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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017 3 years ago

'Winter Garden Rocks' group spreads joy, painted rocks around community

A new Winter Garden Facebook group has residents painting brightly colored river rocks and hiding them around town with the hopes of brightening someone’s day.
by: Danielle Hendrix Associate Editor

WINTER GARDEN  The next time you’re out and about in Winter Garden, keep your eyes peeled: You could find a rock with Hello Kitty, a Ninja Turtle or an encouraging word on it.

For the “Winter Garden Rocks!” group and those who stumble upon the small treasures, it’s like a year-round Easter egg hunt. 

The idea is to purchase river rocks and pebbles and paint something fun or encouraging on them. Then, once finished, the fun of hiding the rocks out for the public to find can begin. And if you’re lucky, you’ll find one of them yourself. 

Winter Garden resident Jennifer Dannecker is originally from Stuart and found the idea when a friend showed her an article about a Martin County Rocks group. With the prospect of having something fun to do with her daughter while brightening someone else’s day in mind, Dannecker knew she wanted to start the same thing in Winter Garden.

“I see it as both creativity and getting the children out there exploring without use of electronic devices,” Dannecker said. “That was the impetus for it — exercise, fun and creativity. The whole point is to have fun and to teach kids to put their heart into something, put it out there and give it to someone else with no strings attached and expecting nothing in return.”

Dannecker decided to get her neighbor and good friend Lisa Coates involved, along with their daughters. Mena Dannecker, 10, and Paisley Coates, 7, ate up the idea. Mena loves painting encouraging words and phrases on her rocks, while Paisley enjoys painting her namesake pattern — paisley.

“I like that they’re pretty at the end,” Mena said of her favorite part about painting.

The Facebook group was launched in January and is one of two Winter Garden-area rock groups — the other is called “Winter Garden/Ocoee Rocks.”

“As I’m painting something I just imagine the look on a person’s face finding it. You never know how you’ll touch someone’s day.” - Bessie Gollett

Dannecker and Coates hosted a rock-painting party for all the neighborhood kids to get involved. They use acrylic paint, paint pens and Sharpies to create whatever their hearts desire — unicorns, cats, kind words, characters — and coat them with a clear acrylic sealant to finish.

“We were having the greatest time,” Dannecker said. “It was so relaxing to sit and be artistic and expressive and know someone is going to find it.”

So far, the rocks have been hidden anywhere from downtown Winter Garden to the West Orange Trail and Chapin Station. The four artists estimate they have painted about 80 rocks to date.

“It’s very inexpensive too — it’s not having to buy tickets to a theme park,” Coates added. “For $10, you can get a big bag of rocks, Sharpies and paint from the Dollar Tree and have fun with it.”

Fellow Winter Garden resident Bessie Gollett found the group last month, and for the past three weeks, painting rocks has become one of her new favorite things to do with her grandson, Brandon.

“I took a drawing class in college — nothing real detailed — just as an aspiring artist,” Gollett said. “I love the adult coloring books and I basically do it for relaxation. When I started the rocks I was like, ‘OK this is really cool, this might replace the coloring books.’ Ever since I started, I’ve literally been painting every day.”

Now, every time she sees a new rock group on Facebook, she joins for inspiration and to share hers and Brandon’s finished rocks and stories. She hopes their rocks will give people joy and a sense of community. 

“As I’m painting something, I just imagine the look on a person’s face finding it,” Gollett said. “You never know how you’ll touch someone’s day. That’s why sometimes I do a lot of the kids’ characters because it’s mostly the kids out there looking for them — I try to paint characters they’re going to like.”

One of Dannecker’s goals for the group is to recreate the small-town charm she remembers from her own childhood. 

“It’s about giving to the community, making something with your heart, putting love into it and putting it out there for someone to find and not expecting anything back,” Coates said. “It’s nice to show our kids that, too.”


Contact Danielle Hendrix at [email protected].

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