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719 Rocks! project spreads kindness anonymously throughout Colorado Springs

September 17, 2017 Updated: September 20, 2017 at 8:21 am
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Seqouiah Stewart, 4, Roman Ortiz, 6, and Nakotah Stewart, 6, from left paint rocks for 719 Rocks! project in Old Colorado City at Dolly Bartholow's home on Saturday September 9, 2017 in Colorado Springs. (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette).

More than 40,000 people in the Colorado Springs area are spreading kindness, compassion and connectivity - anonymously and unexpectedly - as proof that "719 rocks."

Perhaps you've stumbled upon a painted stone with a positive message, and maybe you found it at the very moment you needed encouragement.

Thousands of randomly placed rocks throughout the region are intended to accomplish just that: Comfort the afflicted and connect the community.

When Jennifer Hayden Tews visited family in Memphis, Tenn., last October, her niece found a "901" rock.

"She was jumping up and down and screaming," Tews recalls.

"I teach high school at Pine Creek. One of my students was going through some (challenging) stuff, and I was just looking around at people and thought, 'We can always use positive stuff.'"

People paint rocks for 719 Rocks! project in Old Colorado City at Dolly Bartholow's home on Saturday September 9, 2017 in Colorado Springs. (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette). 

So Tews launched the 719 Rocks project.

"It's taken a long time to catch on," she says. "It didn't really catch on until this summer, and it just exploded. We have more than doubled in size since the end of June."

On two Facebook pages - 719rocks and 719rocks! - people post photographs of the rocks they've found, tell where they spotted the stones and then, usually, hide the rocks anew for someone else to find and enjoy.

"A lot of the rocks travel to other states, and those people ask to join (the Facebook page) and post where they find them. It's been really wonderful hearing the different stories and seeing the rocks," Tews says.

Dolly Bartholow celebrated the movement by throwing a party, complete with mimosas, rocks and painting supplies, on a recent Saturday.

"I didn't think anybody was going to come," Bartholow says, but 20 adults and about 15 kids - mostly strangers - came to her West Side home and adorned about 150 rocks.

"The kids went crazy," she says. "They were painting rocks and their bodies."

Although she threw the party partly to become better acquainted with neighbors, people arrived from other parts of town too.

"I had ladies come from Powers (Boulevard) on the bus. They said they had to transfer three times, but their kids thought it would be so fun," Bartholow says. "Everybody got along.

"It was just neat to see that everyone who came was pretty positive and just wanted to make rocks and put them everywhere in the Springs."

Her favorite creation from the four-hour affair was a rock painted to resemble a Converse sneaker. One woman taught the guests how to use dots to create mandalas, a spiritual symbol that represents the universe for Hindus and Buddhists.

And Bartholow even provided glow-in-the-dark paint so nocturnal wanderers can find the decorated masses of minerals too.

The 719 Rocks! project has people paint rocks with supportive messages and hide them around Colorado Springs for others to find, share on social media and then re-hide for others to find. They were photographed in the Colorado Springs studio on Thursday September 7, 2017 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette). 

The rocks movement, which has proliferated around the world, appears to have originated in August 2015 with the Kindness Rocks Project (thekindnessrocksproject.com). Megan Murphy was depressed and walking the beach near her Cape Cod home, seeking signs from her dead parents in the form of heart-shaped rocks and sea glass.

One day she impulsively grabbed a Sharpie and wrote encouraging messages on five rocks, leaving them along the beach. A friend texted Murphy that night with a picture of an inscribed rock she'd found, saying it had made her day.

Murphy told interviewers that she realized, "I could be that difference, I could be that piece of sea glass or that heart-shaped rock for other people, and maybe it could make them feel good."

One participant said on the Kindness Rocks site: "Somebody gets it. Someone else gets that others are out there that are hurting and just maybe all they need is a kind word or maybe even just a rock."

In Colorado Springs, the first Tuesday of every month is craft time at Rita's Italian Ice, and Tews said her group was invited to do rock-painting there.

Bartholow, meanwhile, already is planning her next party.

"I can't believe how much fun I had," she says. "The kids had the most fun of all. So I was thinking about doing a kids one. (Parents) can drop off the kids and go have a date night. I used to run a daycare, so I was thinking of a kids night out."

Says Tews: "So many people say painting the rocks has helped with their depression. It's gotten kids away from their electronics. People are hiking. It's been incredible to watch families coming together."

The Kindness Rocks website says: "One message at just the right moment can change someone's entire life.

"Kindness is contagious. Pass it on."

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