Ogden-area rockers spreading cheer, one colorful, painted rock at a time

Tuesday , October 10, 2017 - 8:41 AM

TIM VANDENACK, Standard-Examiner staff

SOUTH OGDEN — When he launched 801 Rocks, Gary Turk wasn’t thinking just about painting and pretty rocks.

“I wanted to try to bring a little positivity,” he said.

The Facebook page he launched in July after learning of the rock phenomenon while visiting Colorado encourages participants to paint pictures, designs and messages on rocks and hide them in public places.

It’s pretty straightforward, but the page has exploded, with more than 20,000 members, and Turk, who lives in South Ogden, says it’s doing much more than giving artists and would-be artists a creative outlet.

It’s spreading good vibes, changing lives even. Painting is part of the lure, but so is the cheer caused when someone discovers a hidden rock and posts a picture of the discovery to the 801 Rocks Facebook page, focused on Northern Utah but with members from across the state.

“801 Rocks saves my life every single day,” Jami Bennett, speaking by phone from her home in Logan, said. “I get up every day to paint rocks, to hide rocks.”

The Facebook page helped Bennett, a member, reunite her with her two siblings in Clearfield, Jacob Wilkinson and Jenifer Green, and has brought the trio closer together. In the wake of the June death of their mother, Cindy Hare, it also helps Bennett pull herself out of her funk on bad days when she just doesn’t feel like dealing with life.

Wilkinson learned of the page from his girlfriend and introduced it to Green, who introduced it to Bennett.

“We all lost our mother to cancer and this has brightened up our lives and helped us with the loss,” Wilkinson said in a Facebook message.

Green also said the page helped turn things around as she, too, dealt with the loss of their mother, who died after a battle with brain cancer. Green had been drinking heavily, and the rock movement — more particularly, participants’ steady stream of posts to the 801 Rocks Facebook page — gave her a positive alternative where she could instead put her focus.

“I watched it take over my depressing Facebook page,” she said, alluding to the many messages and photos that rockers, as they’re known, post. “Just positive stuff. It kept showing smiley kids... I thought, ‘Wow, this is really good.’”

Indeed, the “happy messages” — posts about families painting rocks together or kids making a rock discovery — inspire her the most, more than actually painting, hiding or finding rocks.

‘A giant community’

Turk learned of the rocker movement from his sister when he visited her and other family in Colorado last summer. She suggested they paint rocks and the group dove into the task, putting aside their smart phones and actually talking to one another.

“I felt amazing to see the family together, doing one thing,” he said. “It’s like we’re making the world a better place through the rocks, and it’s happening.”

It inspired him to launch the effort here — a sidelight to his day job of wrapping vehicles with decorative vinyl coverings — hoping to help others recreate the same energy he felt. There are rockers all over the country — nationally, there’s the Kindness Rocks Project, partnered with craft store chain Michael’s, and there are also groups across Utah, like LaytonRocks.

The other Utah groups are much smaller than 801 Rocks, though, and Turk singled out his group’s outreach efforts — public painting sessions, periodic rock painting themes and more. Still, the 20,000-plus members 801 Rocks has drawn in its three months of existence has surprised him.

“I never though I’d be in this posititon. I’m a guys who wraps cars for a living,” he said.

Cally Rhoades, co-founder of 801 Rocks with Turk, helped focus the initiative, using her social media know-how so the group could reach a broader audience. Art — sketching, poetry, photography — has been central in her life, helping her deal with depression and even suicidal thoughts. For her, the effort, distributing what group leaders call “random rocks of kindness,” is about much more than just posting big numbers.

“Both of us really, really have a strong connection with art and we knew it was something that could affect peoples’ lives,” said Rhoades. She works with Turk at the vehicle-wrapping business and, like him, spends much of her free time on the group’s Facebook page, without reimbursement, though they’re investigating business possibilities associated with the effort.

Art helped save her life, she said, and she thinks 801 Rocks has a similar impact on others, giving them an outlet to deal with their daily struggles. There’s the painting, the hiding, the finding, but beyond that, there’s the community of like-minded people who cheer each other up, send positive thoughts, post their own rock stories.

“It really is kind of like a giant community, tribe or family,” Rhoades said. “Every day, so many different stories. It’s so cool.”

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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