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Encouraging the world one painted rock at a time

By Paula Walter

You may have noticed small brightly painted rocks with encouraging messages around Johnson County lately. It’s all part of The Kindness Rock Project, an endeavor to promote random acts of kindness across the country.
According to Tonya Townsend of Johnson County, the Kindness Rock Project began when Megan Murphy from Cape Cod painted just one rock. Her parents had died when she was young and Murphy still missed them every day. She would walk the beach every day looking for a rock-shaped heart for her father and a piece of sea glass for her mother. She had not intended to start the Kindness Rock Project until she hid her first rock on the beach that she had painted, adding kind and encouraging words. It so happened a friend of Murphy’s found the rock and had been experiencing a bad day, until she found the rock.
Townsend started a local Facebook group to share messages of comfort and optimism called Color Mountain City (Johnson County) after running across a nearby group, Damascus Rocks. Color Mountain City started with just a few participants, but has grown in size to approximately 250 members, with more members added daily. Currently, about 30 members are active in bringing smiles to people around the county. The rocks are not only painted and hold a special message, but often you can find the name of the group on the back of the rock. Those finding the rocks will take a picture and post it in order to let the group know one of their rocks has been found. Sometimes people will hide the rock they found again and pass the message along for someone else to find, or they may decide to keep it as a souvenir.
According to Townsend, there are a few simple rules the group should follow. “First, this is a kindness project,” she said. “So everyone be kind, keep the rocks family friendly, don’t take unpainted rocks from private property, businesses or government property unless you have permission from the owners. Also, please don’t hide rocks in the grass or anywhere that can cause damage to equipment or cause someone to fall.” She stresses writing your name or the Facebook group you are connected with on the back of the rock and seal the rocks with a paint sealer. The group tracks where the rocks end up. Additionally, there are those who put their own personal name or hash tag on the rock. “We track our rocks with our group name on the back of them and some people also add their own personal hash tag on their rocks,” Townsend said. “ That way if someone that is visiting finds any of our rocks and takes it back to their home place that’s 200 miles away, and they hid it there another person visiting that area finds that same rock and takes it even further away. That’s what we call our traveling rocks. As long as the finder posts the rocks to our page or the page written on the back of the rock, then we can keep track of where our rocks are at.”
Some of the rocks bearing messages of encouragement have been left at Ralph Stout Park, on Main Street, both inside and outside stores and restaurants. One woman who works at the Abingdon Walmart found one of the group’s rocks outside the store. “I found a pretty big flat rock outside the Church I attend, Mountain City Church of Christ. It had all kinds of different beautiful pattern,” Townsend said. “ I started looking more closely and it was a three-d rock with Jesus kneeling down. It was beautiful.”
According to Townsend, its best to wash the rocks off first before you begin painting them. If the rock has deep holes or any place that needs filling, use wood filler and sand the excess off. You then apply Mod Podge on every rock as it makes it so much easier to paint and draw on. It keeps the paints or sharpie pens from running. Finally, after the rocks have dried, spray a paint sealer on them to keep the paints from washing off in the rain.
This activity encourages families and friends to spend time together. ”Together we can help turn the world back to God by spreading kindness and help make it a better place again. It’s so much fun getting together as a family, church group, friends or even alone painting, hiding, finding, hiding the rocks again and posting about the rock,” said Townsend.