We could all use a bit of extra kindness these days.

Amidst the darkness and uncertainty in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, Falmouth art teacher Karyn Phares felt the effects of the pandemic early on, and like many others, struggled with teaching remotely and the isolation that came with the pandemic.

"The town closing down, the schools closing down, teaching remotely. Parents, kids, teachers, none of us knew how to do that," Phares said. "It was extremely depressing trying to teach not only remotely, but also on an online platform that kids didn't know how to use."

But then she started seeing small acts of kindness and signs of hope around her neighborhood, signs she said she definitely needed in that moment.

"It just seemed like our world was imploding, so when I started seeing the rainbows in people's windows, it resonated with me and I thought people [were] just trying to send messages to each other, like don't give up hope," Phares said.

Phares decided to join in the cause, painting a heart on an old sign post outside her home, the first heart of hundreds. During her early morning art sessions, Phares began painting hearts on small rocks you could fit in the palm of a hand, and along her walks, she would leave the rocks for others to find.

"When I heard people were seeing them and were enjoying them, I started making more," Phares said.

She made more, alright. Phares painted what's become her signature, wonky heart on rock after rock, starting small and slowly beginning to paint larger rocks the size of soccer balls and footballs. Now, with the help of her husband, Dana, and the owner of a nearby rock pit, Phares has started painting rocks that, honestly, are more like boulders, and has even left her signature stamp on tree trunks.

Phares estimates that, since the start of the pandemic, she has painted over 700 rocks, and through a growing network of people who have seen her designs, Phares knows some of them have reached far beyond Falmouth, down the Cape and even out of state. But Phares doesn't mind if people move her rocks or even take them home. She just hopes her creations can reach and touch as many peoples' lives as possible.

"Maybe they need that or they know someone that needs that and that's why they're taking them," Phares said. "My favorite is when a lot of people can get a moment. It's not that I don't want that person to have it, but my favorite is when a lot of people can get a moment."

After over a year of painting hearts on rocks and spreading all kinds of joy in and beyond her home of Falmouth, Phares said her mission is complete as long as work touches one person.

"I feel so powerless in this world when I watch the news," Phares said. "I feel so powerless to make any effective change. I can only do what I know how to do."

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