Based on the caller's choice, they get a variety of suggestions ranging from 'punch a pillow' or 'go scream outside' to 'indulge in ice cream.'
A group of K-6 students is spreading joy, laughter and some valuable life advice to thousands of strangers through a one-of-a-kind hotline. According to Good Morning America, the Peptoc art project is the brainchild of art teacher Jessica Martin and artist Asherah Weiss. The pair worked with grade-schoolers at West Side Elementary School in Healdsburg, California, to create a free hotline that callers can dial in to listen to encouraging messages from the youngsters. The kids also created vibrant flyers and posters filled with charming drawings and reassuring messages that are currently being displayed around Healdsburg.
To experience Peptoc, simply dial 707-998-8410 and be greeted by the following options: "Please listen to the following options for encouraging messages. If you're feeling mad, frustrated, or nervous, press 1. If you need words of encouragement and life advice, press 2. If you need a pep talk from kindergarteners, press 3. If you need to hear kids laughing with delight, press 4. If you would like to make a donation to support this project, please press 6. For encouragement in Spanish, press 5." Based on what you select, the young pep talkers give you a variety of suggestions ranging from "punch a pillow" or "go scream outside" to "indulge in ice cream." They can also be your personal cheerleader with words of encouragement like "Try it again," "Believe in yourself!" or "It's OK to be different!"
"There's a pretty clear reason why this is so popular. We're in a very broken world right now and we need to hear this, from children especially," Martin explained. The artist and educator—who has led the art program at West Side for the past four years—added that in the aftermath of the pandemic and ongoing challenges like wildfires, it can be powerful to hear the young students share their positivity.
"It was really hard for me to hold it together when I was recording them," Martin recalled. "The overwhelming sweetness of these kids... was crushing me but also, it broke my heart a little bit too, because a lot of these kids, what they were saying -- they're in first and second grade -- what they were saying was very profound and it really spoke to their life experience." Weiss, who is also an alum of West Side, has been posting the vibrant flyers made by the students all around Healdsburg. "Someone thought I was putting up a lost dog poster or something like that and they're like, 'Oh, what did you lose?' And then they realized what we were doing and they were very, very happy to see that outside their door," the 34-year-old shared.
Martin revealed that she has received messages from people from around the world after Peptoc went live on February 26. "I just heard back from a bunch of people from Argentina and it ranges from a whole cancer ward of patients getting chemotherapy, to a lady who just found out her mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's to a fellow high school teacher just saying how incredible the project was. It's touched a lot of people, so we're pretty proud of these kids," she said. "One little small, easy act of kindness can easily touch millions in just a few days." Martin and the school are determined to maintain Peptoc "for months or years" and are currently raising funds online to keep it going indefinitely.
"Within the first few days, we were getting 500 calls an hour and we had to find $800 a day with that volume," Martin said. "I eventually was able to talk with the president (of hotline service Telzio) and she donated a million minutes to the project. We're currently now getting 5,000 calls an hour. And that million minutes, I think, probably will last us through the end of next week." Martin plans to work with students to record more advice, including additional Spanish messages, and hope the students will continue to learn from the powerful project too. "I hope that the memory of this experience they'll carry that with them through their life, that they won't feel like they're helpless in a dark world," she said.