Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Tassi Helps Teens Connect and Cope

(Reprinted from Edition 50 of Tikun Olam, November 2009) is an online community where teens can share advice, suggestions, support, and information on a variety of topics that are of concern to teenagers. It has been established by Agence Ometz as an on-line safe haven, where teens log on to express themselves and discuss issues they often find difficult to address. These include sexuality and dating, bullying, problems with parents, body image, depression, as well as Jewish life, and practical matters such as help with homework and career planning.

Users of the forum help one another, share opinions, ask questions and discuss anything teen related. It is a place where they are made to feel comfortable and where trust is encouraged. is the brainchild of Neal Caminsky, who, upon completing the West Island Leadership Development program offered by FEDERATION CJA, was looking to pursue a project that would help young members of the community. He lent the expertise of his Red Dream Studios, a website design, graphic design, and multimedia production company located in Dollard-des-Ormeaux, to get the project up and on the web. The Volunteer Services Department of Agence Ometz provides training and supervision for a group of young adults, between the ages of 19 and 23, who act as volunteer peer moderators on the site. Ometz professional staff offer additional support, stepping in to back-up the moderators or handle diffucult situations. They can also assess when kids are in genuine distress and refer them to professional resources.

Kids are encouraged to log on and take advantage of, using it as a resource, a place to speak freely, and a chance to help one another out.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Things to Ask Before You Redo Your Website

We here at Red Dream Studios are often charged to not only develop a website from the get-go, but also provide website makeovers. Makeovers are not merely cosmetic. They are efforts by which increased sales and marketing can be achieved. Some makeover can be as simple as updating the website's metatags (or adding some where they previously didn't exist), updating copy that has been stagnant for months or years, or as exhaustive as providing a completely new branding.

On this topic, I thought I would repost a great set of questions provided by Seth Godin:
I don't do any consulting, but that doesn't stop people from asking me questions. The most common question people ask me when they want a new website is, "If you were in charge of this, who are the 2 or 3 people you’d want to be sure to talk to – to help think through the issues, help us figure out who should do the work, etc.?"

The second most common question people ask me, "In addition to Apple’s site, are there 2 or 3 that you think are really appealing and work well for their business?"

I think these are perhaps the tenth and eleventh questions you should ask, not the first two. Here's my list of difficult and important questions you have to answer before you spend a nickel:
  • What is the goal of the site?
  • In other words, when it's working great, what specific outcomes will occur?
  • Who are we trying to please? If it's the boss, what does she want? Is impressing a certain kind of person important? Which kind?
  • How many people on your team have to be involved? At what level?
  • Who are we trying to reach? Is it everyone? Our customers? A certain kind of prospect?
  • What are the sites that this group has demonstrated they enjoy interacting with?
  • Are we trying to close sales?
  • Are we telling a story?
  • Are we earning permission to follow up?
  • Are we hoping that people will watch or learn?
  • Do we need people to spread the word using various social media tools?
  • Are we building a tribe of people who will use the site to connect with each other?
  • Do people find the site via word of mouth? Are they looking to answer a specific question?
  • Is there ongoing news and updates that need to be presented to people?
  • Is the site part of a larger suite of places online where people can find out about us, or is this our one sign post?
  • Is that information high in bandwidth or just little bits of data?
  • Do we want people to call us?
  • How many times a month would we like people to come by? For how long?
  • Who needs to update this site? How often?
  • How often can we afford to overhaul this site?
  • Does showing up in the search engines matter? If so, for what terms?
  • At what cost? Will we be willing to compromise any of the things above in order to achieve this goal?
  • Will the site need to be universally accessible? Do issues of disability or language or browser come into it?
  • How much money do we have to spend? How much time? And finally,
  • Does the organization understand that 'everything' is not an option?
Need a digital makeover? Contact Red Dream Studios.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Documenting the fight against Cancer

The McGill Head and Neck Cancer Fund holds an annual fundraiser benefit gala, this year to be held on May 27, 2009 at the Montreal Science Center in the Old Port. For it's 15th year, the Fund has decided to document the event on video, and show portions of the event on plasma screens throughout the Jewish General Hospital. 

