If you think you hit rock bottom in 2020 it may be time to boost your spirits by joining Megan Murphy’s Kindness Rocks Project.

Rock and pebble painting inspired by the U.S. empowerment coach has spread across the world and continues to gracefully unfold here in 2021. More than 100,000 people follow the Kindness Rocks Project on Facebook. Closer to home, there are 1,840 Facebook followers at St. Thomas Rocks, and 553 followers at Aylmer Rocks.

Murphy’s notion of spreading kind words and positive quotes, painted on heart shapes stones and sea glass is proving particularly helpful in easing anxieties during COVID-19 isolation. Many followers distribute their hand-crafted gems while hiking to relieve boredom. The object is to hide the painted pebbles in plain sight for an added thrill.

“It’s pretty exciting to find them,” said Tamarra Lunyk, a Port Stanley pebble painter. “They just bring an instant smile to your face, and some are so beautiful.” Lunyk and her children Dasha and Mason Previl have enjoyed painting and collecting pebbles across Elgin County since about 2016. “We admire the art and effort that went into them. Just the joy of creating something is motivation, but then you add the fun aspect of hiding them for someone else to find and enjoy.”

Sometimes the family will stop and admire their discoveries but leave the stones where they lay. Occasionally they move them to another location. Some are brought home and displayed on shelves, in flowerpots and in the garden, as well as on nightstands. Other stones are on loan to other collections, including the painted pebbles by the Port Stanley Visitors’ Centre.

“My favorite part is finding them because I like seeing what people have painted and where they have come from,” said Mason, 11. “I really like the one that looks like an M&M (candy).” His sibling Dasha, 8, added: “My favorite place to find and hide them is in Port Stanley where all the plain rocks are. They are so bright and colorful with all the other rocks that aren’t painted.”

Lunyk notes that some rocks found here have come from other communities. Many record the place of origin on their backside, with encouragement to share photographs on Facebook.

“We already love to collect rocks, stones, sea-glass, etcetera, so we typically have suitable paintable rocks on hand,” she added. “Sometimes we go out to collect perfect rocks and sometimes a shape of a rock we see will inspire a thought of what it can be transformed into. But typically, you want a nice round, smooth and flat rock to provide a good canvas for painting.

“We don’t always know what we are going to paint on them, but just pull out the paints and brushes and go wild. Once painted, it helps for the longevity to cover with a glaze, clear paint, or clear nail polish. Helps it weather the outdoor environments.”

Another local enthusiast who wishes to remain anonymous said: “The beauty … lies in its anonymity. Like a random act of kindness, the brightly colored rocks become a ‘random act of cheerfulness’. Over the last few years, we have seen the rocks popping up in unexpected places, in Port and in other places we have travelled. Seeing them never fails to bring a smile. The fact that they can inspire joy and bring smiles in this trying time is all we really need to know.”

The Walking Ladies of Port Stanley have been known to paint a stone or two. Their favorite pastime lends itself to distributing kindness far and wide.

“It was something fun to do and you felt like you were contributing hopeful, inspirational messages to the community,” said Kathy McNeil, a Walking Lady. “It was interesting to see new ones arrive and some disappear. We plan to get back to it soon. Fortunately, there is no shortage of rocks nor ideas to paint.”

Port Stanley’s Lynn Oliver started painting rocks last spring. She was inspired by a sister in Florida, who enjoys rock painting. “We thought it would be a good idea to cheer everyone up during COVID-19,” said Oliver, also a Walking Lady. “We weren’t the first ones to do it in Port. We chose to place our rocks in the rock garden at the Visitors Centre. Others added to it.  We loved the garden of rocks both on Prospect Street and on William Street. There were others that we found as we walked along the harbour and most recently one hanging from a branch that we named Humpty (like the potato chips). It’s time to get back at it. It puts a smile on your face.”