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Kindness rocks span the ages with messages of hope and love

ADDISON COUNTY — A simple project involving writing kind and motivational messages on brightly painted rocks for strangers to find and seek happiness from started with one person in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and has quickly spread across the world.
The Kindness Rocks Project popped up last fall in Addison County, introduced by Robin Shalline, a third-grade teacher at New Haven’s Beeman Elementary School.
Shalline had been on vacation in Cape Cod when she stumbled across a mound of brightly colored rocks and other seashore treasures in a small pile on the beach. Upon closer inspection she realized that the rocks had messages and inspirational words written on them.
“Go after dreams, not people,” said one. “Create Peace” was written on another. “Be silly” and “Live life fully” read others. There were some blank ones too, with permanent markers ready for new messages to be left by those who discovered the treasure.
Shalline immediately knew she needed to bring the concept back to her classroom.
From an explanation on a piece of driftwood among the rocks, Shalline gleaned that the rocks were meant to inspire random acts of kindness and spread optimism and joy.
“You were invited to take a rock with a message you needed and leave one, if you could,” she recalled. The project was started by a woman named Megan Murphey, of Sandy Neck, Cape Cod, and was called The Kindness Rocks Project.
Upon her return to Vermont, Shalline shared the concept with her co-teacher and students and began discussing how they could bring the project to Beeman. The third-grade class decided to present The Kindness Rocks Project to their fellow students at Beeman during one of the school-wide assemblies.
   The Kindness Rocks Project was started in Cape Cod and was meant to inspire random acts of kindness that would help bridge differences with hope and love. Messages are written on brightly-painted rocks and those who discover them are instructed to “take one when you need one, and leave one when you can.”
Photo submitted by the Residence at Otter Creek
Back in the classrooms, the students worked to create more than 100 rocks with messages suggested by Shalline and the other teachers, as well as some they came up with themselves.
In attendance at that assembly was Courtney Allenson, parent of a third-grader, as well as the Resident Engagement Director at the Residence at Otter Creek in Middlebury. Immediately, Allenson was inspired to bring it to her workplace.
“I thought it would be a great way to provide some intergenerational programming for our residents, so I brought it to our Thursday morning art group,” Allenson said. She had provided some suggested words and phrases to get the project rolling, but said the residents quickly became inspired to create their own words of encouragement, specifically with these local children in mind. “Courage,” “Joy,” “Enjoy life,” “You are enough,” “You matter,” “Be yourself” and “Believe in all you do” were some of these messages.
“It was so fun to watch them come up with these phrases and then add them to the rocks,” Allenson said. “It definitely made everyone in the group smile and the chit chat about encouraging children and how special children are … It was endearing to listen to.”
Then, on a day late last fall, Allenson and Shalline arranged for a group from the Residence to deliver their kindness rocks to the students at Beeman, so they could share their messages with one another.
“Our residents sat with students, discussed the project, shared a snack and just talked about life,” Allenson recalled.
The rocks were all added to the pile that had been formed around a large, old cottonwood tree on the school property. Students at Beeman know that they are always welcome to visit the pile and are encouraged to take a rock when they are feeling down and may need a kind word.
OLDER AND YOUNGER TOGETHER
Allenson and Shalline agreed that the shared experience was valuable for both the residents as well as the students at Beeman.
“One resident who went was a kindergarten teacher and she was so happy to be back at school,” Allenson said. “All three residents who went were thrilled and couldn’t stop smiling! The kids were excited to have visitors and it was such a positive experience.”
When Shalline first encountered The Kindness Rocks Project, it was just before the 2016 election, in which Donald Trump would be named the 45th President of the United States. Shalline said that she had been looking for a way to inspire the children of her school to be deliberate and generous with kindness in the wake of such a divisive political time, to help repair feuds within our community.
“I kept asking myself, ‘How can we translate a kinder world to our children?’ and this became a great part of that answer,” she said.
“Everybody needs hope. Everybody wants others to be kind. The purpose of this project is to encourage and inspire others, and that’s something that spans all ages.”
So far, there has just been the one gathering between the elders at the Residence at Otter Creek and Beeman students having to do with these rocks, but it has inspired a relationship between the two groups and both continue to look for ways to collaborate and share experiences.
About a month ago, the Residence hosted Shalline’s third-grade class for a Cinco de Mayo celebration. Students offered a presentation about Mexico to the residents, played games and joined for lunch at the taco bar.
This month, on the longest day of the year (June 21), the Residence is hosting their first “reflections-only” (memory care) art show, in which some of the kindness rocks will be displayed along with a giant poster of the inspirational words written by the residents involved in this project.
As for the rocks, Shalline says while most stay around Beeman’s cottonwood, they did make an appearance at Town Hall for Election Day and some were even sent to Harwood Union High School following the tragic car accident that killed five teens last fall.
They are also passed around from student to student at Beeman. Allenson said her son brought one home recently that said, “Be yourself,” and she recognized it as one that an older resident had made during their Thursday art session.
Shalline says she hopes the rocks find their way into more public spaces and inspire others to perform random acts of kindness and work to spread inspiration and hope.

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