nika hirsch:
this life rocks
nika hirsch:
this life rocks

            When most people come across a rock they don’t give it a second thought. But, Nika Hirsch sees that rocks have the potential to brighten someone's day, with just a little paint and some creative energy. 

            “One summer I was really into the library and then I found a rock painting book from the library and my mom said that some people hide rocks for other people to find and I thought that sounded fun so I asked her if we could do that,” Nika said. 

            With that, the @thisliferocks Instagram page was born, when Nika was just 6 years old. Now, Nika and her mom, Jana, run the account together. In the last four years, Nika, with the help of her family, has hidden more than 700 rocks across the country and in her hometown of Northfield, Minnesota. 

overcoming challenges
overcoming challenges

 

            Dropping painted rocks isn’t all Nika is up to. She also is steadily working to overcome a rare childhood anxiety disorder called selective mutism, which means she sometimes freezes up and is unable to speak. 

            “I have selective mutism, and … it's not fun,” she said. 

            Nika uses her platform on Instagram to raise awareness about selective mutism, share tips for dealing with it and teach others how they can help. Jana, who also had selective mutism as a kid, said it has been amazing to watch Nika grow through her experiences.

            “This kid who literally could not raise her hand in kindergarten to be like ‘can I go to the bathroom,’ ‘can you help me open my milk,” has grown to be a leader,” Jana said. 

            Because selective mutism is so rare, there aren’t many places that specialize in treating it. Nika attended the Brave Bunch Camp in Florida when she was six years old, and it helped her realize that it was not just her who was experiencing this. 

            “We've had a lot of kids with selective mutism and a lot of parents whose kids have mental health struggles to reach out to us and say, ‘Nika gets it, can she talk to my kids, can she send a message’ and that's always something that she's been willing to do and help with as well,” Jana said.

expanding beyond rocks
expanding beyond rocks

 

            On top of painting rocks and raising awareness about selective mutism, Nika has raised thousands of dollars for various causes and run projects that spread happiness.

            “Nika’s mission is pretty open ended. It's just sort of like, ‘I want to make the world a little bit of a better place and how can I do that.’ It's not about rocks necessarily,” Jana said. 

            After Nika had started dropping rocks around, The Spread Sunshine Gang, a nonprofit group in Minneapolis, Minnesota, reached out and wanted to collaborate. 

            The Spread Sunshine Gang was running a project in which people could sponsor a “gratitude tree” — a place where people can take a tag and a marker, write what they are grateful for and hang it on the tree — and Nika jumped at the chance. The Hirsch’s have been sponsoring the tree, affectionately named Rocky the tree, for four years. 

            “It's pretty cool because it starts out you go ‘I don't know if anybody's coming’ and then by August it's just filled with these colorful tags,” Jana said. “We cut them down and save some of our favorites, the most meaningful, and we recycle the rest.”

            Nika also helps out with The Spread Sunshine Gang’s “Bundle Up MN,” an annual winter clothing drive for people in need. This year, Rocky the tree has temporarily been turned into a giving tree where people can leave their donations for “Bundle Up, MN.”

            When she is not working with the Spread Sunshine Gang, one of Nika’s favorite projects is called “100 kind deeds day.” For the last four years, on Black Friday, they team up with anyone who is interested and try to do as many kind deeds in one day as possible. 

            “The first year we finished, it felt like the best day ever. We had people chiming in on our Instagram and messaging us saying “I think this is so cool,’ we were like ‘oh my gosh look at all the good things happening in the world,’” Jana said.

            In 2019, Nika organized an event called Skate for Sarcoma, in which she partnered with a roller rink in Burnsville and all the proceeds from the event were donated to the Sarcoma Foundation. 

            “My favorite part is probably doing charity work and 100 kind deeds day,” Nika said. “I like to support [the Sarcoma Foundation] because my dad had sarcoma twice.”

finding a community
finding a community

 

            Both Nika and Jana said one of the highlights of running the Instagram account is the community it creates.

            Not only do they interact with people who want to participate in Nika’s projects and other kids with selective mutism, but they have met people like Jason Naylor, a famous graffiti artist.

            “One of the things I super love about Instagram and This Life Rocks is the friendships that she has made, even though they're virtual and there's so much support,” Jana said. 

            Nika loves positively impacting people in whatever way she can, but Jana said it's always cool to see how far collaboration can spread an effort. 

            “A really cool thing that Nika has learned is that one person can make a difference, but when we do 100 kind deeds day, 30 people can make a lot more difference,” Jana said. “It's like a little ripple effect.”

            Though Nika works on many projects independently, they are always willing to point someone in the right direction or help them get involved. 

            “Whenever she does something it's usually pretty open ended, it's usually something that other people are invited to come to,” Jana said. “If you see something that she's working on, please reach out and say ‘how can I help.’” 

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