Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes
AMERICAN FORK — A man in Utah County is carving thousands of rocks to donate to every family in Uvalde, Texas. It's part of his lifelong mission to bring healing to others with his rock creations.
"I found that when there's a tragedy, there's something I can do to help," Tom Ballard said.
The story of Ballard's heart rocks begins two and a half years ago. He was a Spanish language teacher in Washington when there were several deaths by suicide in his community that impacted his students.
Ballard was walking along the beach, trying to think of how he could "raise people's spirits," and stumbled upon a heart-shaped rock in the sand. It brought him comfort so he searched and found a handful of more rocks with a similar shape.
Then he went further and bought a tile saw to begin carving rocks. After he had enough for all his students, he brought them to class. By the end of the school day, 24 students were back in his classroom asking for more rocks because they had given away their own.
"This is to remind you that you matter, you are important, you are beautiful, and life is better because you're a part of it," Ballard said of his rocks.
Then something terrible happened. Ballard's brother-in-law died by suicide, and he decided to move back to Utah to be with his sister and her three now fatherless children. And that's when Ballard turned his heart rock passion into a lifelong mission and started Take Heart Creative Studio.
Ballard carves rocks full time now, bringing them and his message to farmer's markets, schools, churches and other organizations in Utah and even around the country. He says it's that message of compassion that turns his work "from a beautiful rock into a meaningful gift."
Tom Ballard used to be a school teacher. But after several deaths by suicide in the community where he taught, he wanted to find a way to help people heal and know that they matter. That was 2.5 years ago. And it's since turned into a lifelong mission…@KSL5TVpic.twitter.com/jxqkWARKmt— Matt Rascon (@MattRasconNews) June 22, 2022
He recalled one market where he decided to offer a man two of his heart rocks. The man chose a couple and then "ten minutes later came back and said his wife had attempted suicide the day before." She was in the hospital and the two hearts the man had chosen had been cut from the same rock.
"I don't believe in coincidences anymore," Ballard said.
On another occasion a student who carried around one his rocks with her had the thought to give it to another student at school. So she did.
"The next night that student just called them weeping and said they had planned to end their life that day. And they just approached them with a heart rock and it made all the difference."
Ballard says he is aware of seven instances where deaths by suicide were prevented because of a conversation that was prompted by his heart rocks.
"I feel like I've stumbled across something that's so simple and so impactful that it's changing the world," he said.
When a gunman opened fire on teachers and elementary students in Uvalde, Texas, Ballard knew he wanted to help. Within a day he had raised enough money to carve enough rocks for all teachers and students at the school.
Since then he's expanded that goal to reach every family in Uvalde. So far he's cut nearly 1,500 rocks. And he's asking for the public's help to raise enough money for him to make more and then hand-deliver as many as he can in October.
"It's just compassion. And the more I reach out and given away the better I feel about myself and my circumstances."
Along the way, he's discovered how the smallest, frequent reminders can go beneath the surface and have the biggest impact on someone's heart.
"Some day you're going to have a really dark, awful dreadful day," Ballard said. "And when that day comes, pick up your heart rock and remind yourself that you matter and that you're good."