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New “Kindness Rocks” Garden Aims to Plant Seeds of Joy

A collection of rocks hand-painted with inspirational messages and designs meant to uplift passersby has been installed in front of the Schellhase Commons.

Integrate for Good (IFG), a community partner of UCARE (Ursinus Center for Advocacy, Responsibility and Engagement), is an organization that seeks to strengthen local communities by creating opportunities for people of all abilities to contribute their time and talent through volunteerism. Earlier this year, Bonner Leader Olivia Negro ’23, who was in search of additional virtual service opportunities, decided to attend IFG’s “Make Your Mark” conference.

“Even though the conference was completely virtual, the community that I encountered through my screen seemed alive and vibrant, and the service that we did together at the conference still felt really impactful, meaningful, and reassuring—even with us all being miles apart,” said Negro. “I wanted to bring that to Ursinus, so I reached out to IFG’s director Bev Weinberg, and we discussed ways we could reunite our communities despite virtual barriers. Kindness rocks, which was one of the activities during the conference, seemed like the perfect activity.”

Negro’s hope is that the rock garden will spread comfort, encouragement, and compassion. “This small garden of colorful and inspiring messages is meant to be an installation of hope on Ursinus’s campus after a long year of hardship due to the pandemic,” she said.

Negro said that bringing the garden to fruition was truly a team effort. The garden launched with a rock-decorating event that allowed for remote and in-person participation by students and IFG’s neurodiverse team. UCARE fellow Mekha Varghese ’23 helped plan and promote the event, and she worked with Creative Director Dom Monte to design a sign that will soon be installed in the garden. Associate Director of UCARE Katie Turek helped coordinate the event, and Grounds Supervisor Neil Tyson located the garden’s new home and created the bed. The Event Technology team made the event more inclusive by using owl-camera technology in Lower Wismer.

“We can make our shared campus a safe, uplifting, and comforting space if we are all committed to doing so,” said Varghese, who has a double major in biochemistry and molecular biology and art. “I think the presence of kindness rocks on campus is a small step in bringing this idea to the forefront of our campus discussions. As we observe Mental Health Awareness Month, I can’t think of a better project to bring to Ursinus.”

Members of the campus community are welcome to take a rock they like or create a kindness rock to add to the garden. IFG hosts events online every Tuesday from 2 to 3 p.m., during which time attendees can meet with the IFG team, receive advice on decorating the rocks, and chat. Events to create more kindness rocks for the collection will continue to be held next semester.

“The garden will hopefully become a feature landmark on campus that will bring little sparks of happiness for years to come, and serve as a reminder that there is hope and love in challenging times,” said Negro, who is a politics and educational studies double major with a teaching certificate in social studies.

“It is important that Ursinus stays active in the surrounding community, and during COVID, we have had to find creative ways to do that,” said Negro. “Working with IFG on this ultimately successful project made me feel really hopeful for the future that we can continue to actively support our communities and will soon be able to meet in person once again to celebrate our ability to adapt to and overcome the challenges that we faced.”