For Eric Miller, the path to a young person’s potential runs through the yard of a neighbor in need.
“My mother’s name was Deloris Miller. She was a special ed teacher who always said every young person had the capacity to learn, but we all learn through different methods,” explains Eric, whose ideas for ‘The Lawn Academy’ were in their infancy when Miller received seed funding from The Pollination Project in 2016.
“I wanted to find a way to keep her heart for young people alive,” says Miller. Being an engineer, he thought about a STEM program first. “Then I remembered my own childhood spent mowing grass for the elderly people around us. I would be behind that mower, serving older people, and dreaming of college. It was a simple thing, but it helped people and it gave me a purpose.”
Miller did go to college and began a career in the auto industry. He lived in eight different cities before settling in Detroit, where The Lawn Academy has served hundreds of young men and women. They provide free lawn care for veterans, the elderly, and the disabled. Each young man or woman who is part of the program also receives tutoring, visits to local colleges, mentorship, and training in entrepreneurship.
Twins Adonis and Amir were 11 when they became part of The Lawn Academy. Their mother, April Green, heard about the program at church through one of the elderly women the program serves.
“When I met Eric, one thing that struck me was how he addressed the boys,” recalls April. “He always gives them a firm handshake. He calls them ‘Mr. Green.’ He looks them in the eye and shows them a respect that they can feel.”
“He shows them a different path just by example. He is already a successful man who still has a full-time professional job. But he’s out here, day in and day out, consistently showing principles and high standards. He will come pick them up, he will give them stipends out of his own pocket.
He will do anything it takes to help them be successful, and they know how much he believes in them,” says April.
The respect Eric shows his students is reinforced in their communities, when the young men and women experience the gratitude and appreciation of the people receiving their services.
“It’s important for young people to see themselves as a positive contributor to their society,” says Eric. “We are building compassion and empathy through service.”
Recently, The Lawn Academy received $100,000 in grant funds through Impact 100 Metro Detroit. Eric will use this support to build a The Lawn Academy hub in East Detroit, which will allow him to serve another 100 students. He has a plan to use this property in such a way that, within three years, The Lawn Academy will be entirely self-sustaining through subleasing part of the new building, incubating youth businesses, and landscaping contracts.
“Part of what we instill in our young people is self-reliance, so I felt strongly that we need to be self-reliant too. I want The Lawn Academy to never have to seek another donation; to only be a contributor to our community. My goal is for us to give it all and take nothing in return,” says Eric.
For April Green, Eric’s contributions are already so palpable.
“He’s planted so many seeds within the minds of my sons,” she says, “and every day I’m seeing them flourish.”