Columbus women paint, plant rocks around city

With a little bit of paint and a whole lot of rocks, seven Columbus women are generating smiles throughout the city, and it all starts at one kitchen table.

“Spreading some joy, giving some encouragement and making someone smile” is the motto Julia Federle of Columbus and her friends came up with when they started Columbus IN Rocks earlier this month.

Once a week, the women — friends since 2001 — gather around Federle’s dining room table to laugh, relax, and most importantly, paint. The rocks, which consist of all shapes, sizes and colors, are painted with encouraging messages, colorful designs and even some well-known cartoon characters.

Federle is the mastermind behind bringing the project to Columbus after she saw a friend, a member of Murphy Rocks in Murphy, North Carolina, post about her group. That’s when Federle knew she had to make it a local endeavor.

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“I started researching and found that everybody but Columbus is doing it,” Federle said. “North Vernon does it. Seymour does it. All around the country, it’s been going on.”

Since early July, Federle and her friends — Susan Boxler, Carrie Green, Trisha Heathcote, Margaret Tunny, Billie Park and Debra Puckett Gayman — have painted and hid more than 1,000 rocks around the community. Within the group are three teachers, two mental health field workers, one engineer and one stay-at-home mother to a dog.

“In our friend group, we’ve supported each other for all these years,” Boxler said, referring to the 16-year bond the women share. “We just wanted to do something for other people, too.”

Spreading cheer

With messages such as “Put on a happy face,” “Make someone smile” and “Be yourself,” it’s difficult to have a bad day when you find one of these rocks, they maintain.

Dispersed throughout the city, rocks have been discovered from Mill Race Park to the steps of the Bartholomew County Public Library. And there is something for everyone.

“There is so much negativity in our town, in the world,” Federle said. “People just aren’t getting along. We thought this would be something nice. We just thought, ‘Let’s put things on a rock that we’d like to find.’”

Federle established a Facebook group earlier this month as a platform for people to share photos of the rocks they’ve found. More than 80 people have already joined the public page, and the number increases almost every day.

Julia Stetter, a Columbus mother, and her daughter Lauren found a rock near W.D. Richards Elementary that read, “Be happy.” She was one of the first to post on the page with a rock discovery.

Lauren found the rock while the pair was on their way to play tennis. As soon as she discovered one, Lauren immediately wanted to search for more.

“I was probably just as excited as she was,” Stetter said. “It’s such a positive experience and activity for kids and adults. I love how it’s a never-ending cycle, too.”

Although Christi Tam of Columbus has yet to discover a rock, she was inspired to join in on the fun after seeing the Facebook group. Tam purchased rocks and paint last week and held a painting party with members of her church Saturday.

“They’re pretty rocks with positive messages,” Tam said. “It’s such a simple thing to do, and it can bring a smile to anyone’s face.”

Federle said her favorite message to write on the rocks is, “Hey you, don’t give up. It’s going to be okay.” When she’s decorating rocks designed for children, she often finds herself writing, “You are perfect just the way you are.”

More than rocks

You don’t have to be an artist to paint a rock, Federle joked, “unless you’re Billie.”

“I’m a kindergarten teacher. I have to draw little pictures from time to time — that’s all,” said Billie Park, a kindergarten teacher at W.D Richards Elementary School.

While Park paints a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle on a green rock, Federle said she sticks to a simple smiley face or encouraging word.

“We mess up and say, ‘It’s just a rock. Paint over it,’” Federle said.

Only one rule exists among the group: you must always paint with another person. Federle said she created this rule as a way to ensure all of the women stay connected.

The group is taking any and all donations of rocks. The original batch of rocks came from a demolished hotel space Federle discovered while on vacation.

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Use spray paint to cover the rocks with a base coat and let them dry, then decorate them with paint pens.

If you paint a rock to hide, write “Columbus IN Rocks” on the back.

Spray the rock with a clear sealant such as Rustoleum.

If you find a rock and want to share it, post your find on Facebook at Columbus IN Rocks.

Federle asks that you keep the rocks family friendly and positive, steering clear of politics and hot topics. When hiding the rocks, avoid leaving them on private property.

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To donate rocks to the Columbus group that paints them, contact Julia Federle at [email protected]. If you discover a painted rock, Federle said it’s your choice whether to keep it or hide it in a different spot.

To join the Columbus IN Rocks Facebook group, visit