It started with a mom desperately trying to erase the unkind words of a bully and fill the space with messages of love. But in the past year, Leesburg’s Kindness Rocks Project has bloomed in ways that have surprised even its mother and daughter creators, building community and creating a refuge for neighbors and strangers.
Margie Hunter and her daughter Dani Hunter have created a rainbow-colored oasis in their northeast Leesburg yard with one guiding principle: the right message at the right moment can change someone’s whole day—and maybe even change a life.
It started several years ago when Margie looked down from her home office window and saw her daughter’s elementary school bully write unkind words on the sidewalk in front of their home. She sprang into action, washing away the words. But she wanted to do more before her daughter and neighbors came home from school.
“I thought, ‘Before these kids get out of school today, I’m going to fill that sidewalk from here to my neighbor’s driveway with chalk so [the bully] had no room.’ Every square inch of sidewalk was covered,” Margie said.
Margie kept up her chalking efforts for several years. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit while Dani was in middle school, and the pair knew it was time to take things up a notch. They wanted to create something more permanent, and the Kindness Rocks Project was born.
“We got the idea to put the same kinds of messages on rocks,” Margie said. “They’re more permanent and last a lot longer.”
With more and more pedestrians walking by their yard, which borders an HOA-maintained walking path, they wanted to leave rocks with inspirational messages for passersby to take with them.
“We would see people walking by and we wanted to reach them. We wanted to say, ‘Hey we’re going through this, too,’” Margie said.
The project quickly caught on with neighbors, and the rocks went home with visitors as intended.
“We couldn’t keep up,” Margie said.
Then Dani had the idea of leaving rows of solid-colored rocks in a spectrum of colors and allowing folks to write their own messages. The garden has now become a place both to take and leave rocks. Visitors often take a painted rock, personalize it and return it to inspire others. The Hunters recently gave dozens of rocks to a local elder care facility where participants will decorate and return their own kindness rocks.
Since the Leesburg Kindness Rocks Project launched in 2021, it’s grown into a haven, attracting both families with children and individuals looking for comfort or solace
“We started this thing and at first it was, ‘Mom’s a little crazy.’ Then it started getting more feedback, and we put the LOVE sign up, and it went nuts,” Margie said.
Since launching the project last summer, the Hunters have installed a multicolored LOVE sign and a rainbow bench with inspirational sayings where visitors can reflect, meditate, grieve and hope. They also built a rainbow bridge when their beloved cat Tigger died, which has now become a place of remembrance for other local pets. The lovingly nicknamed Bob Marley Tree is filled with twisting crocheted strands. Brightly colored flowers and butterflies made from recycled soda cans line the fence, and spiky, dandelion-like “Covid flowers” made from painted golf balls with screws attached sprout in the yard.
“It became a thing of more color, more color. … The color seemed to draw people. It’s really emotional for a lot of people,” Margie said.
Earlier this summer mother and daughter created a wishing tree where visitors write wishes on small, colorful wooden tags. The Hunters saw a growing desire for interaction and dialog among visitors, and the tree, already beloved in the neighborhood for its brightly colored birdhouses from local artisans Fly Home Birdhouses, was the perfect spot for wishes.
“It was a way for everyone else to participate. People want to contribute,” Margie said. “They want to keep this going.”
This month, the wishing tree is also home to Margie’s latest project: hand-crocheted Worry Worms for children anxious about starting or returning to school.
For Dani, who turns 15 in a few weeks and is now a sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, the project has been an important creative outlet during a challenging time—and a way to bond with her mom.
“At the beginning, I thought she was a little crazy, and she still is,” Dani said with a smile. “But it’s really cool seeing a place for everybody to gather. “It’s really nice to have something to bring joy to the neighborhood.”
Dani, who has a passion for both art and science, is the artist behind the colorful frogs on the family’s new mushroom installation, featuring brightly colored concrete mushrooms molded from paper cups and plastic bowls. The teen was also the creative force behind the garden’s newest addition: a beautifully designed Little Free Library.
The Little Free Library movement is growing in Loudoun, but the Hunters noticed there wasn’t one in their corner of northeast Leesburg. Working with her creative mom, Dani designed a whimsical fairy cottage where visitors can take and donate books, complete with a secret door.
“It was a lot of working together and brainstorming and going in and getting materials,” Dani said. Nine Home Depot runs later, the library is up and serving the community.
On a recent weekday evening, neighbor Ashley Ramirez and her toddler Olivia stopped by the garden.
“If not daily, at least several times a week we walk past,” Ramirez said. “There’s always a new attraction to see. She’s obsessed with the colors and the new mushroom installation.”
For the Hunters, Kindness Rocks is about bringing joy and connection to the community, while also being a source of comfort for people who are anxious or grieving. And messages of gratitude and support flow in on their public Facebook group.
“We were remarking the other day how we turned around a negative thing by putting out so much positive, and we get so much more in return,” Margie said. “Magical things happen when my girl and I collaborate on a project.”
Leesburg’s Kindness Rocks Project is located on Graywood Way, NE in Leesburg. For more information, go to facebook.com/groups/thekindnessrocksprojectva.