It's amazing what a brightly painted rock with a positive message can do for someone who is struggling, says the mom behind the new and fast-growing Barrie Rocks movement in the city.
During a recent trip to Thunder Bay, Mel O'Neill and her five-year-old daughter Nevaeh (which is 'heaven' spelled backwards) were invited on a hunt for rocks. Only these weren't just your average, run-of-the-mill rocks.
"I lived in Thunder Bay for four years, so every summer we go back there because that's where my daughter was born and we still have lots of friends there," O'Neill told BarrieToday.
"We went out to the park with one of my buddies and he said 'we're going to look for some rocks'," she added. "I kind of gave him this funny look."
What O'Neill's friend was referring to were "special rocks."
Within about 90 minutes, O'Neill and her daughter had located two.
"Her face just lit up and said, 'Mommy, I want to do this back home'," she said.
On their return trip, they stopped at some scenic locations and retrieved rocks for what would become their new endeavour.
O'Neill set up the Facebook page last week called 'Barrie Rocks' and it has already caught on with 239 members at last check this morning.
"Basically, it was more so just me and my friends that I invited," she said. "But then they started inviting people. It's just crazy."
While the fledgling Barrie group is just getting off the ground, O'Neill says she's surprised by how it's taken off in a short period of time.
"People are catching onto this," she said, adding one of her friends had an inkling that the group would grow beyond just her circle of friends. "I didn't think that it would be like this; my daughter is just ecstatic."
The group in Thunder Bay popped up two years ago and already has over 6,000 members, while Winnipeg, which started it around the same time, has 23,000 members in its group.
O'Neill said members of the Barrie group are gathering their rocks and getting them ready to take out and place next week. She hopes they can have a positive effect on people's lives, one way or another.
"I feel that a lot of people focus on negativity, or there are people who have a lot going on in their life and are very stressed out, but they hide it very well," she said. "So if somebody is walking along and sees one of these rocks, it might make their day a little better, because I know how my daughter was when she found it."
And it's not just for kids, it's for adults, too.
"Anybody can do it," O'Neill added.
All of the rocks O'Neill has painted have included positive reinforcement, such as 'You are my sunshine' or 'Progression: just a little is still progression'.
She hopes the rocks can bring a dose of positivity into people's lives, because she has gone through hard times herself.
"I struggled with addiction for quite some time and I've been clean for over six years now," O'Neill said. "I see lots of people in the community that still struggle with addiction, or have lost their life because of it and just don't know how to get back on track.
"Nobody knows anybody's story when they go through stuff, and it doesn't even have to be addiction," she added. "It could be depression or PTSD. It can be anything.
"Someone getting one of those rocks, it might make at least one day of their week just a little bit better than the rest."
Some people may keep the rock for a while before hiding it again, while others could place it back in the location where it was found. Or, people could place the rock in a new locale.
While some of the rocks placed in the community may stand out, others may be found unexpectedly in unusual places. People who find them are asked to take a picture and post it to the Barrie Rocks group on Facebook with a message about where it was found and how it made them feel.
"Then you're able to show your kids: 'Look, this simple rock that you painted made this person happy today. It changed their day'," O'Neill said.