By Carol Stiffler

Johnny Nutkins is 16, and he should be in school right now. His days should focus on math and history and preparation for state testing.

But like all children in Michigan – and like most across the world – Nutkins is at home these days, obeying a stay at home order that has completely up-ended normal routines.

Nutkins isn’t slacking. He’s getting his homework done in an hour or two a day, and then he’s off to work. He has joined forces with his brother, Gavin, and their friend Ethan Salter, to rake and mow yards across Newberry. Together they are operating a business they call Advantage Lawn Care.

“We’re hardworking and believe in the customer coming first,” Johnny said.

They play competitive hockey together, so the trio really does know all about hard work. That grueling sport has led to Ethan breaking his collarbone three – THREE – times, and to Johnny getting sliced by the blade of a skate. But they wouldn’t dream of quitting.

They also play other sports individually: Johnny plays football and golf; Gavin, 13, plays football and baseball; and Ethan, 16, plays football and runs track.

“I have mowed lawns as a side job for a few years,” Johnny said. “This year we decided to do it together and expand the amount of lawns we could rake or mow.”

The group is working to raise money for college, vehicles, vehicle repairs, hunting and fishing equipment, and other sports equipment – “just so if the situation presents itself, we’ll have the money,” he said.

They currently have about a dozen clients, but they’re hoping to attract as many as 40 Newberry customers to serve this summer. Johnny takes customer calls right on his cell phone – 906-287-0685 – and says they’ll be raking until sometime in June, when lawns need their first cuttings.

“We strive for the best we can do to make sure customers are satisfied and happy with their lawns,” Johnny said. “Especially since that’s one of the only things people can control in these uncertain times.”

His aunt, Mary Nutkins, was one of his very first customers.

“They’ve done a good job for me for a lot of years,” she said. “Since they were old enough to push a lawn mower.”

Her brother trained them well, she said. They power through blisters and tired muscles to get the work done.

“They come in and say, ‘Is there anything else I can do for you?’ before they leave, and everything,” she said. “They’re good boys.”

Johnny said they love the work.

“Being outside and doing jobs like raking and mowing for people are more up our alley,” he said. “We’re pretty active and enjoy hunting and fishing, so we’re no stranger to nature.”

The work also gets the boys around town a bit in an otherwise quiet time.

“It’s a great experience that allows us to meet new people all over town as well as stay in shape for sports,” he said. And it gets them out of the house on a quarantine-approved task.

Johnny admits that the days are very different since the pandemic took over the world.

“it’s very weird,” he said. “I never would’ve imagined experiencing something like online school in my life.”

His classmates, who used to tell him they hate school, have lately been expressing how much they miss it.

“I haven’t seen some people from school since the last day we were there,” he said. “It really makes you think.”

While he hopes to be reunited with classmates someday soon, for now, he is just hoping that he and his coworkers can make life easier for customers.

“It’s been great seeing people and the smiles on their faces,” he said. “We strive for the best we can do to make sure customers are satisfied and happy with their lawns. Especially since that’s one of the only things people can control in these uncertain times.”