A chemotherapy patient about to enter Northside Hospital-Forsyth for treatment. A bowler headed to Stars and Strikes for a mid-afternoon game. An early-morning hiker about to climb Sawnee Mountain’s Indian Seats Trail.
While they may never meet in person, these three Forsyth County residents — and thousands of others throughout the county, state and nation — share a common experience: they’ve stumbled across a rock.
The rocks aren’t your typical ground covering. Some are ladybugs, others are rainbows, still more lobsters and school buses and buckets of popcorn.
In the last few weeks, the nationwide trend of painting and hiding rocks for others to find has rolled into Forsyth County, thanks to a Coal Mountain Elementary School art teacher.
While Toni Sullivan can’t take credit for the original idea — the phenomenon started in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, as “The Kindness Rocks Project,” an initiative to spread kindness and inspiration through randomly placed rocks — she said as soon as she heard about the project, she knew it would take off in Forsyth.
“I was about to visit my hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania, which is right on Lake Erie, when my best friend from college called me and said, ‘When you get here, you have to check out this new thing we have called Rock out Erie,’” Sullivan said. “My daughter and I were out to lunch [there] one day and she said, ‘Hey look at this rock,’ and I was like, ‘That’s what my friend was talking about!’
“I [loved] the idea, and we probably took the next three days out of our vacation just to paint rocks. I can’t tell you how many we painted — just a countless number of rocks.”
By the time she and her daughter returned home, Sullivan said, she had a plan.
“I contacted a few of my fellow artist friends and said, ‘We really should get this going. It’s an awesome kindness thing that brings the community together,’” she said. “I just fell in love with the idea. I’m on [Forsyth County Schools’] 7 Mindsets committee, and I just thought how inspirational would it be to connect with someone through a word or picture on a rock.”
She said the project, now dubbed Rockin’ Forsyth, has grown to nearly 2,000 in the last two weeks.
A Facebook page has been set up for people to share and post photos of rocks they’ve found, painted or are hiding, and the response has been overwhelming, Sullivan said.
“It just made my heart swell because I love bringing creativity to the community and I love connecting the community,” she said. “It also gets people from looking at their phones to looking for rocks, and I just fell in love with the idea.”
Sullivan also said she treasures the effect finding a brightly-colored rock can have on someone.
“One woman was going into the hospital for chemo treatments, and she found a rock I’d painted,” she said. “It was a rainbow, and I’d written on it, ‘The greater your storm, the brighter your rainbow.’
“She was just so appreciative of it, especially finding it when [she did]. We’ve had people tell us finding rocks made for memorable first dates, and then, of course, there’s always the joy of children finding them.”
For years, psychologists have used art as a form of therapy, largely as a way to connect with children but also as tool for adults to express themselves non-verbally.
Stone, or rock painting, though a lesser-used technique, can be beneficial when used as a therapeutic exercise, according to Amanda Slaughter, clinical director and owner of Cumming-based counseling center Family Counseling Associates of North Georgia.
“We use creative and play therapy, and art is a part of that,” she said. “We’ve used rocks before because it makes a person able to capitalize on their feelings and thoughts.
“It’s a way to work through feelings, thoughts and traumatic experience and help [the patient] to get to that place of closure and move on while adequately processing and releasing their emotions in a healthy way.”
Sullivan said on a more basic level, though, rock painting is about positivity.
Forsyth resident Pam Morris said her daughter recently hosted a Rockin’ Forsyth kindness party.
“It’s fun to see how it’s circulating throughout county, and it’s fun for the artist to see someone find their rock,” Sullivan said. “We have a rule: you must write on the back of the rock the Facebook page, Rockin’ Forsyth, and we ask you hide them in public places.
“There’s kindness in everybody — you’ve just got to bring it out.”