Creating Cheer During COVID


ODHS Employees Uplift Each Others’ Spirits with Painted Rocks, Handmade Gnomes

It’s been a tough year – there’s no doubt about that with COVID, wildfires and even an ice storm.  

“We’re all so weary from COVID. It was really awful when we started up with the masks again because of the Delta variant. There were several outbreaks in our office. So, I thought, ‘why don’t we do something nice and something that cheers people up?’ I mean caseworkers, managers, all of us have had a pretty hard time,” Sarah Kuenle, an office specialist in Marion County, said.

Kuenle decorated the hallway in the ODHS Salem office, 4600 26th Ave., NE. Suite 110, as a big white board with happy and relaxing images, such as a baby laughing, giggling minions and people flying kites.

Then, after going on a float trip down on the Santiam River in Jefferson, she saw lots of flat rocks on the bank. She often looks for rocks because she likes to paint them. She thought, “I could paint those for our staff.” Then she thought how she liked making gnomes and how she could also make some cute gnomes for her colleagues.

She made a few gnomes. She painted some rocks shiny pink with encouraging words on them, such as, Hope and Love. She also gathered some pictures and framed them from frames she bought from the Dollar Store – all things people could put in their cubicles to cheer them up.

“ I thought I could spread joy to others – whether in the park or for people in our building.”

– Aubree Rodewald, ODHS

Her colleague, Aubree Rodewald, a permanency case worker, saw what Kuenle was doing and she thought she also could paint some rocks for her colleagues during this tough time.

Rodewald often paint rocks with pictures of animals, faces or flowers. Some have words on them, such as: Keep Going, Hope and Love is Love.

“I leave them on my walks for people in my neighborhood and at the park in Dallas. Sometimes I give them as gifts,” Rodewald said.

“I like painting with a purpose. I thought I could spread joy to others – whether in the park or for people in our building,” she said.

Kuenle said Rodewald’s rocks were especially beautiful.

They drew names and gave away 22 rocks, two gnomes and five framed pictures.

It’s just the little things we can do for each other. It brings our spirits up,” she said.

About Author

Christine Decker is a Public Affairs Specialist for the Oregon Department of Human Services. Before working in communications she was a working journalist.

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