Big Brother is e-mailing you

TORONTO — Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada (BBBSC) is helping its young charges keep in touch with their mentors via an e-mail initiative called Digital Heroes launched Tuesday.

The organization will establish 100 online mentoring relationships during 2002, said Bill Albino, vice-president of BBBSC, which will be made possible by e-mail accounts, instant messaging and Internet connectivity from AOL Canada and computers donated by RBC Financial and refurbished by ReBoot Canada.

“As Canada’s leading mentoring organization, we are thrilled,” said Albino. “Information technology is providing an entirely new platform. . . . Our hope and expectation is that both the lives of the child and the volunteer will be enriched.”

Children and young adults aged 10 to 21 will participate in the program, which is designed to allow them easier access to their big brothers and sisters but also to improve their literacy skills. After a year-long trial, BBSC aims to take the program national.

Toronto’s Frontier College will provide an additional 100 mentoring relationships this year. The college serves as a volunteer-based literacy organization. It was founded by Queen’s University more than 100 years when it sent volunteer university students to work camps to teach Canadian labourers.

Digital Heroes is part of the Government of Ontario’s youth-oriented aid program called Ontario’s Promise, which premier Mike Harris first launched in 2000. Harris, who will step down as Ontario’s leader in March, pointed to “the thousands of kids across Ontario that need extra help.” He said that Digital Heroes “will jumpstart e-learning (for children) . . . with an adult who has the willingness to help them learn.”

Harris added that mentoring programs like those provided by BBBSC and Frontier College improve children’s self-esteem, motivation, school attendance and grades.

BBSC hasn’t yet determined how the Internet will affect its overall mentoring program or time volunteers spend with children. Big brothers and sisters are currently required to provide three hours of one-on-one time a week with their younger siblings. “We don’t know what e-mentoring will be,” said Albino. “That will take some time.”

The traditional mentoring program is monitored by social workers, who make regular visits to the children, their parents and the mentors themselves. Internet communication between children and mentors shouldn’t require any additional monitoring, according to BBBSC director of marketing Bruce MacDonald. The e-mail will be treated as any conversation between little sister and big sister.

Little sister Jennifer, 13, officially got the Digital Heroes program started Tuesday by sending out the first e-mail. She isn’t sure how often she’ll e-mail her big sister, but said it’ll come in handy for planning visits and outings.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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