Iberia Parish “Rocks”
● By Robert Frey
By Hailey Fleming
There are few items more overlooked or unnoticed in our daily lives than rocks. However, found scattered throughout Iberia Parish, the appearance of hundreds of ornately painted rocks is making quite a splash.
Since mid-July, several have taken notice of the arrival of these vivid rocks throughout the Acadiana area. Painted simply with inspirational messages or pictures, they seem to be placed solely to grace the presence of whoever happens to find them. In a “pay-it-forward” style, those who found the rocks were only asked to replace them with another for someone else to find. The idea caught fire in the months that followed as more and more artists were charmed by its quirkiness and practicality and began painting rocks of their own. The number of decorated rocks throughout the parish multiplied significantly and the images on them diversified as the localized phenomenon grew into the widespread trend it has become today.
This idea was not original to the New Iberia area, explained Jamie Broussard, a 21-year-old resident of New Iberia and founder of the Iberia Parish Rocks movement. After seeing friends from Morgan City post pictures of painted rocks in their area and the inspiring testimonials from the people who discovered them, she knew she needed to get the same thing going here. With their support, she started the Facebook group titled “Iberia Parish Rocks,” and invited her friends to participate.
That weekend Jamie and her three kids spent time as a family painting what would be New Iberia’s first batch of rocks. They posted pictures to the Facebook page and then went around town placing the rocks outside of ATM machines, in parking lots and in front of several businesses for people to find.
Their actions were well received and quickly duplicated by several others throughout the area. Participating groups grew to include siblings, parents and grandparents - quickly making this new hobby a family affair. Rather than spend their weekend watching TV or playing video games, several families have resorted to decorating rocks to place around the community instead. This is a success Jamie attributes to the accessibility of materials and the positivity of their message. “You can find rocks anywhere!” she exclaims. “You don’t have to be an artist. You can use markers and inexpensive paint or whatever you want.
“The point is to make someone smile and spread positive messages,” explains Jamie. “The idea of spreading good news, hope and inspiration to people was what made me want to do it,” she says. “All you see is bad news and hatred on Facebook and I wanted to see some good stuff. I thought it would be a good way to make people smile and tell people God loves them. It’s bringing people hope and bringing families together.”
Spreading hope and positivity has certainly been accomplished through this blossoming movement – in more ways than one. Whether through playful images or a pointed message, few can deny the smile it brings when they stumble across one of these rocks. Just take a scroll through the Facebook group page and you will find example after example of someone discovering a rock with a message that seemed to have been painted just for them.
One such instance was at Gulotta’s, a family owned store in the process of celebrating 100 years in business. Like several other businesses throughout the Acadiana area, the downturned economy had taken quite a toll on Gulotta’s sales and they struggled to make ends meet. It was under these circumstances in early August that they discovered a painted rock on the business’s doorstep that said, “Have Faith.”
“I just walked outside and found it by the back door,” explains David Gulotta, one of the store’s co-owners. He later discovered a former employee who, knowing the struggles that they and other businesses are facing, wanted to leave a small token of encouragement painted it. He and his family were touched by the gesture. “The fact that someone thought of us and actually took the time to find a rock, come up with an idea and paint it was significant,” he says.
The message seemed to be fitting for their predicament, but they soon realized how timely it truly was. Historic flooding struck South Louisiana not even a week later and the Gulotta’s store took on 7 inches of water. While recovering from the damages the little rock was referenced several times as the team remembered to “have faith.” David adds that he couldn’t help but think, “It was a message that tough times are going to come, but we are going to get through it.”
Acadiana’s local businesses have not been the only ones touched by these random acts of kindness. As part of a campaign titled “Operation Our Soldiers Rock,” a large shipment of painted rocks, adorned with American flags and captions like “God bless,” made their way overseas as gestures of encouragement and appreciation to local soldiers serving in Iraq.
The idea got its start with Ryeley Broussard, a New Iberia native. Her son, Carsen, found a rock painted with a depiction of the American flag that reminded him of his uncle and parrain, Private First Class Breyn Boudreaux of the 101st Airborne Division. “He held onto that rock at all times and asked to send it to his uncle in the next care package,” Ryeley says. After considering her son’s request, she decided to send an entire package of painted rocks instead. With the support of the page administrators, she posted the idea on the Iberia Parish Rocks Facebook page and set out a box at the Main Street Library to collect from anyone who wanted to contribute. “It truly was a community effort,” she adds.
The group’s hard work was rewarded when they received word that the shipment had arrived and those tiny rocks were bringing smiles to the faces of the soldiers who received them. When asked about the significance of the shipment, Pfc Breyn Boudreaux comments, “It means the world to us knowing that we have so much support from fellow Americans back home. It is an honor to know my community, who has shown so much love and support from day one, came together to make this happen.” He continues, “The time and effort put into these painted rocks is greatly appreciated. They have done this so each one of us could have a little piece of America here with us. It is such a small gesture that really means a lot to us out here.”
Operation Our Soldiers Rock was only one of the campaigns begun by the Iberia Parish Rocks Facebook page. In September, they supported a campaign titled “Rock Our Heros” as an effort to recognize the area’s first responders, police and fire departments and nurses. The month of October featured rocks supporting breast cancer awareness and the group plans to continue into December with a second Christmas shipment to our troops overseas.
Although begun by one person, these outreaches have been accomplished through the collective efforts of several hundred people within Iberia Parish and its surrounding communities. “The people involved with the Facebook page deserve a major shout out, too, because the participation has been amazing,” Jamie says. The people being referenced amount to more than 8,500 local individuals that follow and contribute to the page’s activities.
The sheer volume of people involved certainly speaks to the nature of the community in which this movement thrives. “I think Louisiana people, in general, are just so nice and caring. We just love to spread good news and make people feel good,” Jamie states. David Gulotta echoed her sentiments by stating, “It shows our community is much more tight-knit than many others.” He adds, “I think it’s a neat idea that people are spending time doing something constructive that will bring meaning to someone else.”
The local trend has made big waves, but Jamie Broussard has even higher hopes for the future. “I would love to see it spread all over the country,” she says. “If a page has not been started in your area then I’d encourage you to start one and encourage the people around you to get involved! These rocks are doing good and anyone and everyone is welcome to participate.”
If you are in the Acadiana area and would like to get involved join the Iberia Parish Rocks Facebook page, follow the general guidelines for painting and distributing rocks and get “rockin’.”