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Kindness Rocks gardens sprout in Greenwich

September 6, 2018

GREENWICH — Kindness Rocks are rolling into town.

The brightly painted stones — bearing positive messages and inspirational quotes — have been spotted around town since 2017. Gardens filled with the rocks bearing personalized messages have sprouting up at Cos Cob Park and Cos Cob School. The newest one will be dedicated at 10:30 a.m. Friday at Town Hall.

The new garden near the Town Hall entrance will be dedicated as a tribute to Steven Sudell, a Greenwich youth facing a deadly form of cancer.

The impetus for the local project — part of a growing national trend — came from Greenwich resident Elisha Perez and her 9-year-old daughter, Ava. The two, who had been searching for something significant they could do in town, learned of The Kindness Rocks Project started on Cape Cod in 2015 by Megan Murphy.

“My daughter wanted to find a way to help people and she wanted to help people all over the world,” Perez said. “I had read the article about the Kindness Rocks movement. When I told my daughter about it, she was so excited. She thought it would be a great way for us to not only do something together, but get the entire community involved. We wanted to make it a larger movement in our community.”

After reaching out to Murphy, Perez received just the encouragement and assistance she needed to bring the project to Greenwich. One of the tips she received was to use social media, so Perez launched https://www.facebook.com/203TKRP/ and https://www.instagram.com/203TKRP/ where residents learn more about the project and see examples of how it works.

What has really driven Kindness Rocks in Greenwich is the number of residents involved, Perez said, especially those showing love and support for Steven Sudell and his family.

The 14-year-old Greenwich boy’s brain cancer is terminal, but Steven and his family haven’t stopped pushing forward as the community has rallied to his cause.

“We started seeing a lot of rocks being placed down at the elementary schools and more and more people were getting involved,” Perez said. “And then earlier this year we started seeing so many rocks with a very specific message of support for Steven. I wanted to learn more, and I ended up reaching out to the family.

”When I heard about Steven’s story it really motivated me and it gave me extra motivation because this is someone in our community who needed these messages,” she said. “We’ve had an overwhelming amount of people in the community who wanted to do this for him.”

Mutual friends connected Perez to the family, and the more she learned, the more she wanted to grow the project grow on his behalf, something that has met a lot to his family.

“We are so happy to have a specific place for rocks to be shared, and we truly hope they will bring some comfort and much needed happiness to others who may just need a little bit of kindness or uplifting words,” Steven’s mother Amy Sudell said. “That is what we got out of it, and we hope others will, too.”

Perez said her heart “breaks daily” for what the Sudells are going through. It has made her more committed to pushing the positive message of Kindness Rocks and uniting people behind the message that something small like a rock can help make the best out of a tragic situation.

“There will be a piece of Steven out in the world for years to come from this,” Perez said.

The teen’s friends and family are expected to attend Friday’s dedication. After earlier putting plans to get an official spot in town for the rocks on the back burner, Perez said she redoubled her efforts to make it happen.

She had the support of First Selectman Peter Tesei and state Rep. Fred Camillo, R-151.

“Steven’s family is in the middle of a very difficult time and still managed to bring out a very positive response that was at first temporary, but now will be permanent,” Camillo said. “Steven’s courage, love, and enthusiasm for life inspires all who know or know of him. This garden will epitomize Steven and those three attributes that define him.”

Perez said she isn’t surprised that residents are embracing the garden.

“This is such a motivating story,” she said. “We want to spread kindness, and we didn’t realize how big this movement could be until we saw how many people wanted to do this for Steven… His story hits close to home for so many people, and they realize the importance of getting this done while he’s still here. That carries a lot of weight and everyone has done their best to make this finally happen.”

Ava Perez, a student at Cos Cob School, pushed the idea of painting pictures on the rocks, something she said would allow more kids to be involved. And she’s so pleased with the results of the project that she will be allowed out of school for Friday’s dedication.

“When I grow up, I want to be a helper,” Ava said. “I want people to call me and I’ll be able to help them when they need it.”

From the beginning, Perez said she has always wanted a creative and innovative way for her and her daughter to give back to the community.

“We always get a good feeling when we participate in fundraisers, but we really wanted to see something that would continue paying forward,” she said. “Seeing something where you’re creating it with a purpose to bring happiness from one person to the next is like passing a baton in a race. You know it will start with you, but it doesn’t end with you. We knew this was the best way to do that. You don’t have to be an expert artist do to this. You don’t have to be a specific age. All it requires is people coming together to create something that will bring joy to others.”