CLAREMORE, Okla. (AP) — Kimberly Politte cast the first stone and started a colorful rockslide.
Politte created the Facebook group 918 Rocks!
People in the group post photos of painted rocks they are hiding or have found in spots all over the 918 area code.
918 Rocks! once was an itty bitty group, but it has boomed in popularity. Barely half a year old, the group has almost 9,000 members.
The story behind the story — the person who inspired Politte to create 918 Rocks! — is her 8-year-old son, Hunter.
A cancer survivor, Hunter can't see all the colorful rocks.
"After we exhausted every option that was possible, the doctor decided that the only way to save his life was to remove his eyes," Politte told the Tulsa World (http://bit.ly/2ob8Z1m ).
Since then, Hunter has been cancer-free. And that rocks.
Hunter was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare type of eye cancer, when he was 17 months old.
Untreated, retinoblastoma can spread to other parts of the body. Chemotherapy and radiation failed to eradicate the cancer, according to Hunter's mother.
No parent should have to make this kind of choice, but Hunter's left eye was removed in December 2010 and his right eye was removed the following month.
"I look at him every day and it touches my heart," Politte said. "It makes me emotional because, just six or seven years ago, I could have lost him."
Prosthetic eyes were crafted to look like Hunter's eyes. Politte knows Hunter can't see her when she looks into his "perfect" prosthetic eyes. But she said she connects with him on an emotional and "intuition" level more than she ever will with anybody else.
"He senses my emotions and I don't have to say anything," she said. "Just the tone of my voice, he knows."
Like other boys his age, Hunter goes through phases when it comes to interests. He loves to read and uses a Refreshabraille device to dive into his favorites. He's currently digging stories about Greek gods, including the Percy Jackson tales, and Harry Potter books. He loves to swim (even though he hasn't got it quite mastered), loves Lego and even loves school. He has attended the Oklahoma School for the Blind in Muskogee since he was 3.
Hunter, of course, is the reason his mother, who lives in Claremore, commutes to Muskogee to work at Oklahoma School for the Blind. When asked how she feels about him, she said, "He is my world. I have given up a lot in life to make sure he gets the very best, and I wouldn't have it any other way. He has inspired me to realize that a disability is not what should hold somebody back. They should not be defined by their disability. He can't see, but he is advancing leaps and bounds. I have continued my college education because of him. I am currently a year and a half from graduating with my teaching degree. So he has been the reason why I do everything I do."
Any good idea is worth borrowing. Politte borrowed an idea to launch 918 Rocks!
She said Hunter goes to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital every six months for check-up appointments. She couldn't help but notice painted rocks on the hospital grounds. Web research told her the rocks were part of a venture called 901 Rocks. 901 is an area code in Memphis.
Politte became a participant, painting rocks to leave in Memphis. She and her mother talked about creating a similar group back home. They started 918 Rocks! in mid-September and invited a few friends. They placed rocks at random places —a bus stop, a gas station, a grocery store — for others to find.
"We just kind of played around with it," Politte said. "It wasn't anything we put a whole lot of time and effort into."
Over time, all of Green Country became a staging ground for a painted rock version of an Easter egg hunt. Group members use the 918 Rocks! Facebook page to post photos of rocks they will distribute and clues about where to find them. Photos also are posted when rocks are discovered.
Besides rocks, what are group members spreading? Said Politte: "Smiles. Happiness. Joy."
Excerpts of recent posts:
Pamela Shanholtzer-Robertson: "Had a really rough day today and then ... found my first rock. Just what I needed!"
Summer Dawn: "Found my very first rock tonight, hidden in a flower pot at Crossroads Church in Beggs. The strawberry rock is adorable!!"
Tiffany Contreras: "Found this at Indian Resource Center in #Tulsa. There was another beauty next to it." Contreras said she didn't take the other rock because she didn't want to be greedy.
Politte said a goal of 918 Rocks! is to encourage families to spend time together by painting rocks, stashing rocks or searching for rocks.
"Let's get off the phone," she said. "Let's not be so wrapped up in our social media and being stuck in our electronics. This encourages you to look around. Notice your surroundings. You may be walking into a gas station, and, if you're not paying attention, there could be a rock right there in front of you."
Politte said people are free to keep rocks they find or to "re-hide" them.
"The only stipulation is don't put them inside a store that sells merchandise because it does look like you are shoplifting," she said. "We try to discourage that. We also want people to, if they are going to place them inside of a business, ask permission for that first."
Politte is pleasantly surprised that 918 Rocks! has mushroomed. She said membership in the group was 5,000 a couple of weeks ago. Considering the rapid escalation, count on that figure to soon double.
"I never would have imagined it turning into something like this," she said, adding that she wants 918 Rocks! to get as big as it can.
"I don't want it to be something that's just a fad. I want it to continue."
Politte spurred growth by adding Facebook friends to the group and by planting plenty of seeds. She said she has placed hundreds of rocks on 918 turf. Hunter chips in to help, using his imagination to, for instance, paint characters from books on rocks to be hidden.
"Seeing him every day and the things he does, it lets me know that I have done something right," she said.
"There is nothing worse than having to see your child go through what he has gone through, and we still wake up every day and we have a smile on our face because he is here and he is doing great."
Said Politte: "Something tragic has turned into something amazing."