Lebanon girl’s efforts help needy, attract national attention

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

When Alona Winningham set out to mow 50 lawns, it wasn’t to earn cash for herself.
She simply wanted to help those in need.
Alona was inspired by an article she read about Rodney Smith Jr., a man from Alabama who challenges kids to give back to their community by mowing lawns.
Since she began Smith’s “50 Yard Challenge” a year ago, Alona, 13, has mowed well more than the required 50 lawns. She’s also had other opportunities she wasn’t counting on.
She was interviewed on the Kelly Clarkson show when she was 13 lawns into her goal, and honored with a personal visit by Smith last month after she reached 50 lawns.
“I like mowing lawns,” Alona said.
Wanting to do the challenge made sense to her mom, Kristen Sim, who said Alona and her sister were “always bickering” over who would mow the family yard.
When Alona signed up for Smith’s Raising Men Lawn Care Service, she received a white T-shirt; he then sent her a different colored shirt for every 10 lawns she cut.

KELLY CLARKSON, right, talks to, from left, Rodney Smith Jr., Alona Winningham and Dante Domine about the “50 Yard Challenge” on her show last October.
Photo courtesy of Kristen Sim

About two months in, Alona was invited to be on the Clarkson’s show in Los Angeles with Smith and another young mower.
At first, Alona was “stoked” to be on the show, but she started panicking when she got there, Sim said.
“I was a nervous wreck,” Alona said.
The producers wanted her to say certain things, some of which she forgot, but the taping went well, Sim said.
Smith’s RMLCS sets out to inspire youth “on a positive path while learning and understanding their value in society.” Kids who accept the “50 Yard Challenge” are to provide free lawn care to elders, disabled, single mothers, veterans, and those who don’t have time, money or resources to manicure their yards.
“When I was mowing the lawns, people always tried to offer money,” Alona said. But she always refused it.
She mowed lawns between Lebanon and Sweet Home every Friday, finishing an average of 10 lawns a day, she said. Her highest number of lawns mowed in a day was 16 or 17, when she made a stop at Twin Cedars Mobile Park, she recalled.
“That’s when I finished 50, there,” she said. Actually, she surpassed 50 that day.
A picture of every yard cut has to be sent to Smith, Alona said. After 50 lawns, he gave her a framed award, and made a visit to her home in the Lebanon area to bring her something else.
“I got a leaf blower, a weed eater and lawn mower,” she said.

ALONA CLARKSON AND RODNEY SMITH pose for a photo after he gave the young woman new equipment for accomplishing her goal.
Photo courtesy of Kristen Sim

He also set up a podium and brought two tiny bubble mowers for Alona’s sisters to race for trophy prizes, Sim added.
“He was nice. He wasn’t shy like me,” Alona said.
She said she continues to mow lawns for free to people who need help.
“I love it because we always try to teach the kids to do things for other people and help out,” her mom said. “She’s always been that kindhearted kid who wants to help.”
Now that Alona’s challenge is over, her sister, Brooke Sim, AGE????, wants to do it because “it’s fun” and she wants to help. Her mother also wants the inspiration to grow in the area.
“I’m hoping we can raise awareness so that other kids around here will start doing it too,” Kristen Sim said.