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Kenwood family spreads goodwill to neighborhood sheltering at home to slow coronavirus

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On Hoff Road off Highway 12 just west of Kenwood on Friday morning, 7-year-old Hartley Howland leads her 3-year-old brother Theo to a spot in the road where his name is written in pink chalk. He immediately stomps on it with both feet.

But they are joyous stomps. They are “I’m happy to be outside” stomps, or “That’s my name!” stomps, or “Aren’t we lucky to live on Hoff Road?” stomps. Because Hoff Road, a dead-end country lane about a half-mile long, is now adorned with a simple declaration — “WE LOVE OUR NEIGHBORS” — written in chalk, each letter about 5 feet high.

Along with the message are drawings of trains, an orange slice, a palm tree, a couple of stars, a heart and, of course, Theo’s name.

It was the brainchild of the Stocks family. The Stocks — Jeff and Connie and their two sons — have lived at the end of Hoff Road for 12 years. Their sons, Joshua, 12, and Jayden, 8, were raised here. And the Stocks, like everyone else in Sonoma County and seemingly on planet Earth, are following shelter-in-place orders and trying to make their way under new social and behavioral rules intended to slow the coronavirus pandemic.

The kids are out of school and Jeff Stocks, a pilot with few passengers to fly, is home from work. So everyone is trying to navigate the “new normal.” Doing schoolwork from home is part of that. And art is part of the curriculum, so Jeff Stocks went big — How about creating what is essentially a street mural? It ticks the box on an art project and ticks another box of sending good cheer to friends and neighbors in these unsettling times.

“It was my husband’s idea to say ‘Hey, why don’t we just write a real positive message for the neighbors on the road?’” Connie Stocks said. “So that is how that all came down to putting a gigantic ‘We love our neighbors’ in chalk colors and trying to make it colorful and pretty.”

It was a way of saying hello and sending goodwill, all at a safe distance.

“We have lots of neighbors that are out and about,” Connie Stocks said. “That is the nice thing about being out in the country, all of our neighbors take walks some time during the day. Everybody is happy to get out, get a little ray of sunshine.”

And she’s quick to note, all walk at a safe distance from one another.

On Friday morning the message drew in neighbors Karen Bowron, then Teri and Steve Read, then Hartley and Theo Howland and their mom, Maggie. All live on Hoff Road and all stopped to look at the message at their feet, to notice the orange slice and palm tree, and of course, to chat with the Stocks.

That was the idea all along.

“They’re thinking of other people,” Teri Read said of the Stocks’ work. “The neighbors, everyone is kind of in this together obviously … wanting to put a smile on somebody’s face, so that’s great.”

And part of that smile comes from the sheer size of the thing. It’s so big it’s almost hard to take in exactly what it says.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

“It has been a conversation starter,” Connie Stocks said. “Obviously we know everyone on the road so most people that have seen it are very appreciative.”

They might be even more so had they known Jayden Stocks worked his 8-year-old fingers to their nubs for his art.

“(The hardest part) was probably getting your fingers not crushed into the road,” he said, noting that chalk is soft, but “the road is so hard.”

Worth it? Oh yes, Jayden said.

“We wanted to do something for all of our neighbors because it’s just kind of a nice thing to do and everything for what is going on right now,” he said.

“The coronavirus is pretty depressing,” Joshua Stocks said.

Agreed. So the boys created their own antidote out of chalk.

Karen Bowron has been walking her neighborhood road in a mile loop for years but at no time has it meant more.

“I feel fortunate that we are in a place where we can go out and walk and not have to worry about running into a lot of people,” she said. “It’s beautiful out here. If you have to be sheltered, this is a good place to be sheltered.”

But that’s also the Catch-22 of the goodwill sign from the Stocks — it does invite people to stop, to chat, to connect. And all in a time when we are told to stay physically apart from each other. So neighbors, at least on Friday morning, stood in the road, while the Stocks family stood in the driveway. For the most part, they all chatted at a safe distance and moved on.

“I think it’s absolutely fabulous and it just of gave me the nice lift that I needed,” Bowron said.

Maggie Howland agreed.

“It’s been hard not being able to get together as a street, which we do often. But this is a nice reminder that we are all there for each other,” she said. “It was a really nice gesture for the neighborhood.”

You can reach Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield

The Press Democrat wants to know what stories you see emerging and what you're experiencing locally during the shelter-in-place order. Reach out to us at coronavirus@pressdemocrat.com.

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