One man’s trash is … a teenager’s small business! At least that is what The Lawnmower Project’s Gary Szymczak had in mind when he fixed up his first lawnmower a few years ago. Inspiration hit when he realized just how many people throw away perfectly good lawnmowers instead of fixing them, and he knew he could turn that junk into an entrepreneurial opportunity for young Hoosiers. Through a little grass cutting, there is a lot of personal growth.
The Lawnmower Project gifts refurbished lawnmowers to local teens and young adults to aid them in starting their own lawncare business. In addition, they match the student ambassadors with a mentor and provide guidance on starting, marketing and managing their businesses. All of the profits are for the student ambassadors. The only catch? In exchange, they must provide pro-bono lawncare services to an elderly or in-need member of their local community. Many of the teens explained they are using their business proceeds to fund the purchase of a car or college.
Student ambassadors go through an orientation process where they are taught how to properly mow a lawn, maintain their equipment, and talk to their customers about grass. Then they have regular communication with their mentors throughout the mowing season. Szymczak says he’s in constant contact with the student ambassadors, putting in more than 40 volunteer hours a week on the program. “Maintaining this is a lot of time, but honestly it is a great time,” Szymczak says.
In their first year, The Lawnmower Project launched six small businesses and began 2023 with 10 student ambassadors. Szymczak explained they have had varying levels of success, which is part of the educational experience for some of the kids. They may not realize the time commitment or work involved with running a business and opt not to continue the program. Of the initial class of student ambassadors, one returned to the program this year and she has hired other teens to work under her, ultimately expanding her business.
Some of the other student ambassadors were able to parlay their work with the Lawnmower Project into other jobs, which also thrills Szymczak. “They’re going to be able to take these skills and transfer them to whatever they do,” he explained. “It feels great to see that.”
In addition to the entrepreneurial side, the Lawn Mower Project has a year-round internship program where students can receive training on how to repair mowers and get paid to help repair mowers at Broad Ripple Mower Repair.
Szymczak goes to Indianapolis area schools to connect with students who want to apply to join The Lawnmower Project. If you know of a teen or young adult for The Lawn Mower Project, the next class of student ambassadors will be selected in early spring 2024. The Lawnmower Project needs financial contributions, volunteers, and connections with area high schools to reach more students. They are not currently accepting lawnmower donations. To get involved, follow them on Facebook or at thelawnmowerproject.org.