Red Dream Studios is proud to have been selected to provide its videography and post-production services. For more information, click here.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Photography for Cancer Research

Every first Friday in May, for the past twenty years, more than one hundred teams of five or more runners, representing various companies throughout the city, have gathered for a wild, fun-filled run through the streets of downtown Montreal, known as the Défi Corporatif Canderel.

Participating companies donate $2,000.00 per team of five runners, which goes towards cancer research at the Goodman Cancer Centre at McGill University and l'Institut du cancer de Montréal at l'Université de Montréal.

Although cancer is cause for serious concern, the event itself is defined by one key word: Fun. Fun, as in starting and finishing the run on a wonderfully animated site featuring activities, food, drinks, music, and much more. Fun, as in seeing thousands of Montrealers line up the streets of downtown to cheer and encourage hundreds of noisy and colorful runners. Fun, as in a wildly optimistic overall feeling that everyone is actually running towards a cure for cancer.

This year, Red Dream Studios is thrilled to have been selected as the official event photographer, donating its services to provide team photographs and retouching services of all participant companies. Stay tuned to this blog for some of the event highlights.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Tassi featured in The Montreal Gazette

Columnist Susan Schwartz of The Montreal Gazette interviewed Neal Caminsky of Red Dream Studios about his involvement in the online teenager social community he spearheaded as a volunteer with Agence Ometz. The interview appeared in the Applause section of the Montreal Gazette, April 20, 2009. The article is reprinted here as a permalink:

There's a new place online for young people to ask advice of other young people, courtesy of a Montreal social- service agency and one of its volunteers., an acronym for Teen Advice, Suggestion, Support and Information, is an initiative of Agence Ometz's volunteer department. It was developed by Neal Evan Caminsky, one of more than 300 volunteers who enhance the work of the agency's professional staff - social workers, psychologists, family-life educators, immigration counsellors and employment counsellors among them.

In his professional life, the 34-year-old West Island resident runs Red Dream Studios, a website design, graphic design and multimedia production company based in Dollard des Ormeaux. Ometz is providing space on its server for the program, but Caminsky developed the site, put the technology in place and designed the logo - all as a volunteer. "This is something I am passionate about," he said.

In his late teens, Caminsky, a Montreal native, was a volunteer with a U.S-based online teen advice organization run by a mother and son. Through the initiative, which no longer exists, the pair would forward emails that would come in, mainly from teens, to the volunteers to respond. "We would provide advice - an ear to listen," he recalled. As one of the older volunteers, he tended to address health-related questions - questions about such issues as birth control. "We even had questions from parents."

Caminsky had a fortuitous encounter with Linda Mestel, manager of the volunteer department at Ometz, when she addressed a leadership training program in which he participated. As he listened to her speak about volunteers, it dawned on him that a similar online teen advice project could work here. "In talking with Linda, I came up with the idea of an online bulletin board service: It gives you the ability to log on and post a question - publicly." People may sign in anonymously; their questions can be viewed by anyone who signs on. "The beauty is that if you post a question online, anyone can chime in and give their advice and opinion.", launched in March, is targeting students in Grades 5 through 9. "We are trying to offer them some kind of safety net, a bit of direction," Caminsky said. "The goal is to have as many teens helping each other as possible." Ometz is a Jewish agency, and outreach is being made mainly to Jewish day schools at this point. That said, is open to all young people. For now, the site's moderators are the ones answering the questions. They are six Ometz volunteers age 19 to 24: Ali Antolin, Cassie Crangle, Daniel Haboucha, Laura Horowitz, Bryan Mestel and Rilla Schneider. Some have already worked as mentors with teens; others are new to the volunteer department. All have had training on how to respond to questions.

