STROLL down Asbury Avenue, OC’s hopping Downtown area, and you’ll see plenty of treasures, from fab boutiques to bustling eateries. Look a little closer toward the ground and you may spot a different kind of treasure, a hidden one, just waiting to be found. The OCNJ Rocks community is behind this Downtown treasure hunt; where painting, hiding, and re-hiding decorative rocks is their specialty.
OCNJ Rocks is open to anyone who loves to be artistic and participate in scavenger hunts. Creative freedom is encouraged where the only rule remains; paint and hide a stone for each one you find, and of course, to snap a photo so everyone can see.
Initially inspired by the International Phenom Friendship Rocks Project, a community-based project to connect people and promote a pay-it-forward movement, OCNJ Rocks is celebrating five years of this adventure-filled process.
Carol Madeja, founder of the group, initially obtained her inspiration and specific vision while taking part in Community Outreach in Beaufort, South Carolina.
“As I watched all the kids fall in love with the art of painting, they encouraged me to join Beaufort Rocks. After learning what the group was all about, I immediately knew how perfect it would be for the people of Ocean City,” said Carol. “So, I set a goal to start OCNJ Rocks before Memorial Day of 2017, and the community took it from there.”
Although the involvement in OCNJ Rocks has grown tremendously, its true purpose has always remained.
“The hope is to create a light-hearted, happy moment in your day, because as much stress as we are all under in today’s society, there should always be something small that can warm our hearts and tickle us,” said Carol.
Each year, OCNJ Rocks presents their annual challenge, where a specific theme is chosen; and the group is able to showcase their creativity around that topic. There is no competition, but rather, a public showing of art. To aid in this presentation, Asbury Avenue’s Dry Island, a large supporter of the group, will be displaying this year’s rock designs in their windows.
All the yearly themes are unique in their own way, but this year’s theme of seagulls and french fries is exceptionally fitting for the group.
“I have some of the funniest rocks already from a variety of artists,” said Carol, “they really have taken this theme and ran with it.”
Although the group reaches those far and wide, there are some avid participants and locals that keep the fun going even during the off season. One of those being 10-year-old and Miss Cape May County herself, Giselle Ardelean, who has painted and found over 500 rocks along Asbury.
“When we first moved to Ocean City about five years ago, my daughter and I started taking walks down Asbury Avenue, and after she found her first rock, the challenge began. Even during sleepovers, Giselle would get her friends together to paint rocks so she could hide them on the street the next day. She loves the adventure that OCNJ Rocks has created, and genuinely loves the connectivity of the group itself,” said Harris Ardelean, Giselle’s dad.
OCNJ Rocks participants can be of any age. 88-year-old Irene Wiesenthal, Carol’s mother, spends much of her time as a rock artist. Irene first became involved with the group after an immobilizing knee surgery where painting became her main source of entertainment. Following the recovery, Irene kept painting, because she enjoyed it so much.
“At first, painting for OCNJ Rocks was just to keep me from sitting around all day and growing tired of my surroundings. I had no idea that throughout the past five years it would turn into something I had such a passion for. I decorated between 500-700 rocks, with not one duplicate,” said Irene. “When I get tired from working in my garden, I will come inside to relax, but for me that means painting my rocks. The process can also be extremely rewarding. When Carol tells me that people are finding my artwork along Asbury and loving the designs, it really makes me feel good. OCNJ Rocks is such an easy, yet fulfilling activity in this day and age.”
There is not only value found in the process of what OCNJ Rocks does, but genuine appreciation for the community itself.
“When it comes to this group, I do not have proud moments, but moments of gratefulness. I feel grateful for how the people of Ocean City have embraced it, such as; OCPD, the Beach Patrol, Fire Department, shop owners along Asbury, and families who come and prepare rocks for their visits,” said Carol. “There is no better place than OCNJ for this experience. Everyone wants to contribute and spread joy.”
There has been much success for OCNJ Rocks the past five years, and for the next five, the goal is simple enough; keep growing, keep painting, and keep paying it forward.
To participate in OCNJ Rocks and view pictures of your fellow painters, hiders, and hunters check out the Facebook Group: @OCNJrocks!
Find this story and more in the July issue of Ocean City Magazine