291-KIDS Story Line

Why 291-KIDS?


Today she is known in San Diego as the Story Lady of Southern California, presently getting 20,000 calls a month with just two phone lines. Kids from age 3 into their early teens call the number to hear a special kind of “an electronic hug”.

These stories are designed to build self image and self reliance within 90 seconds so they have a smile on their face and feel good about themselves and their world.

Children, like adults, need someone to call when they’re down. Since all behavior patterns begin at a young age, it’s imperative to channel those habits toward a positive goal. 291-KIDS is one of these positive directions.

Billions of dollars have been spent on rehabilitative programs while, unfortunately, hardly a cent on preventative programs. Youngsters are frustrated. They’re being bombarded on all sides by violence, hate, feelings of inadequacy and negative self images. No wonder they’re turning to alcohol and drugs in staggering numbers at such an early age.

According to statistics from the Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Institute compiled at the University of Washington: “…28% of youth in grades 7 through 12 are problem drinkers.” Also, “During the last ten years the figures on the percentages of young drinkers have jumped from 70% to almost 90%!” Statistics from 2010 by National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse, report 27%. Complete information is available at:http://www.oas.samhsa.gov/NSDUHLatest.htm

No wonder Carol is so concerned. This stems from her deep love for children and her seven years experience working with her husband Bill Baras, Ph.D. in training both patients and staff in the Alcoholic Ward of the VA Hospital in La Jolla, California on the concepts of self-reliance and proper self-esteem.

They were both overwhelmed with the statistics and the realization that a person will turn to artificial means to stop the world and get off when they can’t cope with frustrations, loneliness, feelings of rejection, and unhappiness… no matter what age. For those without a strong self image, it’s their only alternative… and a sad one at that.

While recognizing rehabilitative programs are very necessary to social welfare, the primary purpose of the Baras Foundation is to promote the importance of preventative programs. Since the Barases have been conducting training seminars for the past twelve years, they have come to realize people do not function efficiently and effectively unless they have a good self image and are self-reliant individuals.

Logically, they decided why not start with the youngster and build self-esteem from the beginning as a positive preventative program. After all, the youngster has to feel good about himself before he can feel good about his parents, brothers and sisters, friends, society, school, church, or his country.

When this is in proper perspective, they hopefully won’t have that void that forces them to turn to alcohol and drugs.

