I remember as a kid looking forward to the day I was big enough to be entrusted with the family lawnmower. Mowing the lawn for the first time meant that I was growing up, and few things are more important to boys than feeling grown up. Most boys, myself included, get over that feeling pretty quickly when it comes to cutting the grass. As a spring and summer pastime, it just can't compete with baseball or fishing.
Imagine, then, a kid who passes up chances to do all the fun stuff that boys do in order to cut grass every Saturday morning. Such a kid doesn't exist, you say?
Meet Jack McShane, age 13, eighth-grader at Trinity Episcopal School.
For almost a year now, Jack Mack (as his friends call him) has joined a group of adults at City Park every Saturday morning to cut grass around the New Orleans Museum of Art and the City Park Casino. The group calls itself the "Mow-Rons," and they're among the reasons things are looking good at City Park these days.
One Saturday last autumn, Jack noticed his neighbor, Kristine Kobila, loading a lawnmower into the trunk of her car. When she told Jack that she and others had volunteered to cut grass at City Park, he got the idea that he could help, too.
"I use one of the push mowers," says Jack, who is not among the larger kids in his class. "I used to use one of the riding mowers, but City Park said that I had to have a driver's license to use it, so I had to go back to the push mower."
Let me confess right here that I'm not totally surprised by Jack Mack's amazing spirit of volunteerism -- I've known him for almost 10 years. He and my son Will have been buds since pre-school, and he's always impressed me as a terrific kid. In fact, occasional Friday night sleepovers at our house are among the things Jack has given up so that he can get up at 7:30 a.m. every Saturday and go cut grass in City Park. We miss seeing him as often as we used to, but now we know that he's serving a higher purpose.
The McShanes -- Jack, young brother Frank, and parents Patrick and Stephanie -- live just two blocks from City Park. It's one of Jack's favorite places, and he says helping the park recover makes him feel better about his city's prospects after Katrina.
Jack's efforts on behalf of City Park go beyond mowing the lawns. He also developed the Mow-Rons' Web site (www.mow-rons.org). If you click the "About" link, Jack's image appears beneath those of the other board members as "Tech/Jr. President" of the group.
For his and the Mow-Rons' efforts, Jack has become a bit of a celebrity. Last week he was interviewed for The Today Show and the CBS Evening News, and one of Ellen DeGeneres' producers called him as well. He joked with his dad that he's holding out for Letterman.
No doubt it's been tough for Jack to forgo all the fun stuff that kids do on Friday nights and Saturday mornings, but he has taught us all something about the power of volunteerism.
One thing I'm glad that Jack won't be giving up is the annual father-son fishing trip that his dad and I plan every fall for him and Will. "We'll just have to go on a Sunday," Jack says.
- City Park is one of Jack McShane's favorite places, and he says helping the park recover makes him feel better about his city's prospects after Katrina.