A typical preteen girl, Amanda enjoys going to the mall, socializing with her buddies and chatting long distance about life’s trials and tribulations with her Big Sister.
The Cambridge girl and her Big Sister, Lindsay Serbu, who works in Windsor, have chatted regularly online since being matched in Big Brother Big Sisters of Canada’s (BBBSC) new Digital Heroes program.
“I have a six-year-old brother and my mother wanted me to have a Big Sister. We talk about school, our weekend plans and we are getting to know each other,” says Amanda, 12, who cannot be identified under Big Sister policy.
“I’m glad I can support a girl who is approaching her teens,” says Serbu, 25, who works for a psychological counseling office and runs a cake decorating business in her spare time. “I can offer her my guidance when she may want it or need it.”
Amanda waited five years for her Big Sister. Currently, more than 6,000 boys and girls are waiting lists with Big Brothers and Big Sisters agencies in Ontario. Digital Heroes, an e-mentoring program, is an extension of the traditional mentoring relationship and links a young person via E-mail to an adult mentor.
The program matches volunteers with Internet access to children, allowing a Big Sister Little Sister relationship to develop and flourish online. It not only bridges distance and geography but time constraints on adult volunteers. Instead of committing to two to three hours a week to a face-to-face relationship, volunteers only have to commit to one hour that they can do from their home or office.
Digital Heroes hasn’t only given Amanda a non-judgmental friend with whom to share thoughts and concerns, but helps build familiarity with technology and improve literacy skills.
“The program has allowed Amanda to has increased responsibility. E-mailing her Big Sister several times a week has kept her focused,” says Amanda’s mother, Renee.
Youth matched in Digital Heroes, which is administered by BBBSC and Frontier College, receive a computer with Internet access and training on how to use it. The program, currently available only in Ontario, is expected to expand across Canada.
Computers for the project were contributed by RBC Financial Group and CIBC and upgraded by reBoot Canada. The Ontario’s Promise initiative launched the program and formed the partnership.
The major sponsor of Digital Heroes is AOL Canada. John Hamovitch, vice-president of human resources at AOL, says Digital Heroes is a true example of what can be accomplished through partnerships.
“This program brings together technology, innovation and human spirit to benefit children and youth,” Hamovitch says. “I applaud Ontario’s Promise for their ingenuity and determination to make this program a reality.”
Mentoring has far-reaching and beneficial effects on participating youth, says a BBBSC official.
“We know that mentoring works and has a long-term positive impact on a child’s life. Using the Internet to link up more young people with mentors allows us to serve more children and create those caring relationships,” says executive director Mike McKnight.