Shelby Galley and her fellow Cadettes in Girl Scout Troop 174 have been doing a lot of thinking about kindness.
“We need kindness or else this world would kind of be a rough place,” said Galley, a rising eighth-grader at Princess Anne Middle School (PAMS). “You need something to look forward to in life and finding something happy like somebody saying hello or just somebody being polite – you need that person in your life.”
And for those times when a kind person may not be near when someone needs it the most, the Cadettes hope students will find a smile in the Kindness Rock Garden they created for Kellam High School.
Installed in the school’s courtyard, a handmade wooden bench covered in inspirational messages provides a place to sit and 150 hand-painted rocks share equally thoughtful messages to passersby.
Galley and four other rising eighth-graders in Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS) – Bella Marissa DeSimas, Salem Middle School; Miranda Glover, Old Donation School; Bella Sandelier, PAMS; and Lilly Vidrine, PAMS – proposed the idea this past winter to Kelsey Seibert, Kellam’s school counseling department chairperson.
“They contacted me and asked for a meeting. They had a presentation, a portfolio and pictures of what they wanted to do,” Seibert recalled. “They knew they wanted to do a kindness garden and leave a legacy. And I like that a high school has a kindness garden. You see a lot of elementary schools have them.”
The group worked for months on the project that would earn them the Girl Scout Silver Award, the highest award Cadettes can earn. Even more important to the girls is the positive impact they hope the garden will have on others.
“We wanted to do this because we know how kindness – if it’s spread – really helps,” explained Galley. “I know, including me, I get sad and we all felt like if you see a cool rock or something that tells you, ‘Hey, you can do it,’ then it would make you feel better throughout the day.”
Before a brief ceremony June 28 to reveal the Kindness Rock Garden to family members, community partners and Kellam staff, the five students took time to place each rock by hand in the courtyard.
“I like that we got to be creative with our rocks,” said Glover, “and it’s really satisfying to look at our artistic accomplishment.”
For one of the rocks she painted, DeSimas was inspired by a song in the Broadway musical “Dear Evan Hansen.”
“There are these four or five people in high school and something tragic happened to them. There’s a song that says if you feel like this, just know that everything will be better and you will be found,” she explained.
Messages hand painted on other rocks include: Be-YOU-tiful. We are all the same kind of different. Be kind. You matter. Hello sunshine. Actions speak louder than words. Note to self: You Rock!
Likewise, the bench offers inspiration. “Mr. Snow at Virginia Wild Horse Rescue taught us how to make the bench, so we made it ourselves. We also made a bench to thank him,” said Vidrine. “Each of us came up with a design and we all painted our own design to help spread kindness.”
The five Cadette Girl Scouts hope their project continues to grow and that Kellam students will contribute new rocks. Sandelier even created instructions to leave behind which share decoration ideas and how to seal the decorated rocks to protect their designs from inclement weather.
“It’s so people can add their own kindness so the movement can pretty much keep growing and keep spreading,” Sandelier said.
That is exactly what Seibert expects will happen when Kellam students return in September.
“We’re really lucky that we were your chosen site,” Seibert said at the ceremony. “I promise, on behalf of Kellam, that we will do our part to take care of it and to respect it and to encourage our students to spend time here and to keep this going. This is a legacy that you’ve already started before you’ve even gotten to attend Kellam. I’m extremely proud of you.”
Also proud of their accomplishment are the Cadettes in Girl Scout Troop 174.
“It was so worth it,” said Galley. “At first, I was like well, it’s rocks. But now that I see it, it’s awesome. I really like it. I’m very happy. I can’t wait to come to school here to see it every day.”
For DeSimas, the process itself was equally rewarding.
“My favorite part,” she said, “was that I got to do this with a bunch of people who I love and who I support and who are like family to me.”