November 14, 2022 – When two art teachers in Healdsburg, California, set out to set up a hotline for anyone in their small wine-producing town in need of a mental health lift last March, they had no idea that the phone line Their own, featuring the voices of some kids in their elementary school, would end up fetching 2.2 million calls from people in the United States and around the world.
cleverly known as PepToc, A call to this number (707-873-7862) contains seven options for pre-recorded bilingual messages from cheerful elementary school children, including pressing one number if you need encouragement, another if you’re feeling down and stressed, and another if you’re just I want to hear kids laugh out loud, and it’s one of the best medicine for when you’re feeling stressed about life.
Project co-founder Jessica Martin, 43, who runs the art program at Westside Elementary School, says she never thought the idea would spread, especially since the original intention was to reach out to locals by phone. A figure and a project in which children at the school created signs with positive messages that were then spread across the city.
“I thought maybe if we were lucky we’d get 100 calls a month,” she says. “I think this is really attractive to people because it speaks to the strength and wisdom of children. Hearing their voices is incredibly comforting as we navigate a challenging and crazy world.”
Martin’s collaborator, Asherah Weiss, 35, who is also an art educator, said it’s the spontaneity of the children’s words that seem to connect with 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 when they listen, it’s a direct message from the kids themselves.”
The duo say that since the hotline launched, they have been bombarded with messages and emails from callers they appreciate.
“We will get messages from people with severe depression and anxiety telling us that this hotline was literally a lifeline for them,” Martin says. “Another message came from a group of nurses from Kentucky who told us that calling the hotline brought them such light and joy during a difficult day at the hospital where they work. It is very moving to hear this.”
What this free mental health resource shows is that we can all use a little recovery during tough times.
“Everyone is looking for a little bit of sunlight wherever they can get it,” Weiss says. “Adults told us they called the hotline and shed tears. When someone has this kind of normal, visceral response, you know you’ve hit something good. I think people need this now.”
As for Martin and Weiss, the next project on the horizon is a book that will feature inspirational posters they have requested from anyone around the world who is 21 or younger and has a unique and positive message to share with their community.
“The book itself is an opportunity for many young people to take part in the project who live all over the world,” Weiss says. “We are just starting to take orders, but it really lifts us up for us and for the people around them. It’s what inspires us.”
For more information on the poster project or to make a donation to keep the hotline going, visit PepToc website.