In our ongoing series, A More Perfect Union, we show how what unites us as Americans is far greater than what divides us. Today, we visit the political battleground of Ohio.
A simple but unusual hobby is spreading across the Buckeye State. Residents are picking up and passing along colorful stones to share random acts of kindness.
You don’t throw them, you paint them – then place them for others to find. It is a trend that’s exploded in northeast Ohio, providing a foundation for common ground in a state that’s had its fair share of division, reports CBS News’ Dana Jacobson.
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At the University of Mount Union, painted rocks are hidden in plain sight – on a bench, beside a tree and atop the popular “kissing bridge.”
“People’s days are truly brightened by these rocks,” Nancy Powell Pierson said.
Pierson, who lives nearby, launched Northeast Ohio Rocks with a Facebook page last summer, after hearing about similar groups in Washington state. That’s where the rock-hiding trend started with a simple premise: find a rock, paint a rock, hide a rock – and yes – post pictures.
“Is it just that idea that maybe you brought a smile?” Jacobson asked. “Because people will write a post, and maybe they smiled while they saw it.”
“Absolutely. There are so many people that write posts that say you know, ‘I found this rock and it really did make me smile,’” Pierson said.
Since launching Northeast Ohio Rocks seven months ago, more than 50,000 people have joined, making this the largest find-and-post rock group in the country.
“Do you ever get the push back of ‘are you kidding me, you’re painting rocks?’” Jacobson asked.
“Absolutely. That’s what everyone thinks… The naysayers become believers. It’s just an incredible thing. We see it happen all the time,” Pierson said.
Beth Devore likes to hunt for rocks with her dog Barley, who poses with every find.
“She loves being in front of the camera, so she smiles and her smile is just contagious,” Devore said. “It’s like a treasure hunt every time you leave the house ... and it’s just amazing to see them in these unexpected places.”
The sightings aren’t limited to northeast Ohio. Rock posts have come from Spain, Switzerland and Tanzania.
“These rocks take on a life of their own, they’re out there with a purpose and they have a life and they’re meaningful,” Pierson said.
But determining what’s meaningful – simple as it may seem – can get complicated. The list of rules is extensive. She makes an effort to be not political.
“I take a lot of criticism for that. We’re not here to support issues. We’re not here to support candidates. We’re not here to support causes. We’re here to promote kindness and sharing with each other,” Pierson said.
What is encouraged: rocks with a personal meaning, whether creating a work of art or something straight from heart.
Lisa Furry went to high school with Pierson and Brenda Kale, who helps run the group. Together they painted a bucket full of rocks to honor Furry’s daughter, Megan.
“Her favorite color was purple, so they are purple with green hearts,” Furry said.
Megan fought nerve sheath sarcoma, a rare form of cancer, for six months. She died in August – before anyone predicted.
“They told us she could live for years, then it was three weeks,” Furry said, wiping away tears.
Nothing will cure the grief of losing a child, but “Megan’s Rocks,” as they’re now known, have brought much needed support.
“When somebody finds one of Megan’s Rocks, the kindness in the kind of person Megan was is being shared by all these people who find her rocks,” Pierson said.
“It’s comforting and it’s sad and it’s so unbelievable. But to bring the rocks and to think we are bringing her with us and to leave a little bit of her somewhere and somebody else finds it,” Furry said.
“What has it been like to be able to leave those rocks thinking of your daughter?” Jacobson asked.
“It’s comforting and it’s sad and it’s so unbelievable, but to bring the rocks and think that we’re taking her with us and leaving a little bit of her somewhere, and somebody else finds it, they might not know the meaning of the rock, but when they post it that they found it, we thank them and say that Megan rocks,” Furry said.
Inspired by similar groups in Washington state, Northeast Ohio Rocks has led to the formation of nearly 20 more rock groups across the country.