It was an interaction with a patient that gave VA recreation therapist Dawn Phillips and occupational therapist Maria Gomez-Lansidel an idea of how to create positive vibes for their Veterans at the South Texas VA Health Care System. The project would be simple, yet brilliantly colorful.

It all started when Gomez-Lansidel and a Veteran took notice of a rock garden in a park. They loved the animals and positive affirmations painted on them. After a little research from a VA hospital in Oklahoma who had established their own garden and some guidance from the local “San Antonio Rocks” group, the planning began.

The Positivity Project consists of a quiet, tranquil place for Veterans to express themselves by painting rocks. The rocks are either taken home by the artists themselves, or they get “planted” by the Veterans in the campus rock garden.

Gomez-Lansidel said the project is much deeper than arts and crafts time. It builds in the Veteran certain attributes that they need no matter what their goals are.

IMAGE of Veteran painting a rock

A Veteran participates in the Positivity Project at South Texas Va Health Care System.

“This project is giving our patients the opportunity to work on planning, organizing and executing skills that are necessary to be successful in the real world,” Gomez-Lansidel said. She added that Veterans selected the spot on the South Texas campus where their creativity found its final resting place, and measured how much mulch they would need.

One of those attributes is adaptability. Army Veteran Terry Moreno found that out for herself as she struggled to use the provided brushes for the detailed pattern she was trying to complete. Instead, she used a toothpick because it is easier for her to hold after eight strokes left her with fine motor skill challenges. She did not want to give up on her theme. “I wanted to paint the Navajo feather so I could stay connected to my community,” Moreno said. “I also want to make sure that others know my people also served this country.”

IMAGE of rock garden

Veterans Rock Positivity Garden at South Texas VA Health Care System.

Phillips said there are several benefits to recreational therapy like hand-eye-coordination, fine motor skills, sense of purpose, self-expression and social engagement. The latter brought Vietnam Veteran Larry Zepala in and will bring him back again. “It was great to be with other Veterans,” Zepala said. “It was great to take your mind off what you’ve got going on, you know, like Vietnam.”

Both Phillips and Gomez-Lansidel received great feedback during and after the project. Some are excited to take their rocks with them and drop them in other gardens across Texas or wherever they travel. Phillips said the project gives them the opportunity to connect with the community and families in a therapeutic manner.

If you want to see more on the Positivity Project check out this slideshow.


PORTRAIT of Steven Goetsch About the author: Steven Goetsch is a public affairs specialist with the South Texas VA Health Care System in San Antonio, Texas.


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Published on Feb. 27, 2019

Estimated reading time is 2.7 min.

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One Comment

  1. philip gallaher March 2, 2019 at 7:11 am

    i plan to buy a mulity family home and have the neighboors who live near us paint a rock put them around the base of the tree to encourage them to come back and visit the rock garden that is so fancy colorfull and beautifull

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