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Online Student Helps His Community through a Real Life “Pay It Forward”

Operating a small nonprofit organization isn’t easy for adults, so it’s hard to imagine a teenager tackling this endeavor. However, the bright and motivated Stride K12-powered student, Phoenix B., was not daunted by the possibility. He began by mowing 50 lawns for people in need after being encouraged by his parents, Sheldon B., and Joyce T., as part of the 50 Yard Challenge. Phoenix, who attends Virginia Virtual Academy, and his family were inspired by the work done by Rodney Smith Jr., who founded Raising Men & Women Lawncare Service in Huntsville, Alabama. In an interview, Smith said that he didn’t know exactly what his full vision was when he began volunteering to mow people’s lawns. As time went on, though, he realized that he wanted to inspire kids to work hard to give back to their communities: “As [the project] started to go on, I realized the vision was to encourage kids.” Phoenix B. is certainly among those kids.

 

It began simply when his father asked if he’d like to help some of their neighbors out by mowing their lawns. He mowed the lawns of elderly people, single parents, veterans, and those with disabilities. His enthusiasm for the project grew, and soon, his mother was acting as his project manager, contacting other people who may want to have their lawn mowed.

 

For Phoenix, it’s not just about helping people with their yards, though that aspect is certainly appreciated by his clients. It’s about getting out into the community and forging new relationships with people he doesn’t know. It’s clear from speaking to Phoenix that he doesn’t have a difficult time striking up a conversation with someone. He is charismatic and outgoing, which has helped him in his lawn-mowing efforts and will likely help him in the field he’s currently interested in photography and entertainment.

 

Phoenix’s family worked closely with Rodney Smith Jr. to participate in the program. Phoenix’s father explained how the program works. “It’s kind of like a karate belt system. For each 10 lawns you complete, you receive a colored shirt,” he said. “So, the first lawn you start with a white shirt. Then, after you finish those 10 lawns, you get a blue shirt, next [set of ten] lawns and you get an orange shirt. Then, you receive your black shirt, which is like your black belt.” While most kids participating will receive those shirts one at a time, Phoenix received all of his together because he was getting through those first 50 lawns so quickly. After young people complete the 50 Yard Challenge, they receive a lawn mower, a weed eater, and a leaf blower to continue serving their community.

 

The challenge has grown significantly since Phoenix first began, and he’s now set an ambitious goal of increasing the number of lawns he mows to 500 this summer. That will be especially difficult at the height of the summer. The heat poses one of the biggest challenges, and Phoenix described how he gets up early to beat the heat. Many parents have trouble rousing their teenagers from bed on the weekends, but Phoenix has no problem waking up early to fulfill his lawn mowing obligations.

 

Phoenix’s favorite part about what he does is seeing the expressions of his clients’ faces after he finishes. His clients often don’t know that the service is free until he’s finished. Sometimes, they tip him, and as one might expect, Phoenix puts those tips right back into his community. “I bought pizza, chips, and drinks, and gave it out to my community in Norfolk…Giving back to your community is a great thing. It’s not just about cutting grass. It’s about giving back to your community,” Phoenix said. Phoenix impressed everyone with this drive to meet the challenge and has many people watching closely as he takes on an even bigger goal this year. It takes a special kids to complete the challenge and Phoenix is one of those kids, “Mark my words, Phoenix is going to continue to change the world”, Mr. Smith Jr said.

 

As a student, Phoenix has appreciated the flexibility he’s had as a Stride K12-powered student. “This is actually one of the best ways I’ve ever learned, throughout my whole entire time going to public school and private school,” he said. He appreciates all his teachers and how he can balance his schoolwork with his life at home in his community.

 

Want to get your child involved in the 50 Yard Challenge so that they can give back to their community while also building up their work ethic? Signups are now open!

 

If you are looking to make a change in your child’s education for the upcoming school year, Stride K12 is now enrolling!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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AnnElise Hatjakes

AnnElise Hatjakes is a contributing writer for Learning Liftoff. Her career in education began in 2010 when she worked as a teaching assistant while earning her master’s degree in writing. She has taught in a wide range of educational settings, including a public school, a school for gifted students, a university, and a county jail. She’s interested in issues of equity in education, which she strives to address through her own teaching practices and writing. AnnElise is the recipient of the University of Chicago’s Outstanding Educator Award, and her fiction has appeared in literary journals. As a third generation Nevadan, she loves all things Western, from wide open spaces to wild horses.

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