By Shawn Nowlin
To say that much of the news currently in the headlines is depressing would be an understatement. From the recent shooting in Buffalo, New York, where a white teenager allegedly murdered about a dozen African Americans in a grocery store to the inevitability of the Supreme Court overturning Roe vs. Wade, it seems like every week life delivers another gut punch.
Everyone, especially in these times, can use a pick-me-up. Looking for a reason to smile? Consider calling 707-998-8410. The hotline, called “Peptoc,” features pre-recorded messages from a group of schoolchildren in California. The messages are for everybody, especially those who are coping with all the negativity happening in the world. For those who prefer to hear the messages in Spanish, that option is available.
When people contact the number, what they hear includes such words as:
— “If you are frustrated, you can always go to your bedroom, punch your pillow or cry on it. Or better yet just go scream outside.”
— “If you are nervous, go get your wallet and spend it on shoes and ice cream.”
— “If you are frustrated or mad, you can do what you want to do best.”
— “You can do it! Keep trying! Whatever you do, please don’t give up.”
Behind the program are two elementary school teachers in California, Jessica Martin and Asherah Weiss. “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,” said Weiss on YouTube last month.
Added Martin, “And as we all know, we’ve been going through a lot these last few years. So, we wanted to do something simple, but profound.”
After enduring a rough week in April, Roanoke County resident Imani Stevens called her best friend to vent. After she got everything off her chest, her friend suggested she contact the Peptoc hotline. “I was reluctant initially, but I’m glad that I did it. I absolutely love the concept and the messages truly are encouraging,” she said.
Within weeks of launching in early March, the hotline was receiving upwards of 5,000 calls nationwide a week. Roanoke Valley native Clarence Johnson, 78, says he wishes this hotline was available when he was growing up.
“You don’t make it to my age without life teaching you many hard lessons. I learned the hard way a long time ago that you should never make an impulse decision when emotions are high,” he said. “Had this hotline been around when I was in my 20s and 30s, I probably would have avoided so many mistakes.”
Johnson encourages everyone to give the hotline a call at least once. “It is worth it. It only takes a few minutes, but it can have a serious domino effect. Everyone that I’ve spoken to who have tried it all say they’re glad that they did it,” he added.
Martin and Weiss hope that what their student’s takeaway from this school project is something they will remember for the rest of their lives: a true understanding of just how powerful words are and the impact they can have on people.