Local group spreads love, community, kindness in Federal Way with rocks

Idea for Federal Way Rocks started by 10-year-old girl.

Rocks painted by Facebook group administrator Danielle Gonzalez, using only acrylic paints, are left in random locations around Federal Way. One of the most common places to hide rocks is at West Hylebos Park, according to Gonzalez. Courtesy Miasmin Andre, UW News Lab

Rocks painted by Facebook group administrator Danielle Gonzalez, using only acrylic paints, are left in random locations around Federal Way. One of the most common places to hide rocks is at West Hylebos Park, according to Gonzalez. Courtesy Miasmin Andre, UW News Lab

To many, a rock is just a rock — a solid piece of mineral material found on the earth’s surface.

However, with the help of a 10-year-old girl, a group in Federal Way has started to see rocks as something much more: a canvas to spread messages of love, community and kindness.

Starting out

Using her mother’s Facebook account, 10-year-old Hailey Borland created the Federal Way Rocks Facebook page over the summer.

The group is modeled after a larger movement across the United States called the Kindness Rocks Project. Members can connect with one another, and spread positivity by placing painted rocks in random locations throughout the community.

“With so much negativity out there, it’s nice to have just one small thing brighten your day,” Melissa Borland, Hailey’s mother, said.

The movement has become so popular that many cities have started their own version of the Federal Way Rocks group, Melissa Borland said. In the state of Washington, there are groups in Federal Way, Seattle, Tacoma, Maple Valley, Port Townsend and more.

When someone finds a rock, they have two options: They can choose to keep it, or they can move the rock to another place, hoping another person will find it and keep the rock traveling through the community.

“I typically carry around two or three rocks in my purse to leave around,” Borland said. “If they aren’t in my purse, then they’re in the car.”

Members can paint whatever they want on the front of the rocks, while the backs are used to promote the group’s Facebook page, encouraging members to post photos of any rocks found.

Hailey came up with the idea to start the Federal Way group after her family’s involvement in the Tacoma Rocks group.

“We would make the drive down at least once a week,” Melissa Borland said. “One day in the summer, my daughter was like, ‘Why do we keep driving to Tacoma? That’s not where we live.’ ”

After months of her daughter’s begging, Borland created a Facebook page on behalf of Hailey to organize the Federal Way Rocks group. Since then, it has gathered more than 1,800 members, impacting them all in very different ways.

One of those members is Denise Kelley, a local artist, who has been hunting rocks for as long as she can remember.

As a child, she would go out with her “rock-hound” father and explore for things like jade, crystal and agate.

This summer, Kelley and her family began to find painted rocks in parks around Federal Way, such as the West Hylebos Wetlands park. That is when she decided to join the group.

“The group means love with no boundaries,” Kelley said. “When you find a rock, it just makes your day better. I think it’s amazing how it’s taking off.”

The experience for Kelley is about more than just finding rocks painted by other people. It is also about seeing the impact that her art has on the surrounding community.

Federal Way Rocks has allowed her to share her passion for rocks with those around her.

“I remember seeing a lady find one of my crystal rocks, and I was hooked,” Kelley said. “I saw the happiness it brought to her, and I started painting more and more.”

Impacts local ly and beyond

One of the main goals of Federal Way Rocks is to create a sense of community and bring individuals closer together, Borland said.

One attempt to do this is through group events posted on Facebook. Any group member can create an event and share it on the page.

“I really think what makes our group have such a strong community feel is that any person can organize an event and post on the page if they want to,” Borland said. “It creates a space that everyone feels they are a part of.”

In November, member Marlene Xitlali organized an event at Brookdale Foundation House, a senior living center, through Facebook.

The purpose was to bring younger and older generations together. The group also wanted to bring positivity and happiness into the home, Borland said.

“A lot of the time, seniors can’t get outside because of their conditions,” Borland said. “We even have some members in our group that are housebound. That’s why we do this. Sometimes just delivering a rock to their house can give that extra ray of sunshine.”

To go further, spreading positivity does not end within the Federal Way community. After the mass shooting in Las Vegas this October, group member Jeanne Walker created a Facebook meet-up called “Rock Las Vegas with Love.”

“I knew I wanted to do something in memory of them all,” Walker said.

Many members felt a deep connection to what occurred in Vegas, Borland said.

“They decided to reach out to the Las Vegas Rocks group and see if there was any way to support them,” Borland said.

The group then painted hearts on 58 different rocks — one for each victim. Walker collected the rocks and sent them to the Facebook administrators of the Las Vegas Rocks group.

Later, Las Vegas members distributed the rocks at various memorials in Las Vegas on behalf of Federal Way Rocks.

“We want to let people know that we are thinking of them,” Borland said.

Some members have made a strong connection with the artists or pieces they completed.

This is especially true for local artist Rosalyn Colar, who stumbled upon a rock last summer and became affiliated with the group shortly after.

“Painting has always been a part of my family,” Colar said. “My dad is from the Philippines, so he would always paint sceneries from back home.”

She was heavily influenced by the landscape painting her father did. Because of this, Colar now spends a lot of time creating landscapes of historical landmarks around Federal Way, such as the Dumas Bay Center.

However, Colar had never used a rock as a canvas before joining the group.

“As soon as I heard about the group, I went in my back yard and started looking for rocks,” she said. “The first few I tried were a disaster, but I was able to learn techniques from other artists in the group, especially Danielle.”

Danielle Gonzalez is the second Facebook page administrator. Borland added Gonzalez to the role after group membership became so high that she could not handle all the requests on her own.

“Danielle is like a mentor for all of us,” Colar said. “Her artwork is like a benchmark for me.”

For more information on Federal Way Rocks, email rosalyncolar@gmail.com or visit the group’s Facebook page.

Miasmin Andre is a student with the University of Washington News Lab.

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