WILDWOOD, N.J. -- It's always nice down the shore. This group of elementary students is proving it.
During the COVID-19 shutdown, they began painting seashells with kind messages to hide throughout Wildwood, New Jersey. The popular vacation destination sees less traffic during the colder months, but the resilient community of island-dwellers holds strong year-round.
"It was just all so different and there's never been something like this before," said 9-year-old Emma Carter. She and her classmates from Crest Memorial School were devastated earlier this year to learn that classes would be held virtually.
To their delight, school is back in-person for the foreseeable future. However, this rambunctious group had to endure a socially-distant summer to get there.
"Being outside was therapeutic at the time," said Carmen Cusella, a mother of three girls. "There was no playground, so we would just take walks and hide the shells."
She created the Facebook Group, "Wild & Free," to create a community revolving around these random acts of kindness.
"Kindness is free, so we're able to spread a little love and creativity during this stressful time," she said.
Cusella, a nurse at Urgent Care in Wildwood, hopes that locals will report their seashell discoveries and pay it forward.
If the goal was to make kindness contagious, many other moms certainly caught the bug.
"Just a regular walk every day became a big deal to us," said Denise Murroni, also a mother of three. "To get that little extra surprise, to find the seashells throughout the island, just put a smile on the kids' faces. They were excited to see it and share it with others," she said.
Although juggling work and motherhood was a challenge in the midst of a pandemic, Murroni said it gave way for new opportunities.
"Before you know it, they're going to be teenagers and moving on," she said. "So, this time, you'll never get back. So take it while you can."
To learn more about the Wild & Free project, visit their Facebook page.