Amy Coady believes kind words can go a long way.
She believes that’s especially true of kind words in colorful paint on small, smooth rocks that can literally travel the globe and figuratively touch a person’s heart.
“One kind word can change someone’s entire day,” Coady said.
Coady is the founder and driving force behind Kindness Rocks-Audubon, NJ, a 1,600-plus member Facebook group that paints, hides, collects, and shares rocks with uplifting messages.
The group focuses its slightly mischievous mission on the town of Audubon in Camden County, but also tries to spread its stony sunshine to neighboring towns as well.
Members use rocks to create bright, cheerful mementos with short, simple sayings such as “Be Magical” or “Bee Kind” — with a drawing of a bumblebee — and “Laugh More” and spread them around the town, hiding them in the grass near sidewalks, or sneaking them on the steps of unsuspecting homeowners.
On the back of each rock is a label that reads: “You found it! Keep it or hide it but first, POST IT: Kindness Rocks, Audubon, NJ (with Facebook logo).”
Audubon Mayor John Ward, who found a rock on his back steps, said the project’s mission is especially valuable in a time of often-divisive civil discourse and social unease.
“It’s a wonderful thing that has just grown wings,” Ward said. “We have so much divisiveness in the world today, so many things we worry about. Something like what these people have done, it reminds us that we’re all in this together, that we need to support each other.”
Soon after the project launched last June, Ward discovered a rock at his house with the words, “Always Be Kind,” painted on it.
“I figured they would find the mayor’s house,” Ward said. “We have it on the windowsill, and it’s a great reminder, something that brightens your day.”
The Kindness Rocks Project was started in 2015 by Megan Murphy, who wrote “You Got This” on a rock and left it on the beach near her home on Cape Cod, Mass. That act started a viral trend in which people paint rocks with uplifting messages and leave them for others to find and share in Facebook groups.
In a November 2018 television interview on the Today show, Murphy said she was feeling down and looking for signs of inspiration from her late parents when she decided to leave a message for a stranger.
Murphy’s project has spread around the country and around the world, with groups in the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, among other countries. The rocks themselves, even the ones originating in Audubon, have spread even farther and wider.
“Last summer, people started going on vacation and they were leaving them everywhere — Europe, China, Malaysia, Mexico, Hawaii,” Coady said. “It’s just something that’s so easy to do.”
Coady said she read a story online about Murphy’s project in the spring of 2019 and thought something like that could work in Audubon, a tight-knit, tree-lined town of around 8,700 residents.
“People walk around a lot in Audubon,” Coady said.
She painted about 20 rocks and left them near Haviland Avenue Elementary School in Audubon in early June.
“The reaction was immediate,” Coady said. “I heard from one woman who said her daughter was having a bad day and it was just what she needed. I was hearing from people before I even got home that day.”
Coady, who was born and raised in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia, is a special-education teacher at Larchmont Elementary School in Mount Laurel. She said her pet project is perfect for children, especially those with special needs.
“Some of my kids are nonverbal, and they love to participate,” she said of her students.
At times, Coady said, the rocks are tied to specific subjects. She left hundreds, many painted in red-white-and-blue, along the parade route before the 4th of July parade in Audubon. There were lots of Breast Cancer Awareness-themed rocks in October and holiday-themed messages in December.
Coady said she doesn’t have a favorite saying, although she keeps a notebook to jot down different messages when they occur to her.
Murphy said on Today the rocks seem to have a knack for resonating with the right people.
“It’s almost magical — the perfect message seems to find the perfect person,” Murphy said.
Debbie Dera, a Haddon Heights resident who works with Coady as a teacher’s aide in the Mount Laurel district, believes the rocks are as beneficial to the person who hides them as to the person who finds them, if not more so.
“It just feels so good to make somebody else feel better,” Dera said. “And then that person wants to make somebody else feel better, and it just blossoms.”
Kindness Rocks groups have emerged elsewhere in the Philadelphia area, including Ocean City, Darby, Newtown, Narberth, and other towns.
On the Kindness Rocks-Audubon, NJ Facebook page, people post photos of their discoveries and express their appreciation of the project.
“It made my day,” Linda White Chase wrote. “When I found my rock on my doorstep I was having a rotten day and it certainly turned it around.”
Robin Jones wrote, “When we found ours on our front lawn it made the whole family smile.”
Holli Allen Magill wrote, “The joy your drops of happiness bring is priceless.”
Coady said the project slowed down after the holidays, as folks began spending more time indoors. She had hoped to pick up again when the weather turned warmer and more people were walking around town.
The outbreak of the coronavirus has impacted the project since Coady knows some people are reluctant to pick up the rocks in a time of social distancing and fear of infection.
“I’ve been putting out maybe 20 a week instead of 100, which I normally would be doing,” she said.
Coady believes that when society returns to something close to normal, the Kindness Rocks Project will be more valuable than ever.