NORTH CANTON North Canton Police Officer Gary Dodge was on duty and monitoring traffic on West Maple Avenue while parked in Price Park on May 18 when he noticed a woman, Holly Cugini, and her 7-year-old son, Zane, approaching his cruiser.
Dodge rolled down his window. The two then told him that they knew it was a tough time for law enforcement and they wanted me to know that they supported police and fire. The encounter is something Dodge will remember throughout his career.
"For me, it was very emotional when they said that, it really touched me and I started to choke up because it came out of nowhere," Dodge said. "Holly Cugini told me they wanted to give me something. Her son reached in his pocket and pulled out a pretty good size rock. It was painted with a blue stripe and at the top it read 'Your life matters to us' and on the bottom, it read 'We love you.' "
Holly Cugini wrote in an email interview that the idea for making the rocks was a family idea. She wrote the family found their first rock in April of this year and thought it would be fun to paint rocks. They decided to put motivational and inspirational phrases on them and hide the rocks in places where people may find them such as restaurants, local businesses and in parks.
"This was also a great way to get our three kids more motivated this summer and get them outside to take more walks and hikes," she said. "We’ve only handed out two rocks, one to Officer Dodge and one to Deputy Sherriff Joshua Vacha, but we’ve hidden over 400 rocks since April.
"We have more to hand out to local Police, Sheriff, EMS, and Fire fighters to show our support. We get the ideas for the motivational sayings from things we would like to see ourselves. This world needs more support, encouragement and positivity," she wrote.
The family has recently received a lot of media attention since the Stark County Sheriff’s Office sent out a press release with the story of Vacha receiving a rock while on patrol near Washington Square a couple weeks ago. Zane hopped out of his mother's SUV and handed Vacha a rock that said "We Support You."
Cugini said they never meant to generate any attention.
She wrote that the family’s goal was to brighten the officers’ day and put a smile on the face of the people who find one of the rocks. And, in both instances involving the officers, she believes they accomplished their goal. Cugini said they were simply trying to show their love and support and to let law enforcement know that not everyone is out there to belittle them or scrutinize them.
"Our children love showing their love and support to the men and woman that are protecting them daily," she said. "They feel like it could brighten their day which is why we do it. There is a lot of scrutiny when it comes to law enforcement and we just want them to know we are here, we support them, and we are grateful and thankful for them and what they do every day."
Dodge said his rock is about the size of his palm and he carries it with him every day in his duty bag.
"The random act of kindness they did that day was touching and something I’ll never forget," Dodge said.