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July 25, 2001
500 kids bridge the digital divide
Community and Neighbourhood Services -- At a special ceremony at
Lillian H. Smith Library, the first children graduated from the kids@computers
scholarship project, an initiative by Toronto Social Services to provide home
computers and printers for children in families receiving social assistance in

In this demonstration project, home computer systems will be provided for an
estimated 250 families, and will give more than 500 children age 8 to 14 access
to a home computer, and a chance to compete in today's digital world.

Before receiving their computers, each scholarship winner completes courses on
basic computer skills, Web awareness (which also includes training for parents)
and using the Internet to help with homework. These orientation courses are
delivered by Toronto Public Library staff experts.

To apply for the project, children had to write essays about why they wanted a
computer, and sponsors (often teachers) were asked to write letters of
recommendation. "The essays were amazing," said Councillor Olivia Chow,
Toronto's Children's Advocate. "They gave us a first-hand look at children who
were facing serious disadvantages, for lack of some simple technology. Projects
like this one can help level the playing field so these bright kids can compete
academically, socially and in tomorrow's job market."

The project is financed using funds Toronto Social Services received from the
Province of Ontario for exceeding its Ontario Works Community Participation
targets for the last fiscal year. These funds had to be used to meet local
service needs and could not accrue as savings or be used to offset regular
program costs. By investing in kids@computers, Toronto Social Services could
make a direct contribution to children's education and academic achievements,
and could make an investment that would last far beyond the life of the
one-time funds.

"This kind of responsible investment is what is needed to help children and
families succeed in Toronto," said Councillor Brad Duguid, Chair of the
Community Services Committee. "Part of our Social Development Strategy for the
City is to make strategic investments in social development, and this
initiative definitely meets this direction. I'm impressed with how hard Social
Services staff are working to make sure that children and families and
communities are their first priority. We're not just in the business of
processing cheques -- we're even more in the business of providing options,
services and support that focus on people and their futures."

"The community and our clients have worked with us every step of the way to
reach these targets," said Heather MacVicar, General Manager of Toronto Social
Services. "So our goal is to make sure we shared our success by reinvesting the
money back into the community. The project will offer immediate benefits for
the families involved and long-term benefits to the entire community."

Toronto Public Library is playing a partnership role in kids@computers by
providing the facilities and teachers for the orientation sessions. The library
has a long history of commitment to helping children enter the electronic age.

"Providing hands-on Internet training is key to bridging the digital divide,"
said Josephine Bryant, City Librarian. "At Toronto Public Library, we are
committed to developing information literacy skills in children to give them
greater opportunity to explore, learn and grow in the new digital world."

In the project's first phase, Toronto Social Services received more than 1,000
completed applications. With only an estimated 250 computers available in the
demonstration phase, thousands of children in families receiving social
assistance still do not have computers. Social Services is looking at every
available option to expand this program beyond its demonstration phase to
continue to give children, families and communities the tools they need to
bridge the digital divide.

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