The Cuyahoga Land Bank recently added Lawn Life to its diverse list of contractors to maintain the Land Bank’s inventory of vacant lots. Founded in Cincinnati and expanded to Cleveland in 2014, Lawn Life employs inner city teens (age 16 to 24) from at-risk environments with real-life landscaping and home renovation jobs that act as a stepping stone into the workforce. This transitional experience not only pays a prevailing wage, but it also teaches valuable work ethics and job retention traits, as well as many different landscaping and building trades.
Many at-risk youth in our community struggle with education, training and employment opportunities that can effectively change their future. In 2006, Tim Arnold, founder and Executive Director of Lawn Life, was fortunate to find a job, a mentor and a purpose – all of which changed the course of his life and the lives of countless others.
By his own account, Arnold admits he had problems in his younger years. By the time he was 21, Arnold had racked up a significant rap sheet and spent several years in prison. “I grew up in utter poverty, doing whatever I could to get by,” says Arnold, who was raised along with his two brothers by his single mother in a crime-infested neighborhood of Cincinnati. “I was heavily involved in criminal activity by the age of 11, including selling drugs and guns,” he says. “The sad truth is, I was living the life of thousands of kids in our community today.”
When he was released from prison, Arnold set his sights on doing something positive with his life and landed a job at a local steel mill, working 60 hours a week. Having never had a “real” job, Arnold made sure to show up on time, work hard, and take advantage of every opportunity to learn from his co-workers and supervisors. “Drive is an extraordinary thing,” says Arnold. “I was working hard and learning how to excel in the workforce, and people took notice. I was working for my life.”
After a year at the steel mill and several pay increases, Arnold enrolled in real estate school and began attending classes on the weekends. After graduating in 2008, he bought a house to fix and resell. He spent every evening and weekend over the next three months renovating the property. When the house sold for a hefty profit, he had what they call an “aha” moment. “That’s when it really clicked for me,” he says. “I didn’t go buy a fancy car or drugs – I bought two more houses!”
During this time, Arnold met Dewayne, a 17-year-old kid hanging around a local gas station who approached him and asked him for some change. “I knew this kid,” says Arnold. “I was this kid.” Instead of offering a handout, Arnold convinced Dewayne to come with him and cut grass at his investment property to earn the money. As Tim continued to buy more houses, he saw it as an opportunity to put more at-risk youth to work. “Dewayne worked for me for two years and then went on to work at Proctor & Gamble. I wanted to help more kids like him to know the satisfaction and reward of earning an honest dollar.”
Because Lawn Life is a designated 501c3 non-profit social enterprise, its main revenue stream is from the landscape and construction business, but it can also receive donations and grants that are tax-deductible. Lawn Life’s “secret sauce” as Tim calls it, is that the youth who apply for a job do not actually realize they are enrolling in a multi-tiered program that provides assistance, training and confidence-building based on proven advancement. They just know that they need to work hard. They are given uniforms, safety gear and much more that allows them to have a successful work life. “In many cases, we help them to open a bank account, find a home to rent – many basic skills that they are not learning at home,” says Arnold.
Over the past eight years, Lawn Life has employed 683 young men and women from the inner cities of Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus. Its track record speaks for itself. Forty percent of the nearly 100 new hires each year go on to other full-time employment, and another 22 percent go on to continuing education or apprenticeship opportunities.
Now, with a family of his own and the success of Lawn Life, Arnold feels blessed with how his life has turned out. “When I was 16 I never imagined that I could have everything that I have today,” he says. “I just wish I would have known that the secret to success was just that you have to work hard, extremely hard, to get it, even when no one is watching.” He adds, “I am fortunate now to be able to help many others to change their path in life through hard work.”
“We are honored to work with the Cuyahoga Land Bank,” says Arnold. “They are selective with contractors and only use the best. We are working with kids in the very neighborhoods they live. These kids are now helping to clean up their own community and getting paid for it. You can’t beat that.”
Find more information on Lawn Life HERE.