Charles may not see his Big Brother often, but he talks to him a lot – online that is.
The 13-year-old Barrie youth started to E-mail and chat online with his Big Brother, Darryl Ingham, about sports, humour, video games, family life and his favourite Web sites after the two were matched in a new Big Brother Big Sisters of Canada (BBBSC) program, Digital Heroes.
The program, available through the Big Brothers of Barrie, matches volunteers with Internet access to children, allowing a Big Brother Little Brother relationship to flourish online.
“The program is fantastic in that it allows the interaction to happen over the Internet,” says Ingham, a 35-year-old insurance company executive. “Since I work in Toronto and travel a fair deal, the Internet has allowed Charles and me to communicate from anywhere. For example, we chatted while I was in Calgary on business.”
Instead of committing two to three hours a week to develop and maintain a face-to-face relationship, adult volunteers only have to commit to one hour a week that they can do from their home or office.
Charles’s mother knows about the importance of having a Big Brother.
“Growing up, my brother had a Big Brother. Many years later, they are still friends. Most importantly, I felt that Charles needed a positive male role model in his life,” says Michele.
Charles had been having trouble in school, playing the class clown and getting detentions and extra assignments, she says.
Charles had been on the waiting list for a Big Brother for three years when he was matched in the Digital Heroes program. More than 6,000 boys and girls are on waiting lists with Big Brother and Big Sister agencies across Ontario.
“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 Mike McKnight, BBBSC executive director.
Having an e-mentor has been good for him, Michele says. Charles enjoys receiving Ingham’s undivided attention and praise, and Ingham’s positive support and perspective have increased his self-esteem.
“Darryl never puts Charles down or disrespects him. He is always positive. I have seen a huge change in Charles’ self-esteem. As a mother, that means the world to me,” says Michele.
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 project and formed the partnerships. AOL Canada is the major sponsor.
“E-mail is one of the easiest and most effective ways for people to keep in touch, but many at-risk kids in Ontario don’t have access,” says AOL Canada president Steven McArthur.
“Our goal with this program is to provide kids with the technology to stay in touch with their Big Brother or Big Sister, to ensure they can communicate instantly using E-mail or AOL’s Instant Messenger service whenever they need advice or just want to chat,” McArthur says.
Digital Heroes allows for a meaningful and lasting relationship between youth and adult, regardless of conflicting schedules and geographical location.
Ingham has a supportive and significant role in Charles’ life, Michele says.
“One Saturday, Charles beat his own personal best average in his bowling league. He told me that he couldn’t wait to go home and E-mail Darryl,” she says.