It’s easy to feel low after two years of uncertainty. Sometimes, all we need is someone to tell us everything will be okay and to take a breath. That is precisely what one art teacher at West Side Elementary School, Jessica Martin, and her students strove to create. But what started as a public art project has grown into something much bigger.
In an effort to bring some smiles to their community, Martin and her students developed an encouragement (or pep talk) hotline. But the Peptoc Hotline (named by Martin’s six-year-old) is unique from other support hotlines. When one calls in, they find messages of hope and support pre-recorded by children between the ages of five and 12.
Jessica Martin, the art teacher and organizer behind Peptoc. Credit: The Press Democrat.
”The adults among us have been holding everything up for so long, it’s amazing to see what comfort children can bring,” Martin says.” I was moved by the incredible collection of advice and encouragement they gleaned, and how easily and distinctly they were able to communicate it.”
The Peptocs range from practical— “If you’re frustrated, you can always go to your bedroom and punch a pillow or cry on it,”—to whimsical—“If you’re feeling up high and unbalanced, think of groundhogs,”—to downright sweet—” “If you’re nervous, go get your wallet and spend it on ice cream and shoes.” There are even options for Spanish-speakers to find heart-warming words of encouragement.
West Side’s principal, Rima Meechan, is positively thrilled by the project. To her, it is a clear expression of the compassion and love these children have for one another, and local community members agree. Touched by these messages, local leaders spread the number across social media.
Word spread like wildfire. Within the first week, the hotline received an average of 300 to 500 calls an hour. Then it was 5,000 a day. Now, the number is up to 11,00 an hour. One parent of a participating student theorizes why the hotline has seen such success.
“While adults might say these things, hearing them in the innocent voices of our kids makes it seem like maybe it’s going to be OK. Those voices give me hope,” she says.
Some of the kids recording messages. Credit: Yahoo! Sports
Some of Peptoc’s words of encouragement.
The plan is to keep the hotline open through the end of the school year, but ideally, they would keep it running longer. With West Side Elementary being stationed in a rural area with a small budget, however, funds need to be raised to keep it going. A GoFundMe was developed not only to keep the hotline running, but to support the school’s arts and enrichment programs.
During the pandemic, the school experienced some severe budget cuts. As often happens during these times, unfortunately, arts and other enrichment programs were hit the hardest with 75% of their funding being cut. This fundraiser will not only help keep the hotline open that brings smiles to all our faces, but hopefully bring money to the school that needs it too.
Remember: “Everyone is capable of doing anything, you just have to let yourself shine.” For more wise words from insightful children, call 707-998-8410 for a “Peptoc.”
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