Nov. 14, 2022 — When two art teachers in Healdsburg, CA, set out to create a hotline for anyone in their small wine country town in need of a mental health lift this past March, they had no idea that their phone line, which features the voices of some of the kids in their elementary school, would end up hitting a milestone of 2.2 million calls from people in the U.S. and around the world.
Cleverly known as PepToc, a call into this number (707-873-7876) features seven options of pre-recorded bilingual messages from joyous elementary school children, including pressing one number if you need encouragement, another if you’re feeling frustrated and nervous, and another if you just want to hear kids’ laughing uproariously, which is some of the best medicine when you’re feeling stressed about life.
Jessica Martin, 43, one of the project’s co-founders, who runs the art program at West Side Elementary School, says she never thought this idea would catch on, especially since the original intention was to connect with local residents via the phone-in number and a project in which kids at the school created signs with positive messages that were then posted around town.
“I thought maybe if we were lucky we would get 100 calls a month,” she says. “I think this is really appealing to people because it speaks to the power of children and their wisdom. Hearing their voices is incredibly comforting as we navigate a challenging, frenetic world.”
Martin’s collaborator, Asherah Weiss, 35, also an art educator, says it’s the spontaneity of the kids’ words that seems to be connecting with callers.
“We didn’t rehearse what to say,” she says. “We didn’t tell them what to say, either, and I think people can feel that when they listen, that it’s a direct message from the kids’ themselves.”
The duo say that since the hotline launched, they’ve been bombarded with messages and snail-mail letters from appreciative callers.
“We’ll get messages from people who are suffering from severe depression and anxiety who tell us that this hotline was literally a lifeline for them,” Martin says. “Another letter came from a group of nurses from Kentucky who told us that calling the hotline brought such light and joy to them during a tough day at the hospital they work at. It’s very moving to hear this.”
What this free mental health resource shows is that all of us could use a little pick-me-up during difficult times.
“Everyone is looking for a little piece of sunshine wherever they can get it,” Weiss says. “We’ve had adults tell us that they’ve called the hotline and shed tears. When someone has that kind of visceral natural response, you know you’ve hit something good. I think that people need this right now.”
As for Martin and Weiss, the next project on the horizon is a book that will feature inspirational posters they’ve requested from anyone across the globe who is 21 and younger and has a unique and positive message to share with their community.
“The book itself is a chance for many more young people to get involved with the project who live all around the world,” Weiss says. “We’re just starting to get submissions, but they’re already so uplifting to us and to the people around them. That’s what inspires us.”
For more information on the poster project or to make a donation to keep the hotline going, visit the PepToc website.