Maybe you’ve seen them when you’re out in the city of Fulton. You might have found one hidden under a bush at a park or near the steps to the post office. Sometimes several line the trails along Lake Neatahwanta. I’m talking about rocks. Painted rocks with little messages of hope: “Smile, It’s A New Day.” “Keep Calm.” “You Are Cared For.” A group calling themselves “Fulton, NY Rocks” have started this encouraging campaign and their Facebook page lists over 5,300 members. One of them is Janelle Wallace.
You might know Janelle from the Fulton Public Library, where she works in the Children’s Room. I met her through my association with the Library’s Memoir Project, which encourages Fultonians to write about our city’s past. Janelle has not been directly involved with the Memoir Project’s historic focus, but she has a history with Fulton, the library and those painted rocks.
In 1999, shortly after graduating from high school and starting college, Janelle applied for a summer position with Oswego County AmeriCorps. AmeriCorps is a federal program that places people in worksites and organizations that serve communities. AmeriCorps members receive a small stipend and assistance in paying for their college education.
After interviewing at several locations, Janelle was selected to become an AmeriCorps member at the Fulton Library. She completed her summer position and then was accepted for a second, yearlong AmeriCorps position, again at the library. The library staff liked Janelle’s work so much they offered her a part-time job.
In her new position, Janelle was assigned to oversee the library’s extension branch, The David Vayner Library, on the city’s west side, at Catholic Charities’ former location. For ten years she helped develop that new site, encouraging people to visit by bringing in guest speakers and programs. Unfortunately, when the Fulton Library encountered financial constraints, the Vayner branch of the library closed. Janelle was brought back to the main library, where she continued offering programs and activities, welcoming young and old with her friendly personality.
That’s where Janelle and I recently met so she could explain how she learned about “Fulton, NY Rocks.” A year ago, walking to work one day, she noticed a rock near the front entrance of the Library. Its bright colors caught her eye, but it was the quote on it that she really liked: “Throw Kindness Around Like Confetti.” Janelle smiled as she explained her discovery to me. “I still have that rock,” she said.
Janelle started noticing children and their parents coming into the library and talking about finding rocks in unusual places. She saw children’s faces light up when they told her they’d discovered a rock, describing its colors and quote. Janelle enjoys painting and she painted her first rock about eight months ago. She hasn’t stopped since.
Fulton NY Rocks was started by two Fultonians, Billie Jo Blair and Diane Zischke Blasczienski, and according to Janelle they’d heard about similar projects going on in other cities around New York State and beyond. They thought their hometown could use a positive boost. It was just the two of them at first, with their children, setting rocks around the community. Then Facebook gave their good-will project a boost.
As can happen with online social media, news of what Billie Jo and Diane were doing quickly spread. Their Facebook page was designed so that when someone finds a rock they post a picture of it and mention where they found it. This way the rock’s artist can see how far it has traveled. Fulton rocks have traveled all over the United States, showing up in New England, the Midwest and the west coast. One rock even has crossed the Atlantic Ocean, ending up in Ireland!
Janelle shared some stories about how meaningful it can be to find a painted rock. One story in particular helped me comprehend Fulton NY Rocks’ far-reaching effects. During the years Janelle worked at the library she befriended a coworker, Kathy Lennon. Kathy had worked many years at the library, so she helped Janelle in her new AmeriCorps position. Kathy’s health had always been a struggle and about four years ago she passed away. Tragically for her parents and family, Kathy’s brother had passed away just a year before, leaving behind his wife, Christine.
A couple months ago, Janelle was in the Route 31 shopping area, and like she always does, she’d brought along her bag of painted rocks and found a place to hide one. Its quote read “Be Kind.” Janelle went into a store to do her shopping and by the time she’d come back, she noticed the rock was gone. She was delighted that someone found it so quickly.
That evening, Janelle logged onto the Fulton NY Rocks Facebook page and saw her rock added to the postings. The person who’d found it added a message: “Somebody knew I needed a smile.” Janelle recognized the picture of the women who had found it. It was Kathy Lennon’s sister-in-law, Christine.
Janelle sent Christine a note to explain that she had made the rock and both were thrilled to have connected in such a positive way. Most of the Fulton group’s painted rocks are meant to be passed on so more people can enjoy them, but Christine asked Janelle if it might be alright to keep this one. She’d been missing her husband and Kathy a lot, and the rock had brought her some peace. Janelle said that was perfectly fine.
As Janelle and I ended our talk, she summed up her philosophy of life and why she believes being part of Fulton NY Rocks is so important. “I think everyone should enjoy the little things in life. Something as little as a rock can bring such joy to someone.” Then Janelle asked me, “Do you think Kathy made sure that rock got to her sister-in-law?” I have no doubt that she did.