Administrators overseeing the moderators include four Ometz staffers - Linda Mestel is one - and Caminsky. As the site develops, it is hoped that the teens themselves will be answering one another's queries, he said - and that professionals will chime in and post articles.Visit the site at

- Courtesy Susan Schwartz, The Montreal Gazette.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Gift to the Farha Foundation

This past February 2009, Red Dream Studios was honoured and thrilled to have been awarded Silver Sponsorship status after having donated video production services to the Farha Foundation's annual Maskarade fundraising gala, in which about $250,000 was raised for A.I.D.S research and awareness in the Montreal community.

The event, organized and produced by Atmosphere Communications and Events, Inc, featured a 60-foot video projection screen upon which Red Dream Studios videotaped the stories of several individuals whom are H.I.V.+ (some that have been living with the disease for over 20 years) and assembled the footage into a compelling 3-minute montage, underscored by dramatic music. Throughout the video, we hear the stories of how living with HIV is often compared to living with a mask imposed by society. Some are comfortable living without masks, whereas others cannot bear to take them off.

The video kicked off the evening's gala dinner and dancing, emceed by Mr. Justin Trudeau, MP for the Papineau riding in Montreal, shown in the photo alongside Red Dream Studios Founder and Creative Director Neal Evan Caminsky, and company Partner Jessica Binstock.

Monday, March 02, 2009 Comes Online

Today marked the official launching of a new website  Tassi, short for Teen Advice Suggestion, Support & Information, is a community-driven project developed by Red Dream Studios in collaboration with Jewish Family Services (now Agence Ometz). The website's sole function is to help teens find an ear to lean on. Questions of all topics can be asked, and generally, someone will be there to answer them, be it a moderator trained and coached by the Jewish Family Services, or ideally, other teens just like them. 

The creation of this website and the"selling" of it was a 9-month pre-production process. In my research on the topic of troubled teens, I came across some disturbing facts. The rest of this blog presents some of the information I put together as a proposal to the Jewish Family Services. I encourage you to read it, but more importantly, visit the site and promote it throughout your community. 

Some pertinent facts:
Quebec men have the highest suicide rate in Canada.

In a 1998-1999 study, Quebec had the highest suicide rate in Canada - 21.3 per 100,000 people.

Montreal is considered the unhealthiest city in Canada, leading the country the highest mortality rates for men from cancer, stress, suicide and the cumulative incidence of AIDS.

In 2006, the following was compiled by psychiatrists at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, which found links between "suicidality" and age, income levels and where a teen lives in Canada:
  • Male teens in B.C. had the highest attempted suicide rate, while those in Quebec reported the highest rate of depression. 
  • Nearly a quarter of the female teens from B.C. who took part in the study reported having had suicidal thoughts. 
  • Suicidality rates in Canada differ little from those in the U.S., despite the fact that universal health coverage north of the border gives Canadians better access to health care. 
  • Experts say the study indicates a need for school programs to better educate teachers about depression and suicide, which is the second leading cause of death among teens in Canada. 
  • The youth don't talk about their depressive moods to their physicians: A drop in grades, difficulties with other peers and participating in fewer social activities are signs of depression. 
  • The highest rate in depression is seen in Quebec, followed closely by the Prairies and B.C. More than 50 per cent of adolescents who commit suicide have experienced a form of depression.
Why online?
From 2000-2007, the PEW Internet & American Life research center has been examining teenagers’ use of the internet and has repeatedly shown that teens are one of the most wired segments of the American population. And teenagers, perhaps more than any other age group in the U.S., have been well-positioned to take advantage of new communications technologies and social media applications as they emerge.

Psychologists have long noted that the teenage years are host to a tumultuous period of identity formation and role development. Adolescents are intensely focused on social life during this time, and consequently have been eager and early adopters of internet applications that help them engage with their peers. In the first national survey of teenagers’ internet use in 2000, PEW found that teens had embraced instant messaging and other online tools to play with and manage their online identities. In a second major study of teens in 2004, PEW noted that teenagers had taken to blogging and a wide array of content creation activities at a much higher rate than adults. Teens who adopted these tools were no longer only communicating with text, but they were also developing a fluency in expressing themselves through multiple types of digital media – including photos, music and video.

