get Ace closer to 50. He agrees it has not only become a friendship but also a godsend. The new retiree had only talked to about seven people in person all year because of the pandemic before Ace came along.
“It did kind of tweak the cynic in me and, you know, actually brought out a little joy because, you know, I get enjoyment out of the fact that he’s helping other people,” Curtis said.
He’s still uncomfortable having his yard done for free, so he makes a donation to the nonprofit in Ace’s name each time the work is done. He sees firsthand the kind of impact a challenge like this can have.
“I think it’s a wonderful organization and it’s also a good opportunity for kids, you know, to learn responsibility and to learn not just the value of a dollar, but the value of helping someone else. And I think there’s a lot to that,” Curtis said.
Ace is noticing that change, too: how helping others is actually helping him.
“I do feel pretty accomplished when I’m done. It’s definitely worth it,” Ace smiled. “Talking to people that I don’t even know about it. It definitely helped me out with that. You know, there’s all these people contacting me and I have to go and do jobs for them, and that’s one thing that it’s helped me with, is social skills with people.”
Ace is more than halfway to his original goal of 50 yards. He does about three a week and says he wants to be finished by the time winter comes. But he’s just at the beginning of a goal born from the challenge: creating his own lawn service business called Ace It Lawn Care.
Curtis has seen enough to know that if he starts a business, it will be successful.
“If he ever starts his own company, I’m going to invest in it. I mean, that’s the truth,” Curtis said. “I think this kid is going to make his own way in the world. I mean, he’s 13 years old and he’s already doing it. What’s it going to look like when he’s 25?”
The seasons of life change the way the work is done but they teach that the leaf blowing, mowing or shoveling is the easy part. The real work comes from growing within and sharpening the tools needed to create community.
“I get the equipment at the end,” Ace said when asked what he gets out of this challenge. “But really it’s, I get people like Brad to talk to and I get to meet new people and it has opened a lot of opportunities for me.”
Learn more about what Ace offers on the Ace It Lawn Care Services Facebook page.