Labor and Economic Opportunity
Eric Miller, the founder of The Lawn Academy, has been putting his youth organization on the map. Eight years ago, he started the program for two youth. Last summer, he had 83. As the program began grew, Miller knew he needed to seek out new resources and support. This is when he became a strong partner of MM+ and secured additional resources. These efforts have resulted in the program expanding to serve more youth and allowed Miller to run his nonprofit more efficiently.
Growing up in Detroit, Miller started manicuring lawns when he was seven years old. He began by mowing grass for his grandmother and other elderly people in the neighborhood. Now, Miller manages The Lawn Academy, a mentoring and youth organization that supports Detroit-area youth to realize their full potential and make positive connections in their community. Young men, between the ages of 11-18, cut the lawns of elderly people and those with special needs free of charge. The program does not just teach them about serving others, it helps them do well in school, showing them how to be leaders, and providing the tools they need to be successful in life.
Miller applied to be an AmeriCorps VISTA host site through the Michigan Community Service Commission (MCSC) Youth Impact VISTA program and has members serving all year to expand the capacity of the organization and support the youth in his program. The Lawn Academy needed the extra help as it moved from face-to-face tutoring to an online e-learning platform during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The AmeriCorps VISTA team checks in with the youth every day, making sure they are on track,” Miller said.
The pandemic forced the organization to change their model and presented many challenges they may not have been able to overcome without outside resources. “We work with so many seniors and the vulnerable population, there’s no way we put them or the youth at risk,” Miller said. “With COVID we had to re-think delivery method. We saw e-learning as essential for our youth.”
To help strengthen the program further, the Lawn Academy became part of the MM+ NQMS program, where the organization receives up to 50 hours of customized support, training, and technical assistance provided by a Mentor Michigan+ consultant. Miller is using the consultation support to help strengthen his organization administratively to expand recruiting and retaining volunteers and conducting proper background checks.
“In moving to e-learning, we have to use volunteers moving forward and we need better recruitment tools for online mentors,” Miller said.
A key component of the Lawn Academy program is to engage youth in volunteerism. Miller sought out additional resources as part of the National Days of Service volunteer project grants from the MCSC. For Global Youth Service Day, the Lawn Academy used the funds to help support youth service as tutors to other youth. They also put together meal packets and delivered them to those in need.
“Through service, the young people get a chance to see an immediate impact,” Miller said. “It shows them they have the ability to make change in the smallest ways and makes them think that they can extrapolate that to bigger ways to dream that they can do things better.”
The hard work did not go unnoticed. The Lawn Academy received a $100,000 grant from Impact 100 Metro Detroit, a volunteer group of women whose purpose is to fuel positive change in their local community by uniting women in collective giving. Miller said the grant will allow his organization to open another hub on the east side of Detroit.
“The east location is a vital part of moving forward to impact more youth in the city of Detroit,” Miller said.
In addition to the MCSC partnership, the Lawn Academy partnered with the Wayne County Community College District to receive curriculum help for the youth, along with Gleaners Food Bank and the 10th Precinct of the Detroit Police to provide needed resources to the community. The partnerships have helped Miller expand program capacity because sometimes it is hard to say no.
“We have more 90-year-olds calling us asking for help. We are at capacity but if you are 90-years-old, the answer is always yes,” he said.
Miller will continue to seek resources to increase his organization's impact for all those he comes in contact with.
"Eric and The Lawn Academy is an incredible example of what can happen when an organization connects with the State and local partners for the greater good of the community," said Ginna Holmes, executive director of the MCSC.