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School kids’ free hotline gets 9,000 calls an hour for their perfect advice


westsideartsprogram | Instagram | Fair Use

Cerith Gardiner - published on 04/01/22

The now-viral hotline shows that sometimes the best advice comes from those who aren't world-weary!
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A school in North Carolina has launched a hotline to help those in need of a pick-me-up, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

With people recovering from the pandemic, coping with financial difficulties, and the stresses of the war in Ukraine, life is proving more and more stressful. So this free hotline (ordinarily 707-998-8410) is proving a huge success, and maybe it’s because the kids’ advice has a touch of naivety mixed with a dose of common sense.

First of all, when you dial the hotline you’re met with a happy voice instructing you: “If you’re feeling mad, frustrated or nervous, press one. If you need words of encouragement and life advice, press two. If you need a pep talk from kindergarteners, press three. If you need to hear kids laughing with delight, press four.”

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A post shared by West Side Arts Program (@westsideartsprogram)

Out of the mouths of babes …

Most adults would be tempted to go for all four options at once, and in fact, it wouldn’t be a bad idea if they did! The advice is straightforward, manageable and splashed with a sense of optimism, which is not easy to find when you’re feeling low.

What’s truly incredible about the project is that the kids offer very sage advice that would appeal to young and old. After all, who wouldn’t want to hear, “If you’re sad or angry, go get a cookie, a smoothie or an ice cream”?

There are also useful tips on coping with emotions: “If you’re frustrated, you can always go to your bedroom, punch a pillow or cry on it and just go scream outside.”

And if you imagine that this is all being said from children from kindergarten to sixth grade, you also get a huge dose of cuteness.

The pearls of wisdom were gathered by Jessica Martin and Asherah Weiss, who are art teachers at West Side Union elementary school in Healdsburg. They had an initial idea to do the project due to the current climate: “We wanted to do a project that was going to be simple enough to do and call on kids to think about what they wanted to say in the world, to uplift other people. And as we all know, we’ve been going through a lot these last few years. So we wanted to do something really simple but profound,” explained Weiss.

So they went to chat with the 141 pupils in the school: “We said: ‘It’s been a very rough few years. You kids are incredibly resilient. And you found all kinds of ways to stay joyful.'” They then asked the children to share what advice had helped them, or what they thought would help those feeling anxious.

“It’s good to say nice things to people. So I’d say a lot of things come into your head,” shared fifth-grader, Rosalie with the Guardian.

The results were then recorded onto the hotline and all that was left to do was to share the project with the outside world with flyers and posters made by the kids. Funnily enough the project name itself is also influenced by children: Martin’s son who is in the first grade at the school spelled the project Peptoc instead of “pep talk” and the name stuck.

A huge success

The school project has proved such a hit that it’s gone viral, and the free hotline is now receiving over 9,000 calls an hour. This has come as a bit of a shock to Martin and Weiss, as when they took a contract with the cheapest hotline provider, they’d only envisioned getting a 100 calls a month.

And its success is not much of a surprise. A cancer patient reported to Rima Meechan, the school’s principal and superintendent, that she calls the hotline in between her treatments.

A care facility for the elderly also called the school’s office manager and left in her tears, according to Weiss, when she thanked the school for their service. Their residents, most of whom are over 90, are making good use of the hotline:

“She was calling to thank all of the kids, because she played it for everyone who was part of that facility, and she said: ‘I haven’t heard laughter like that from them in years,'” shared Weiss.

As Martin pointed out, the project is important for the kids, as they can see the impact: “They get to see that literally just one kind word can lift up millions.”

While the messages are due to be updated soon, if you’re in need of a “Peptoc” then try dialing 707-873-7862, the temporary number being used after some technical issues.

ChildrenEducationMental Health
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