Lebanon sisters find paint and rocks strengthen family ties

When Lebanon sisters Jackie Paquotte and Jeannie Dunnigan started Linn County Rocks last August, they hoped it would inspire active family time. Apparently, they’ve inspired a lot of it.

The many Facebook posts of kids and parents “rock hunting” throughout the county are a good indication their hopes were realized. The Linn County Rocks Facebook group had more than 6,000 members, as of Jan. 4.

Paquotte and Dunnigan are quick to give each other credit for the idea, but it took both of them to create the community page that exists today. “It started with my sister Jeannie,” Paquotte said. “She’s a caregiver for a 92-year-old (woman) and they were painting rocks for an activity and they were just giving rocks to family and friends.”

The next piece came when Paquotte and her husband were returning from vacation. They pulled in to a rest stop in Skagit County, in western Washington.

HAILEY HASENYAGER, 6, granddaughter of Jackie Paquotte, in rear, shows off her first rock painting.

“There was a rock – it said ‘U R BeYouTiFull.’” Paquotte said. “I picked it up and looked at it and it said ‘post to Skagit Rocks! FB if found.’ I immediately called Jeannie and I said, ‘We need to do this.’”

Dunnigan started the Facebook page as her sister continued her journey home. They had talked for years about doing something to create family time, she said. “We have talked about all kinds of stuff and this was it,” Paquotte said. “It was like a sign, this is what we need to do. So we did it and it has taken off like gangbusters.”

Paquotte is amazed at the talent people evidence in their creations. “They didn’t even know they had talent and the creativity coming out is just amazing,” she said. “There’s 2-year-olds painting.

You can tell the kids’ paintings, but they’re wonderful. I’m excited when I find a little kid painting.” Dunnigan said her 6-year-old grandson loves to paint rocks. “The kids just take to it,” Dunnigan said. “It’s all they want to do. They’re begging their moms to paint. Then it’s an Easter egg hunt. Let’s go out and find rocks or let’s go out and hide our rocks. And so it’s really getting families outdoors.”

Outdoors is sometimes uninviting in the winter, but that doesn’t mean the game has to stop.

“We do have permission from Walmart,” Dunnigan said.

There are some restrictions concerning where people can hide rocks within the store.

“They don’t want us hiding anywhere near produce or perishables,” Dunnigan said. “(There’s) no putting rocks on merchandise or in pockets.”

FRIENDS AND FAMILY enjoy painting rocks. From left are Kristian Mesa, 10, Benny Tace, 5, Jeannie Dunnigan, and Rojean Shearer. They regularly paint and hunt for Linn County Rocks.

Also, concerning pockets, people who find rocks in Walmart should keep them in their carts until they check out. Slipping a rock into a pocket may look a lot like theft to an observer. “We’re very grateful to Walmart because some days, you know, it’s pouring down rain,” Paquotte said.

Other businesses and organizations are participating too. The Holidays in the Park Committee held a 12 Days of Christmas scavenger hunt in the beginning of December. Dala Johnson, Lebanon Police Department community policing officer, posted clues each day for the rocks that were redeemable for prizes from local businesses. Shari’s restaurant has hidden rocks that lucky finders can trade for slices of pie. Linn Lanes did nine rocks that may be exchanged for items ranging from a free drink to a free game of bowling. James Gang Pizza painted and hid five rocks that are redeemable for free pizza.

Dunnigan likes that the businesses are joining in the fun because it encourages more people to get out and look. “If there’s a free pizza involved, then heck yeah, let’s go look for a rock,” she said.

Paquotte added that it also is great – and free – advertising for the businesses. “We eventually want to get placards in the windows of where it’s OK to hide rocks inside of stores,” she said. Asked about the legacy Linn County Rocks will leave, Dunnigan said she doesn’t see it ending. People who post their finds or creations on the Facebook page express happiness and it takes stress away, she said.

“We are connecting again and I think that’s part of what feels so good about this group is connections that we’re making and seeing that we aren’t in this alone,” Dunnigan said. “There are people out there who are writing messages as simple as the word ‘hope.’”

Messages like that can change someone’s day, she added. The connections people are making extend to other rock painting groups.

Paquotte is part of the group that inspired her, Skagit County Rocks!

“We love what these groups do and the kindness it puts out into our communities and the world,” said Skagit County Rocks! member Christine Bigelow. “We enjoy the collaboration of the group members and seeing their posts about positive experiences.”

Skagit County Rocks! was inspired by Whidbey Island Rocks, she said, and the two groups interact with each other for events and meet regularly to trade rocks.

“The WIR member takes the Skagit County Rocks! back to hide on the Island and our SCR! members hide the WIR rocks in our communities,” Bigelow said. “It allows both groups’ rocks to be hidden in other areas.”

She said there also is a World Wide Rock Swap Facebook page to see and share rocks that traveled to other states and countries. They’ve had rocks go to Hawaii, Disneyland and Canada, she added.

“I think this rock thing caught on at a time when the world needed more positive actions and a lot of kindness,” Bigelow said. “We have all remarked that just the change in our daily Facebook feeds has been amazing.”

Even in the midst of the election, her news feed was about 85 percent rock art and kind stories about finding or painting rocks, she said.

“It is all about the kindness and coming together as communities and families and the world, all Lebanon sisters find paint and rocks strengthen family ties over rocks,” Bigelow said. “Sounds crazy, but we had not one political comment posted in our group page during the entire campaign and election. People needed this ‘happy place.’”