People of a certain age might remember when it was common to dial a phone number to get the time and temperature.
But imagine dialing a number for something less practical — to hear a friendly voice sharing an inspirational story, for example, or a positive affirmation. Maybe that voice will tell you a corny joke or remind you that it’s Play Your Ukulele Day.
All for a simple reason: To make you, the listener, smile.
For nearly 25 years, the Twin Cities-based Ideas for Positive Living line (651-602-2176) has been doing just that, transporting callers back to a simpler time. The telephone line, run by six volunteers, offers free recorded messages every weekday, accessible 24/7, with Friday’s message running through the weekend.
Messages are folksy, uplifting, sometimes poetic and, yes, quirky. Volunteers even record when on vacation, spreading long-distance positivity from wherever they are. They work hard to keep recordings to less than three minutes and admit that editing is difficult.
Barb Frederick, a volunteer recorder from White Bear Lake, contributes “poetic Monday Meanderings,” such as this one from a recent “cold and blustery day:”
“C’mon in, my friend. I’m glad you could make it today. Last week, on a partially moonlit night, walking on a flashlight-lit sidewalk, I heard the whistling swans in a V over my head as they headed south and east. I stood, mesmerized, listening to the sound until they were gone. The whistling comes from their wings as they fly … [artist/poet] Rod McIver wrote: ‘The journey itself is home. The journey in a search of deeper awareness. The source within, the source of healing strength, wisdom, peace. A journey that gains energy from quiet.’ ”
The phone line receives approximately 900 calls a month, said volunteer Charlene Danielson Nelson of Minneapolis. Callers have left 6,500 messages and counting, which are checked daily. While callers don’t always leave a name, their messages let the team know they are appreciated.
“We receive calls to the line in the middle of the night saying, ‘I’m just so glad you’re here,’ ” said Danielson Nelson.
One woman called when her mother was dying, seeking out the comfort of a friendly voice, Danielson Nelson said.
Longtime caller Bette Johnson of St. Paul said that “even though I have a large family, I don’t talk to them every day. I know I can just pick up the phone to call this line and know I’ll hear a familiar voice. It’s always there for me and the messages are good. I enjoy hearing their voices and the variety of topics on nature, spirituality or jokes.”
Charlotte Coen of St. Paul has called on and off since the phone line started. “I find them inspiring. I keep their number and call when the mood strikes me,” Coen said.
Carol Bosley of Maplewood said, “It’s like starting your day with a good cup of coffee, with inspiration and humor. They find you where you’re at.”
The idea for the phone line was born in 1995, when Kathy Young, a St. Paul social worker and motivational speaker, had the idea to promote positivity via telephone. She established Ideas for Positive Living to allow people to call each day to hear an encouraging message. She invited a few friends to join her in creating the daily messages.
Young died in 2000, but her legacy of positivity has only grown.
The volunteers can record their messages from the comfort of their home or wherever they happen to be. They haven’t missed a day since the phone line’s inception.
It’s not that inspiration is absent in our fast-paced lives, the volunteers say. A quick scroll through our social media feeds reveals plenty of uplifting stories and quotes, as well as photographs of sunsets and pretty flowers. But none of that replaces the human connection, they say.
Gil Kinnunen, of West St. Paul, usually shares on Tuesdays. He finds inspiration in unique holidays such as Play Your Ukulele Day or Dr. Seuss Day. He also writes about topics relatable to Minnesotans, like sharing the simple joy of kicking ice chunks off wheel wells or the coziness of flannel-lined pants.
Danielson Nelson began volunteering because she felt a spiritual nudge.
“I feel better putting good out into the world,” she said. “I’m humbled by it. It’s my telephone mission.”
Her messages often end with what she calls “quack-quack jokes,” because sometimes you just need to laugh and let life’s problems roll off — like water off a duck’s back, she said.
Frederick of the Monday Meanderings is a former teacher, “and teachers are never done teaching,” she said.
“There’s so much tragedy in the world and if my message helps make an impact on one person outside of my realm, I know I’ve made a difference.”
The group, which also includes Candice Johnson of Lake Elmo, Mary Miller of Lakeland and Carol Pesola of Anoka, gets together three to four times a year to talk business, Danielson Nelson said.
“We are a well-oiled machine and we cover for each other.”
The phone line easily could have evolved into a blog, a Facebook page or podcast. But this group deliberately chooses to remain traditional — and anonymous. They asked that their photos not be taken for this story so their voices can retain their power.
Even their advertising is old-school. They rely on word of mouth and pass out handwritten cards in neon pink with hearts and smiley faces, inviting passersby to “call today for a lift!”
“There’s definitely a niche for our phone line and we’re filling it,” Danielson Nelson said.
She remembers one woman who called the number and thought she had hung up. But the woman was recorded saying, “What was that? What are they trying to do, sell something? I don’t know what I just listened to, but I kind of like it.”
The Positive Living Phone Line can be reached 24/7 for free at 651-602-2176.