Free hotline launched by kids at Healdsburg school offers pep talks, advice and encouragement

West Side Elementary School in Healdsburg has launched a program known as "Peptoc," a hotline offering messages of encouragement and advice from its young students.

From the ongoing pandemic to the Russian war in Ukraine, there’s a lot going on in the world, no doubt testing many people’s emotional fortitude. So a group of young school children in Healdsburg have launched an effort to try and help folks maneuver through these tough times with some words of encouragement and wisdom.

It’s called the "Peptoc Hotline," a project launched at West Side School, a small, rural school in northern Sonoma County. The project, which launched on Feb. 26, was spearheaded by local artist and art teacher Jessica Martin and artist Asherah Weiss.

This is how it works: Dial up the free hotline number at 707-998-8410, and you’ll be treated to a selection of pre-recorded messages offering uplifting words and "life advice" from students ages 5-12. The messages come in both English and Spanish.   

The hotline opens with a cheery voice introducing Peptoc as "a public art project by West Side School."

Callers are then asked to follow the prompts and choose from a selection of messages to address their emotional needs:

  • 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 kindergartners, press 3.
  • If you need to hear kids laughing with delight, press 4.
  • For encouragement in Spanish, press 5.

For those looking to deal with mad, frustrated, and nervous feelings, some of the sage advice offered included taking three deep breaths and thinking happy thoughts, doing something that inspires you and makes you feel better, treating yourself to a cookie, and there’s also this advice on letting it all out: "You can always go to your bedroom, punch your pillow or cry on it and just go scream outside."

By pressing option two, callers were treated to a series of uplifting and positive words including those about being grateful, believing in yourself, not giving up, and reminders like, "The world is a better place with you in it." That message ends with a sweet chorus of kids yelling out, "We love you!"

Option three also included a group message, with kindergartners cheerfully reminding the caller, "You can do it! Keep trying. Don't give up!"

And sometimes, it’s not words you need, but just the sound of children’s laughter that can bring comfort and a feeling of joy. Option four offered just that -- the pure, musical sound of kids laughing away. 

In addition to the hotline, the project has a visual component, with young artists creating colorful flyers with their many encouraging messages. The school said its Peptoc flyers have been posted all around downtown Healdsburg.  

August Pochan, West Side 1st grader putting up flyer with encouraging words as part of the school's widely popular "Peptoc" project. (Jessica Martin/Instagram @jessicamartinart, @westsideartsprogram )

Peptoc was also being featured at the Healdsburg Center for the Arts, as part of its Youth Arts exhibit, running through March 20.

West Side school officials told KTVU that the initial plan for the project was to keep the hotline open for just a few months at a cost of $50 a month for the phone line service. 

But the demand and usage of Peptoc exceeded anyone's expectations. Since its launch, Martin said that the hotline has been receiving 4,000 calls per hour.

Due to the overwhelming popularity of the phone line, the school said that on Monday, Telzio, the company that’s offering the phone service agreed to donate one million minutes to the project. Once the million minutes run out, it would charge $3K a month at the current call volume. 

The demand caught school officials by surprise, which they said clearly demonstrated how the current state of the world generated a deep need for positivity and encouragement. 

"It is amazing," Martin said, "and so very needed in this dark world."

A fundraising effort has been launched to help fund the project and keep the hotline open. Martin said any surplus funds would be going to benefit West Side’s enrichment programs which have had almost no funding since the pandemic. 

Donations can be made on the Peptoc Hotline GoFundMe page here

Encouraging message by a student at West Side School in Healdsburg. On Feb. 26, 2022, the school launched its Peptoc hotline offering positive messages recorded by kids ages 5-12.  (Jessica Martin/West Side School Parent Organization)