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Bob Votruba and his Kindness Bus, traveling the country to spread his message of One Million Acts of Kindness, visited Walnut Beach Wednesday to meet with Girl Scouts who are spreading their own messages of kindness.

Girl Scout Troop 38380 has been leaving rocks painted with words of hope and kindness along the boardwalk at Walnut Beach since March, and the rocks haven’t gone unnoticed. People often stop and read the messages. Some take a rock home for inspiration, as a sign invites them to do.

Now others have gotten into the act, painting and leaving rocks in the collection.

Votruba, who sold his possessions and bought a bus after the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 so he could take his message of kindness on the road, learned about the Kindness Rocks from Tom Acri, father of one of the Scouts, who emailed him. Votruba was in Connecticut — he’d recently visited Sandy Hook — and made arrangements to visit the troop and see their collection in Milford.

The bus, a 1998 Bluebird, rolled into the Walnut Beach parking lot Wednesday evening and attracted a bit of attention with its colorful messages. Much of the bus is covered with words of kindness and hope, like “Awaken the kindness within” and “Every color on Earth must work as one to realize lasting peace.” And then there’s the synopsis of this kindness bus: “One guy (Bob) and his dog (Bogart) traveling to campuses across the country to promote kindness.”

Votruba told the Scouts that their rocks, with their inspirational words, are similar to his bus.

“You can read a few messages on these rocks that you guys painted and it makes people feel better,” he told them as he knelt in the sand along the beach boardwalk. “Someone might be having a bad day, feeling kind of grumpy. They got up on the wrong side of the bed. And they come by and they see something like this here.”

Scout Troop leader Michelle Acri said the Kindness Rocks may be new to Milford, but they are not a new concept. She read about the idea in an article in the Cape Cod Times that her mother gave her. It was about a woman, Megan Murphy, who launched the first Kindness Rock project there.

Murphy’s website tells the story about her inspiration: “During difficult or stressful moments in my life, I found myself looking for ‘signs’ on my morning walk, such as a heart shaped rock or a piece of sea glass,” the website states. “I perceived this ‘sign’ as a divine message or the random inspiration I needed to signify that things would be o.k. That I was headed in the right direction. When I found one, I felt a sense of comfort…

“Thus the Kindness Rocks Project was born,” she writes.

Others like Acri, some in other countries, learned of the project and moved it forward in their own communities.

Acri and her seven Girl Scouts spent the winter gathering and painting rocks, and then started setting them out along the boardwalk at Walnut Beach in March. The rocks are colorful, with sayings like, “You are beautiful,” “Be your own fireworks,” “Find your kind” and “Sandy kisses and starfish wishes.”

A message painted on a rock in the center invites people to take one, and if they’d like, to find their own rock, paint it and leave it for someone else.

ArtFish42, a nearby Walnut Beach art shop, has set up a table of rocks and paints for people who want to add to the kindness messages, Acri said, adding, “It's been a great success and we hope even more beach-goers will stop by the gallery to decorate a rock to add to the collection. There's no charge; kindness is contagious."

Her troop, which will enter West Shore Middle School as Cadette Scouts next year, includes Elizabeth Roos, Emma Acri, Ava Korkmaz, Olivia Augustine, Sarah McKay, Amelia Mariani and Alyssa Greggis.

The girls were nominated for a mayor’s youth award for their project, and they earned their Bronze Scouting Award through the project.

“That was sort of back-door,” Acri said about the Bronze Award, explaining that the troop undertook the project to do something nice, and then realized they had fulfilled the requirements for the Bronze Award, which is the highest award a Junior Girl Scout can achieve.

The troop brought rocks to the Peace, Love and Music from Maren event at Jonathan Law High School earlier this year, an event that honors the life of Maren Sanchez, who was killed by a fellow high school student on her prom day April 25, 2014. The girls brought so many rocks that the wheel on their wagon broke as they hauled them to the event. Once there, people were invited to create their own messages of kindness, and some of those are now included in the collection along the boardwalk at Walnut Beach.

And other Scouts in Milford have gotten involved, too, Acri said, pleased that the Kindness Rocks are spreading.

Susan Trevethan was walking along the boardwalk one day when she spotted the bright rocks. A nurse, she said she had a client who was depressed that day, and she brought her one of the rocks.

“I found one that spoke to her,” Trevethan said. “It’s so special that these girls are getting involved in something like this at such a young age.”

And this isn’t the first time that girls, art and rocks have combined in Milford for a good cause.

The Rock On Girls — sisters Isabela, 14, and Soledad Meade, 12 — have been painting rocks at Milford events for several years. All their profits for any painted rocks they create are donated to the Get In Touch Foundation.
The traveling bus
Votruba said his mission started more than nine years ago. He watched families mourn after the Virginia Tech shootings, and with three children of his own in college at the time, he felt he wanted to do something to make a difference.

“What came through me was kindness, having kindness as  a goal,” he said.

He believes that anyone under age 30 has enough time in their lives to perform one million acts of kindness.

“One Million Acts Of Kindness is a goal,” his website states. “A goal for each person to individually perform One Million Acts Of Kindness in their life.

“... I am concerned for the world in which all kids will live,” his website continues. “A great way to create a safer, more caring world is for everyone to start their lifetime goal of One Million Acts Of Kindness. So I bought a bus, had about sixty family members, friends and neighbors help paint it and began a ten year journey with my Boston Terrier, Bogart, to college campuses across the country hoping to convince as many of you as possible about this much needed movement for this world.”

He said he (and Bogart) work with educators to create a curriculum for school children K through 12, and he has programs geared toward Scout troops.

“Most of us think that changing the world is impossible,” he says on his website. “The world is too big…too many people in it…too many problems to solve. Do you often feel this way? While it’s understandable, be assured that it is not true.”

Votruba planned to stay in Miford at least a day: He lives in his bus, and he was granted permission to park at the Parsons Government Center overnight. He also visited the Sandy Ground Playground at the Academy on Gulf Street, which is dedicated to James Mattioli, a young victim of the Sandy Hook shooting. He also said he had plans to meet a man and his wife in Stamford: “They asked me to talk to their grandchildren,” Votruba said.

Typically, he travels and speaks to college students and organizations with Bogart. His dog, however, wasn’t with him on the trip to Milford because Votruba said he planned to be spending considerable time on his bicycle in the next few weeks as he spreads his message through the Long Island area.

The bus and its driver have been generating press in the area in recent weeks.

Robert Walsh, who pens a column called Walsh’s Wonderings, met up with the bus in Easton recently and wrote about the man and the message.

“Bob Votruba’s home is a converted transit bus, the second he’s gone through over the past eight years,” Walsh wrote. “Saddened by the tragic Virginia Tech shootings of 2007, Bob searched for a response to that unspeakable hate. His answer lay at the other end of the spectrum, looking for opportunities to spread acts of kindness wherever he could. At that rare intersection in life where time, opportunity and passion meet, Bob sold everything, bought a beat-up school bus, and hit the road to dedicate his life to this cause.”

Votruba told the Girl Scouts at Walnut Beach Wednesday that the world isn’t too big for them to change, and that little acts of kindness, like their painted rocks and the words on the side of a bus, can go a long way.

“That’s how we change the world,” he said, “one person at a time.”