Spreading Kindness in West Hartford, One Rock at a Time

Ronit Shoham holds some of the Kindness Rocks that are being 'planted' at Jonathan's Dream. Photo credit: Lisa Brisson

A Kindness Rock Garden will officially be installed at Jonathan’s Dream in West Hartford on Sept. 18.

Kindness Rock painted by West Hartford artist Stefanie Marco Lantz. Courtesy image

By Ronni Newton

Jonathan’s Dream is already about inclusiveness and accessibility, a place where children of all ages and abilities can play together.

The rebuilt playground, which opened in October 2017, extended the legacy of the original “boundless playground” that the Barzach family was inspired to create in 1996, in memory of their young son, Jonathan, who was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy and died before his first birthday. The community was sad to see the original playground torn down because it was no longer safe.

As plans for the “reimagined” playground materialized, Amy Barzach and her “partner in good,” Ronit Shoham, raised funds and brainstormed about elements that should be included to make it better than ever.

In addition to the “active” features at the new Jonathan’s Dream, there’s also a Little Free Library, a buddy bench, and other elements that inspire community.

And when Shoham went to a signing for a book by Megan Murphy, founder of The Kindness Rocks Project, and learned more about Kindness Rock Gardens, she knew that there should be one at Jonathan’s Dream.

Murphy even had a connection to Jonathan’s Dream already, through the Moran family that donated the buddy bench in memory of their son, Johnny Moran, who passed away several years ago.

A Kindness Rock Garden is filled with rocks that are inscribed with positive and inspiring messages and/or art. They can be “planted” as well as “picked,” both of which are rewarding experiences.

“The process of looking for what to write on the rocks brings a lot of great feelings and gratitude,” said Shoham, known to the West Hartford community as a volunteer extraordinaire.

“It’s a grass roots community initiative,” said Murphy, lives on the Cape and helps organizations with their gardens whenever possible. It’s a way to form and embrace social and emotional connections, she said.

Courtesy image

Currently the Kindness Rock Garden at Jonathan’s Dream has 200-250 rocks, but Shoham, who is acting as cultivator, is hoping to have about 500 by the time Murphy visits West Hartford on Sept. 18.

Murphy will help plant the Kindness Rock Garden during an afternoon event, from 3:30-5 p.m. at Jonathan’s Dream, and will then give a talk at the Mandell JCC at 7 p.m.

The afternoon event is free and open to all ages, while the evening event is for adults only. An $18 fee includes a copy of Murphy’s book, “The Kindness Rocks Journal,” a book signing, and rock painting. Click here for tickets.

The WeHa Artists Emporium is planning to donate some kindness rocks, and there has already been a rock-painting party at Jonathan’s Dream and will likely be another, Shoham said.

If members of the public want to paint their own rocks, Shoham said she’s willing to pick up the completed rocks and bring them to Jonathan’s Dream. Email Ronit at [email protected].

Art teachers throughout town can encourage their students, people can have rock painting parties, they can be created as part of service projects.

The rocks don’t need to be any particular size, and the only “rule” is that the message should be kind and/or inspirational.

The description on the Kindness Rocks Project website states: “Take one when you need one. Share one with a friend who needs some inspiration. Or leave one for another. 1 message at just the right moment can change your whole day, outlook, life.”

“Kids love to find them,” said Shoham. “The idea is to spread kindness. You may take one, or you may leave one.” Since more people tend to take rocks than leave them, she’s trying to build up a supply.

Murphy started the Kindness Rocks Project about 12 years ago, when she felt something was “off” in her life. She had just sold her previous business, which no longer brought her joy, and started walking the beaches along the Cape. As she walked, and had time to think, she realized that she had been so busy she had never grieved her parents who died several years earlier.

“It was a grieving process for my business, for my parents. I started looking for ‘signs,’” Murphy said. She felt wonderful when she found heart-shaped rocks and sea glass.

Then Murphy took a trip to India, where she was impressed by the kindness of strangers.

“How do we help other people feel safe, feel better?” Murphy thought when she returned.

She wrote kind and inspiring messages on five rocks and left them on the beach during a walk. When by chance one of her friends found a rock, Murphy initially was embarrassed and tried to deny she had planted it. But then her friend expressed her thanks, and said, “If it was you, I was really having a bad day,” and Murphy realized that the rocks had served their intended purpose.

Spreading the messages of the kindness rocks through social media further magnifies the power of the project, she said.

“It’s really based on connecting. This project is called ‘the art of connecting,’” Murphy said.

Supplies for creating rocks can be obtained through the Kindness Rocks Project website, but rocks can be found at hardware stores and through landscapers and can be painted with acrylic paint and then sealed.

“Smooth, river rocks work best,” Murphy said. But she urges people not to take them from the environment, because it’s also important to respect our natural resoures.

“I hope I can bring some awareness of kindness to West Hartford,” Murphy said.

West Hartford isn’t the only area town with a Kindness Rock Garden.

At Hopewell Elementary School in Glastonbury, a Kindness Rock Garden was created in the spring of 2018 as a way of bringing together the existing school community with new students who were being redistricted to Hopewell following the closure of Eastbury School.

The Glastonbury garden was the inspiration of parent volunteer Lori Lucey, following the guidance of Murphy who actively supported the project.

On the Kindness Rocks Project Facebook page, Lucey posted that the garden “was launched as a true community collaboration of kindness” in May 2018, and seeded with more than 1,000 rocks painted with inspirational messages and artwork.

There were enough “mini kindness rocks” so that each student and teacher could have one as the two communities joined together.

“And, so the garden grows, ready to bridge and build communities and build more kindness.”

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Three-sided Kindness Rock painted by West Hartford artist Stefanie Marco Lantz. Courtesy image

Kindness Rock painted by West Hartford artist Stefanie Marco Lantz. Courtesy image

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