Looking for hope? These elders are hiding painted rocks with messages of hope around city

Source: Courier-Journal
By Andre Toran
March 8, 2021

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Donna Heicken couldn’t paint the rock like the others.

She couldn’t hold the paintbrush or feel its paint-drenched bristles freely gliding across the rock’s surface, but that didn’t stop her commitment to her artwork as she instructed a staff member at the Nazareth Home to paint out her vision on the stone.

Her message, simply: Have a great day.

“Particularly this year we need a lot of hope,” Heicken, 72, said. “And I just felt like my rock was a good representation that better times are coming.”

With every brushstroke, senior citizens like Heicken at the Nazareth Home Highlands and Clifton campuses — two senior-living facilities in Louisville — paint with the intention of getting closer to the community they love.

After months of being separated from family and friends due to COVID-19 precautions taken in long-term homes for the elderly, residents at the Nazareth homes are using the month of March to paint “scripture rocks” to reconnect with the community.

Each rock painted will have a short bible scripture or words of encouragement on them and are being placed in parks and public spaces across Louisville as a way to spread joy and hope during tough times.

“Our elders haven’t been able to connect to the outside world,” said Roberta Steutermann, Nazareth Home director of development. “We’ve been in lockdown like everyone else, but this is a facility that believes in ministry and mission. … And not being able to connect to the communities for the last year has been tough.”

Nazareth Home is asking the community to actively search for the rocks and to take a selfie and post the photo with the location of the rock was found on the Nazareth Home Facebook page.

The idea for Nazareth Home to re-connect with the Louisville community was fueled by the Clifton campus’ activities director Lisa Stacy, Steutermann said.

Stacy, who has a background in art and art therapy, approached Nazareth Home leadership with the idea after finding a rock with an inspiring message on it herself that someone left in the community in December.

Now, she is leading senior citizens in the craft as a way to pay it forward. A Catholic facility, the home believes Lent, a 40-day season of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, is the opportune time to hand-paint the uplifting messages, and leave them for people to find in areas around the community.

Steutermann has been with the home since July and has watched how the pandemic has had an impact on the facilities, its residents and the outside world. And with the home on lockdown, taking precautions to keep its high-risk residents safe, she was surprised by the hope many ofthe elders possessed and shared, which falls in line with the spirit of Lent.

While the rest of the world mourns the loss of our normalcy, the elders’ perspective “has been one of hope and calm and reminding us that ‘this too shall pass,'” Steutermann said.

“Hope” has been the word that defines the journey through COVID-19 for the Nazareth Home, and that’s the sentiment it aims to share with the world outside its doors, Steutermann told the Courier Journal.

That’s what the smooth, black rock she holds in her hand says. Hope, written in yellow letters outlined with pink and speckle dots of paint. It reminds her of the resiliency of the elders, what the elders aspire to accomplish with each rock found and the people the elders have so much they still want to share with.

“As people get older, we think they have less to give and less to share,” Steutermann said. “And what I can tell you from being here at Nazareth Home is that’s completely untrue. These elders have so much to give. … And they are so excited to provide this little bit of hope to someone out in the community.”

Contact Andre Toran at atoran@gannett.com or follow on Twitter @andretoran.


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