By SCOTT AUST
If you happen to see a brightly painted rock one of these days, go ahead and pick it up. It’s likely been left there intentionally to brighten your day.
Earlier this month, Garden City native Stephanie Releford began placing a batch of 40 rocks she painted, some bearing inspirational messages, in public locations around town, her contribution to a nationwide movement advocating for random acts of kindness.
“It’s not my idea. it was started by a lady on the east coast and it’s called the Kindness Rocks Project,” Releford said. “I noticed some of my friends on Facebook were painting rocks and I wondered what it was for and how you do it. I started searching about it and I found the project.”
The Kindness Rocks Project “was created to spread inspiration and a moment of kindness through random inspirational rocks dropped along the way,” according to the website www.thekindnessrocksproject.com.
It started as a hobby of Megan Murphy, a women’s empowerment coach who lives on Cape Cod, and has grown throughout the country and even overseas.
According to its website, the group’s goals are to inspire others through randomly placed rocks along the way, and to recruit every person who stumbles upon it to join in the pursuit of inspiring others through random acts of kindness.
On the organization’s website, Releford found a map and noticed there weren’t any western Kansas groups though there is one now in Dodge City. The other Kindness Rocks groups are in Wichita and Topeka. Releford read more information and decided to start a group in Garden City called SWKS Rocks. SWKS stands for southwest Kansas.
“What attracted me to it is I felt we could use something here to kind of spread love, joy, kindness. What I really liked about it is there really wasn’t anything like it in our area,” she said. “I’d been a mom for awhile and didn’t feel like I’d done anything for anybody else and I hoped this would be a way to give back to the community.”
At first, she thought she would need to go to the Arkansas River to find rocks to paint but was pleasantly surprised to learn stores such as Home Depot actually sell bags of rocks. Releford did her first “hide” the weekend after July 4. She put three to six rocks in various locations, such as Stevens Park, St. Catherine Hospital and Finney County Public Library for people to find.
Releford has a Facebook page for SWKS Rocks that people can join and post photos of the rocks they have found, if they want to share. She hopes to see it spread throughout the area and for more people to do it as well.
“I’ve done just a few and I’m not good at painting. But once you start looking, people get really creative and it’s really neat what they can come up with,” she said, referring to posts she has seen on other groups’ Facebook pages or websites.
Releford has worked at Mosaic for 11 years and is currently a case manager there. She and her husband Derek have two children, Race, 3, and Doc, 1. She said anyone can participate; it doesn’t require any artistic skill.
“That’s what I like about it, too, is it’s a good family project. My son (Race) is really stoked about it, but I don’t take him when I hide the rocks because he likes to keep them. He doesn’t understand what we’re doing,” Releford said with a laugh.
Releford said there are some guidelines to follow. She uses spray paint and oil based art pens, and said the rocks need to be sealed after painting to protect them from the weather and to prevent paint from washing off and damaging the environment.
In general, she said you also don’t want to put them in the grass to avoid someone running a mower over one, or leave them on private property. You also don’t want to put them in locations where someone could get hurt trying to pick one up, she said. Releford has more information on the SWKS Rocks Facebook page about the guidelines.
Those interested can also find more information about the Kindness Rocks project, as well as a variety of photos of painted rocks, at www.thekindnessrocksproject.com.