Three years ago, Mark Long was laid off from his job on the assembly line at Chrysler. For months he looked for another factory job, but with the rough economy of Southeast Michigan taking its toll, he kept hearing “no.” “The bills were piling up, and money was running out,” he says. “I was broke.”
With little else to do, Mark offered to cut his neighbor’s grass one day. One lawn turned into two, and before long he started going door-to-door to get customers. “I remember walking up the street with my feet cold and numb,” he says. “I had always liked cutting grass, but at the time I wasn’t thinking it would be a long-term job. I was just taking it day-by-day.” “Without Rick, Cheranissa, and my M.R.S. counselor, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Although Mark was starting to develop some repeat customers, he was struggling at the time with his bipolar disorder. “I had mood swings, I was withdrawn, and I couldn’t concentrate. The bipolar was starting to paralyze me.” Eventually, Mark, 48, went to Michigan Rehabilitation Services (MRS), where his counselor helped him with his bipolar disorder. After debating what his next career move should be, his counselor connected him with the Ann Arbor CIL to explore the idea of starting a lawn care business.
Seeing that Mark had a strong work ethic and a drive to succeed, Ann Arbor CIL staff members Rick Weir and Cheranissa Roach began working with Mark to develop a successful business. They helped him develop a formalized business plan and then helped him implement a marketing strategy, advertise, recruit new customers, and learn about accounting techniques. Eventually, they helped Mark get funding from MRS to purchase necessary equipment, and Mark formed M & L Landscaping in Detroit.
“Rick and Cheranissa believed in me. Having someone else believe in me helped me believe in myself.” “Before long, things really came alive,” Mark says. “Without Rick, Cheranissa, and my MRS counselor, I wouldn’t be here. When I started, my business covered a two-block radius. Now I’m all over the city.”
Mark now has more than 32 repeat clients, both residential and commercial. Some days he works more than13 hours a day. “I love what I’m doing. And working in soil and nature really helps my illness. It’s peaceful and relaxing, and the physical work is good for it, too.”
Still, Mark isn’t without his challenges. “I’m always working to find the next job; this is a competitive business. I’ve come a long way, and I’m not willing to give it up. I want to have a fleet of lawn care trucks one day.”
Mark is fully reflective of the help he’s gotten. “Rick and Cheranissa were very encouraging and supportive,” he says, “and they gave me the confidence to succeed. They made a lot of difference to my life.”
Mark says he wants to help others the way he’s been helped. When he sees new lawncare trucks out on the road now, he stops to talk with the owners just starting out. “I’ve gotten a lot of great help in my life, and I want to help bring others up, too. I want to be special to somebody one day,” he says. “This is bigger than me. I gotta stay out here to pass it forward.”