Wednesday, March 26, 1980 Scared or Lonely Children Dial a Smile -by Sharon Johnson SAN DIEGO- “I called you yesterday, and I felt good inside when you told me to go out and smile at our world,” a 10-year-old girl wrote to Carol Baras, a San Diego grandmother who has recorded hundreds of inspirational telephone messages for depressed and lonely children. “I’m going to tell all my friends to dial 291-KIDS so they will feel better too.” About 19,000 children telephone the free 24-hour service each month. Most are 3 to 10 years old though children as young as 3 and as old as 15 have used the service. They listen to a 90-second message that is changed every day. One day they might hear Mrs. Baras discuss the importance of being kind to parents, and the next day she might tell them how they can chase the blues by finding something interesting to do around the house. Mrs. Baras’s inspiration for the service dates to the day she came across a 4-year-old boy sobbing in a shopping center. To relieve his anxiety about his father, who was completing some errands, Mrs. Baras told him a story. By the time the father returned, the boy was all smiles. “I started thinking about how I might help other scared and lonely children,” she said, “and came up with the idea of using a recorded telephone message because I knew from raising my own children that kids love using the telephone. Many communities in the United States have telephone services for adults but ours is the only one with a recorded message especially designed for children.” She wanted a number that would be easy for children to remember, and so she persuaded the telephone company to assign her 291-KIDS. She then persuaded a retired journalist she met through her volunteer work at a hospital to write the scripts for her messages. Mrs. Baras enjoys recording the messages, she says, because it reminds her of her work as the first female disk jockey in San Diego. Mrs. Baras and her husband, William, who owns a company that produces tortilla chips, donated two recording machines. Several friends contributed funds for the tapes and the monthly telephone bills. To attract callers when she started the project in 1978, Mrs. Bars took out advertisements in a local newspaper, but she found that the ads were unnecessary. In the first month the service received more than 600 calls. “Since I’ve been listening to your stories every morning, I smile and can always get rid of Mr. Lonesome,” a 10-year-old girl wrote, enclosing a drawing of some cheerful-looking children. Others tell Mrs. Baras their problems. “My Daddy moved away and I miss him,” a 6-year-old wrote. “I don’t know why he left.” A fourth-grader confided: “I’m shy and afraid to call other kids on the phone because I’m afraid they will laugh at me.” Mrs. Baras always tries to send a reassuring reply.
“Lots of children are very lonely,” she said, “because almost half of all marriages in California end in divorce and many children don’t see as much of both parents as they would like. Frequently grandparents and other relatives live far away and so they aren’t available to give the children the love and affection they crave.” Charlotte Holmes uses the service in her work as a teacher employed by the San Diego Juvenile Court. Her students range in age from 14 to 17, but Mrs. Holmes describes them as 13 to 14 emotionally. Every day she asks them to telephone the service and to write several paragraphs about the feelings generated by the message. “Listening to these stories has been a worthwhile experience for my students,” said Mrs. Holmes. “Children today are bombarded with so many negative messages that they need something positive in their lives. I believe that these stories can help enhance a child’s or adolescent’s self esteem.” Laura Smith, a San Diego secretary, encourages her 5-year-old son, Mark, to use the service. “Mark loves talking on the telephone,” she said. “I think the messages are good for him because they reinforce what my husband and I tell him.”
Stanley’s mother died when he was very young. His father remarried. As a consequence of the marriage, Stanley became one of a hundred abused children. The marriage ended, but that did not end the fact Stanley was a battered child. Studies have verified there is a high probability that a battered child will batter younger siblings, children they babysit, and/or eventually, their own children. Stanley was not an exception but rather validated this data. Stanley was on probation for child battering. His anti-social behavior seemed to surface on a rather systematic basis. He entered the court schools program some time in October. His probation officer had placed him in this program after he had been suspended from the public school system for various infractions of rules and disruptive behavior in the classroom. Stanley has had the same probation officer for three years, his family structure has not changed, his neighborhood and friends remained the same. During this period of time, Stanley continued to come before the court. The charge was the same — battering a younger child. From late October until the present, Stanley has been before the court only once. He was charged in May with battering a small boy in his neighborhood. They went to trial as usual. This time the result was different! Stanley was not the person responsible for the abused child. The culprit had been the child’s own father. The abused child was told to ‘finger’ Stanley since his reputation was well established as a child beater. From my fist acquaintance with Stanley, October 1979 to the present, he has extended far beyond the time period displayed in the past in refraining from acting out his anti-social behavior. The obvious question to ask is what eradicated this behavior or, at least, temporarily arrested it? During this span of time (October 1979 to the present) two things changed in Stanley’s life. He changed his resident school and started listening to 291-KIDS. One day I handed Stanley a note. The essence of the note said, “call this magic number and give me your reaction”. The following day, Stanley came to school early. He asked if he could call 291-KIDS. I said sure. He called. During the time he was listening, he verbally responded to questions asked on the tape, smiled and laughed. It was then I learned he had called the number from the first day he had knowledge of it. Also, I discovered he was calling more than once a day. This became a daily routine for the remainder of the school year. Stanley arrived early to call, then we would talk about Carol Baras, “that Lady” and what the story said. Eventually, tiny morsels of the various stories would be woven into written assignments that Stanley completed. Also, in internalized the philosophy of the stories to the point he used them in discussions to make a point or give advice. I called Carol Baras to share with her the effect the stories on 291-KIDS were having on Stanley. She said, “tell Stanley I’m going to work his name into a story somehow”. I passed this information on to him. The next day, when he arrived, he was storming! He said, “I thought ‘that Lady’ was going to use my name. She didn’t! Listen to it! My name isn’t there!” All I could do was assure Stanley his name would be there and to keep listening. About three days later he arrived as literally dancing. He said, “have you listened to KIDS today? ‘That Lady’ said ‘Hello Stanley’!” Stanley successfully completed the 8th grade in June. He is enrolled in the public schools this school year. Stanley’s anti-social behavior has not surfaced for over a year. What was different this year than the preceding years? It is my personal opinion that the stories Stanley listened to neutralized the anxiety, pain and fear a battered child carries inside of himself. What his probation officer, his loving father, friends, school and the court could not do, the magic number did! The thread that runs through this span of a year that was different but has not changed is 291-KIDS, a 24-hour public service line the Baras Foundation instituted two years ago in San Diego. 
Dr. Charlotte Holmes
September 30, 1980

Listen to stories from the Storyline

Explore the tabs below to hear excerpts from the 291-KIDS Storyline created by Carol Baras of The Baras Foundation in the 1980s. At the peak of it’s popularity the storyline was receiving over 35,000 calls a month with just two phone lines. Kids from age 3 into their early teens called the number to hear a special kind of “an electronic hug”.

Originally written by an editor of Forbes Magazine, these stories were designed to build self image and self reliance within 90 seconds so they have a smile on their face and feel good about themselves and their world.

Children, like adults, need someone to call when they’re down. Since all behavior patterns begin at a young age, it’s imperative to channel those habits toward a positive goal. 291-KIDS is one of these positive directions.