Brightening the city, one stone at a time.
Painted rocks are whatever their creators—and finders—want them to be, whether moving, funny or inspirational.
adobe stock © Jakub Janele
Rafael Rodriguez gripped the small stone bearing an image of a purple butterfly. To him and his family, finding it was like Margie, his wife of 38 years who died in 2013 of cancer, was with them again.
His daughter Marleen Fontanez said her brother-in-law found the stone while they were out for Rodriguez’s birthday. Margie had always loved butterflies, and it was she who had discovered that Fontanez’s daughter Vanessa’s name means butterfly. Now the family sees butterflies everywhere they go.
“It touched him. It made his day. It made all of our day. We took it to my mom’s grave and it’s there in front of her gravestone,” Fontanez says. “I just think it’s so wonderful that people take the time to do this.”
People all over the world are decorating rocks with paint, glitter and markers, hiding them in their neighborhoods or while traveling and then posting about it on designated Facebook pages, often providing clues for other members to find them. The trend has been around for more than a year but administrators for local rock groups say it’s recently picked up great momentum with some adding upward of 20 members daily.
Some rocks bear inspirational messages, such as one with “Stay Sharp” penned next to a drawing of a pencil, which was hidden just before school started in east Orlando. Some are meant to be humorous, such as a light blue rock featuring a toilet paper roll and a word bubble reading “Over, not under...Lol.” Some are meant to be informative, such as one with a picture of an alligator that says, “Don’t feed the gators.”
Kristina Tollefson, Orlando Rocks page administrator, says someone once posted in the group of over 1,500 members that they found a rock simply painted green and since green is their favorite color, that rock is their favorite one.
“It’s not about being a great artist; it’s about creating something that will brighten someone’s day. And you never know what that might be,” she says.
It was a rock donning the Captain America shield that hooked Mandy Courtley of Altamonte Springs on rocking. A woman in her downtown Orlando office brought it to her after finding it in a parking garage.
“It really made my day. Everyone here knows I’m a huge fan,” she says. That could be because of the Captain America earrings she often wears to work. “He seems the most pure out of all the super heroes. I like everything he stands for.”
Now Courtley is a member of the Altamonte Rocks!! page, which has 550 members, and the SeaWorld Rocks page, which has more than 1,100 members. She and her two daughters paint and hide them together now.
“It gives you something you can do with your kids that’s on your level. We do it together, we hide it together, we get excited about it together,” Courtley says, adding that rocking would be a very Captain America thing to do.
Carrie Jackson sought an eye-level hiding spot for a small, brightly painted rock at her son’s neurologist’s office in Lake Buena Vista. She imagined a child in need of a pick-me-up finding it.
“These kids have problems just like our son. Why not make them smile?” says the mother of two, whose son was born with cleft lip and palate and suffered developmental delays.
Alicia Carnes says rocking is a great way to connect people. She says one woman posted a photo of a rock she painted for her daughter with terminal cancer and the people in the group rallied around her, sending encouraging messages and offering prayers for her family.
“I’ve met a lot of people in the community that I never would have otherwise,” she says. Some groups have rock painting parties, such as Sanford Rocks, which boasts more nearly 600 members.
The trend, which is meant to inspire random kindness, surfaced shortly after the shooting at Pulse nightclub that killed 49 people in June 2016. Now, kindness rocks cover the memorial outside of Pulse. Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan says this is a great way to help the community heal.
Tollefson says rocking is also a productive outlet for her six daughters’ creativity instead of crafts piling up, and she loves having an indoor/outdoor activity she can do with them. Carnes agrees that it’s a good way to get her kids, ages 14, 12 and 11, to get off their computers, communicate with family and get outside.
“Instead of sitting at home on their phones, they’re running around a park again. All I have to do is turn off the Wifi and they come running,” she says.