Feeling Blue? This Kid-run Hotline Will Lift Your Spirits

By: Patty Rasmussen  | 
The Peptoc project is part kid-run hotline and part art project, in which young people create beautiful posters like these, featuring words of encouragement and joy. Jessica Martin/West Side Arts Program

The war in Ukraine, inflation, election cycles that never seem to end and (oh, yeah) the pandemic — when the cares of the world are too much, never underestimate the power of a kind word, sound advice or a good belly laugh. And thanks to some creative teachers at West Side School, a K-6 elementary school in rural Healdsburg, California, that help is as close as your phone. In a project called Peptoc, two teachers have opened up the phone lines between a beleaguered world and some pretty incredible kids.


How Did Peptoc Start?

In February 2022, art teacher Jessica Martin and fellow educator and artist Asherah Weiss created a hotline where callers could listen to feel-good pep talks (Peptoc), conceived and recorded by kids — or, more specifically — their students. After dialing (707)-8PEPTOC or (707)-873-7862, you can:

Press 1 if you are mad, frustrated or nervous.


Press 2 if you need encouragement or life advice.

Press 3 for a pep talk from a kindergartner. (And who doesn't need that once in a while?)

Press 4 to hear kids laughing with delight.

Press 6 to hear how awesome you look.

Callers can even Press 5 for encouragement 'en Español.'

The advice is as adorable as you imagine it might be:

"If you're frustrated, take a few sips of water."

"Be you."

"Don't give up, power through."

"Lady, you're beautiful!"

"If you're mad, take three deep breaths and think of things that make you happy."

"If you're feeling high and unbalanced, think of groundhogs."

Martin and Weiss say the students were naturals at offering motivation and kindness and needed very little prompting when it came to offering words of wisdom, empathy or joy. Apparently, the public agreed. Two days after the number launched Feb. 27, 2022, Martin says the hotline received up to 700 callers per hour. Within weeks, Peptoc was getting 9,000 calls a day, all day. Right before the November midterm elections, the Peptoc number was tweeted out. Within 12 hours, the hotline received more than 1.6 million calls.


The Art of Peptoc

The Peptoc project includes a visual arts component as well. Students were asked to create posters with messages of motivation, inspiration and encouragement that would hang in the school and around the town. The students threw themselves wholeheartedly into the project, designing clever posters — "Free Words of Kindness" or "You are not the only one who wants to sigh loudly" — complete with tear-off reminders like "It's ok to feel sad" or simply "It is OK!"

Peptoc, as a project, is a form of socially engaged art (also referred to as social practice or socially engaged practice). It is an art form which unites people and communities through conversation, collaboration or social interaction and is sometimes organized around an education or outreach program. This art form is unique in that the engagement itself is part of the artwork. Thus, in the case of the Peptoc project, the artists are the teachers, students, the community and the callers. The idea of the project is to create engagement, interaction and response between all the parties.


Weiss said the students were pleasantly surprised by the reaction.

"We thought this project could bring some joy to everybody, and that the kids could see that they could put their positive messages out in the world and be received," Weiss told The Washington Post. "We just didn't realize that the reception would be to this scale."