The greatest challenge to Big Brothers of Brantford and District is attracting volunteers, says executive director Pam Blackwood.
“It’s hard getting the volunteers to commit,” Blackwood says. “And they’re hesitant to work with the teenagers.”
But the agency may have found a solution in Digital Heroes, a new e-mentoring initiative by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada (BBBSC).
In Digital Heroes, volunteers with access to the Internet are matched to children, enabling a Big Brother Little Brother relationship to flourish online through E-mail and online chats.
Instead of committing to two or three hours a week, volunteers only have to commit to one hour a week – and they can do so from their home or office.
The kids in the program receive a computer and training on how to use it effectively.
It’s a new spin on the traditional one-to-one matches for which BBBSC agencies are known.
Blackwood says Digital Heroes attracted the Brantford agency because it’s easier to match older children through e-mentoring, and the more flexible time commitment may make it easier to attract volunteers.
Many Digital Heroes volunteers are business people already on computers, she says.
Brantford is one of nine agencies piloting the program. Although Blackwood admits they have been slow getting it off the ground, she has high hopes for Digital Heroes.
“I’d like to see it continue and build, and I’d like to see this sort of mentoring across Canada,” Blackwood says.
Digital Heroes is being administered by BBBSC and Frontier College. The program is expected to expand to different parts of Canada in 2003.
The Ontario’s Promise initiative was responsible for launching Digital Heroes and formed partnerships among various members of the corporate and non-profit sectors. Computers for the project were contributed by RBC Financial Group and CIBC, and upgraded by reBoot Canada.
AOL Canada is the major sponsor of the project. Jon 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.”
As for Blackwood, she says she’d like the kids in the program to be positively influenced by their mentors.
“I’d like kids to see what they can possibly do with their lives,” she says. “Thirteen and 14 are very formative years for deciding what they want to do with their future.”