This Life Rocks

Photo Sarah Whiting

I was diagnosed with selective mutism when I was two. It is a rare anxiety order that causes a freeze response in a person’s brain. Many kids are unable to speak outside of their home.

When I was almost seven, my parents and siblings brought me to a special camp in Miami called Brave Bunch that helped me overcome my selective mutism. I did so well that, when I was nine, I was asked to be a speaker at the National Selective Mutism convention in Las Vegas.

When I was six, I started a kindness project called This Life Rocks. At the time, my dad was recovering from his first cancer, and I was struggling with selective mutism.

Because we could not travel that summer, I started painting rocks and hiding them for people to find — an idea that came from my mom. At first, I thought it was a nice way to share my art and words with people, without talking. Now I simply like knowing that people are finding a nice surprise. They are almost always found by strangers. I have gotten some nice messages from people who found them.

A nonprofit group called The Spread Sunshine Gang heard about me and asked me to host a rock painting party. I realized then how much I liked doing kind deeds to help others, and started doing more benefits — lollipop sales for the Blue Lollipop Project, Bundle Up Minnesota, designing T-shirts for the Conquer Cancer Foundation. I started to talk about my experiences on podcasts about selective mutism and mental health.

The Spread Sunshine Gang inspired me to host a Gratitude Tree in my town. I partnered with the library in my community and named the tree Rocky. (Last summer he got his arms trimmed, so I had to find another tree and named him Rocco). There is a sign near the tree, and I provide tags and Sharpie markers. People hang tags about what they are grateful for. It is super colorful by the end of the summer.

In the winter, the gratitude tree becomes a giving tree — I put handmade winter items on it for people who might need extra warmth. Knitters in the community help.

Another project that has gotten pretty big started when I asked my mom what Black Friday is. She told me about people who shop like crazy and fight over things like a Tickle Me Elmo doll. I thought it would be cool to have people do nice things for each other that day instead. I asked, “What if people could do 100 kind things that day?”

So, we decided to try. The first time, in 2017, we had about 12 people who helped out. We did things like bring toys to the Children’s Hospital, play music at the Veteran’s Home, hide rocks, hold doors open for people, and write letters to teachers. We got to 100 good deeds by about 11pm that first time.

My Dad

My dad twice overcame sarcoma, a group of cancers in the bones, fat, and muscle. Then he was diagnosed with glioblastoma, which is an aggressive type of cancer in the brain.

He was going through his second sarcoma treatment when I was eight. I asked my parents why it came back. They explained that there are not good treatments for sarcoma because research is underfunded. I decided to host a bake sale, and raised $500.

I wanted to raise more money. I partnered with Skateville, a roller rink in Burnsville, and some of my Instagram friends. People donated prizes, skated, and entered a raffle. My dad could not skate because the sarcoma was in his leg, but he had fun at the party. We raised about $1,500.

My dad died on September 27, 2021. Before he lost his battle with cancer, he told me to “keep making life rock.” So, two months later, on Black Friday, my Instagram followers and I did 1,000 kind deeds in 24 hours!

I know it is important to take care of myself, too. I love visiting animals at the Humane Society, especially dogs. They are so full of love and always seem to know what you need.

I have two dogs. Scrappy is 97 in human years, and he is a dog model. He has been in photos for companies because he is cute and listens well. Piper is 11 in human years — just like me. She is cute too, but still has to work on her manners. Scrappy is helping her out.