Nov. 14, 2022 – When two art teachers in Healdsburg, CA this past March set about setting up a hotline for anyone in their small wine town in need of mental health enhancement, little did they know their phone line, which is hearing the voices of some children in her elementary school would eventually hit a milestone of 2.2 million calls from people across the US and around the world.
Skillfully known as PepToc, A call to this number (707-873-7862) offers seven options for pre-recorded bilingual messages from happy elementary school kids, including pressing one number when you need encouragement, another when you’re feeling frustrated and nervous, and another when You feel I just want to hear the kids laughing loudly, which is one of the best medicines when you feel stressed in life.
Jessica Martin, 43, one of the project’s co-founders, who directs the arts program at West Side Elementary School, says she never thought the idea would catch on, especially since the original intention was to speak over the phone with local residents in number and a project where children from the school created signs with positive messages, which were then put up around the city.
“I figured if we were lucky, we’d get maybe 100 calls a month,” she says. “I think that really speaks to people because it speaks to the power of children and their wisdom. Hearing their voices is incredibly comforting as we navigate a challenging, busy world.”
Martin’s colleague Asherah Weiss, 35, also an arts teacher, says it’s the spontaneity of the children’s words that seem to convey to callers.
“We didn’t rehearse what we say,” she says. “We didn’t tell them what to say either, and I think people can sense that by listening that it’s a direct message from the kids themselves.”
The duo say since the hotline’s launch they have been bombarded with messages and letters from grateful callers.
“We get messages from people who are suffering from major depression and anxiety telling us that this hotline has literally been a lifeline for them,” says Martin. “Another letter came from a group of Kentucky nurses who told us that calling the hotline brought them so much light and joy on a tough day at the hospital where they work. It is very moving to hear that.”
This free mental health resource shows that we could all use a little pick-me-up during tough times.
“Everyone is looking for a little bit of sun wherever they can get it,” says Weiss. “We’ve had adults tell us they called the hotline and shed tears. When someone has that kind of visceral natural response, you know you’ve hit something good. I think people need that now.”
As for Martin and Weiss, the next project on the horizon is a book that will include inspirational posters that they have requested from anyone around the world who is 21 years old or younger who has a unique and positive message to share with their community can share.
“The book itself is an opportunity for many more young people living around the world to get involved in the project,” says Weiss. “We’re just starting to receive submissions, but they’re already so uplifting to us and the people around them. That inspires us.”
You can find more information about the poster project or a donation to keep the hotline running at PepToc Website.