Two days after Brian Schwartz was laid off from his job over the summer as a digital advertising executive, he knew he had to make some changes in order to save his mental health.
“It was a stressful time, and I realized that it would be easy to get depressed sitting home in quarantine with this big curveball thrown into my life,” said Schwartz, 39, who lives in Wayne, N.J., with his wife and infant son.
“One of the things I was concerned with was having a gap in my resume,” he said. “I wondered what I could do to help fill in the time.”
Schwartz, who didn’t receive a severance package when he was let go from his firm in New York, said his thoughts were drawn to his grandfather, who had recently died. Perhaps there was something he could do for seniors during the pandemic.
“I’d gone out to mow my lawn and it felt therapeutic — it was a good workout and helped me to clear my mind,” he said. “So I thought, ‘That’s it: I’ll give back by mowing lawns and doing yard work for people who are having trouble doing it on their own.’ ”
A couple of days later, Schwartz developed a website, I Want to Mow Your Lawn, and sent a news release to local television stations with his offer to mow lawns free of charge for anyone age 65 and older. Then he sat back and waited for the calls to come in.
He didn’t wait long.
His first call came from an older woman in Verona, N.J. Her son usually took care of her lawn, she told Schwartz, but he was swamped at work and hadn’t been able to mow it in weeks. Would he mind dropping by to trim her grass?
“I’ll be right there,” Schwartz said he told her. He loaded his gasoline-powered mower and edger into the back of his Jeep and drove 30 miles to Verona.
“She tried to tip me afterwards,” he said, adding that he politely declined. “That would take away the fun of doing it for free.”
Instead, as other calls came in, Schwartz provided links to some of his favorite charities on his website — including The Children’s Eye Foundation and American Brain Tumor Association — along with a way for people to pitch in for his gas.
Three months into his self-described “edgy” venture, Schwartz now mows lawns throughout northern New Jersey at no charge for 25 clients and has a handful of volunteers who help him keep up with the demand.
“When I was a kid, I didn’t mow lawns, but I went door-to-door with my friends to shovel snow off everyone’s driveway,” he said. “It felt good to do it.”
He said he has similar feeling now, which is why he plans to keep it up.
That would be fine with his clients. Schwartz’s generosity is a cut above, they said.
“He’s the nicest, most respectful guy in the world,” said Lois Reichert, 73, of West Orange, N.J. “He’s been out twice and I already feel like he’s a good friend.”
Reichert has a pacemaker and has had more than 18 surgeries, she said. The grass in her yard and the weeds in her garden were so overgrown, “I couldn’t even see the Blessed Mother out there,” said Reichert.
“Brian came out and mowed the lawn for free then came back and did all of the weeding,” she said. “What can I say? He’s a gift.”
Another client, Pam Nardella, had tried to mow her lawn in Elmwood Park, N.J., but it was a laborious and time-consuming task due to her need for a knee replacement, she said.
“As you get older, things like lawn-mowing become more cumbersome,” said Nardella, 73.
When she heard about Schwartz’s free service in her local paper she contacted him. “My lawn has never looked more terrific,” she said.
In addition to mowing three or four lawns a week and weeding garden beds, Schwartz keeps the grass trimmed at his own home and spends time with his wife, Jennifer Schwartz, 29, and his 2-month-old son, Dylan.
“First I thought he was crazy,” Jennifer said of her husband’s volunteer venture. “It’s a stressful time giving birth during a global pandemic and having your husband lose his job. But he has my full support. Seeing the happiness he brings to his clients is truly inspiring.”
Although the Schwartzes are now two months behind on their mortgage, they’ve been able to get by on Jennifer’s paycheck from her job in the finance industry and Brian’s unemployment checks.
“These are difficult times — there are people going through more stress than we are right now,” Brian said. “I’m finding great meaning and purpose in pushing a mower around to help others.”