And along comes MySpace…
MySpace was by no means the first social networking application to come to the fore, but it has been the fastest-growing, and now consistently draws more traffic than almost any other website on the internet. It has also garnered the majority of public attention paid to online social networking, and sparked widespread concern among parents and lawmakers about the safety of teens who post information about themselves on the site.

Social networking sites appeal to teens, in part, because they encompass so many of the online tools and entertainment activities that teens know and love. They provide a centralized control center to access real-time and asynchronous communication features, blogging tools, photo, music and video sharing features, and the ability to post original creative work – all linked to a unique profile that can be customized and updated on a regular basis.

Looking at a general picture of teen internet adoption, American teens are more wired now than ever before. According to PEW’s latest 2007 survey, 93% of all Americans between 12 and 17 years old use the internet. In 2004, 87% were internet users, and in 2000, 73% of teens went online.

While teens go online in greater numbers and more frequently than in the past, usage gaps between teens of different socio-economic status persist. Teens whose parents are less educated and have lower incomes are less likely to be online than teens with more affluent and well-educated parents. Of teens whose parents have college educations, 98% are online while only 82% of teens whose parents have less than a high school education are online. In general, income and parental education levels have a greater impact than race and ethnicity on the frequency of internet use.

Not only are more teens online, but they are also using the internet more intensely now than in the past. 89% of online teens use the internet at least once a week. The percentage of online teens who report using the internet daily has increased from 42% in 2000 and 51% in 2004 to 61% in 2006. Of the 61% of teens who report using the internet daily in 2006, 34% use the internet multiple times a day and 27% use the internet once a day. If teens log onto the internet daily, they are more likely to log on multiple times rather than once per day.

How can we help?
Given the fact that more and more teens are online in greater frequency than ever before, and given the rates of depression, anxiety, and influx of digital information available to teens online, the most natural solution to addressing and catering to teen issues is an online one.

For more than 140 years, Jewish Family Services of the Baron de Hirsch Institute, also known as JFS, has helped families to stay strong and connected. JFS offers intervention and prevention services to children, individuals, families, schools and communities with a view to supporting and enhancing personal and family health and growth. As a recognized leader in the field of social services and mental health, the JFS is in prime position to promote itself as an innovator of online advice and intervention services. With its breadth into the scholastic and community arenas, JFS has the “arms-reach” in order to promote a new venture by which teens and young adults can anonymously either find safe haven or search for advice or counseling through today’s modern and naturalistic communication network, online.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Not all doom and gloom for 2009

With the constant bombardment of tough economic times ahead and mounting job losses (100K in the first 3 months of 2009 alone), it is of course natural to feel panicked and our purse strings tightening. But losing your job isn't all that traumatic if you take a moment to think about your situation and make the best of it.

Over 10 years ago, I was happily employed by Matrox, a hi-tech graphics display company in Dorval. By 2001, Matrox had reached its pinnacle of success with revenues of close to $1B Canadian, and a workforce globally of about 1700 people. Emotions were high as was morale. However, as the dot-com crash of 2001 settled in, Matrox was not immune to its effects. In addition to a rapid shutdown of all things tech, bad management, product delays, unfavourable reviews, competition, and the strength of the Canadian dollar all contributed to a rapid decline in Matrox's prosperity. The immediate and most notable result of this was the constant threat of being laid off.

Throughout the several years that followed, I ended up surviving through 3 massive rounds of layoffs, the largest of which saw over 100 people being escorted by security out the front door on one Friday morning. The last major layoff while I was still employed at Matrox came in 2004 and was a complete shock to everyone, including those people like me who didn't directly lose their jobs. To this day I distinctly remember driving into work about 15 minutes later than usual, and as I was walking into the building, a colleague from my department was walking the other way, clutching his coffee mug and a small box of personal effects. Jokingly, I said to him, "Executive hours?" to which he replied, "I was just laid off." This colleague has one of the best sense of humours of anyone I know, so it didn't occur to me that he was actually serious. But I kept looking at his face, and knew him well enough to know that he wasn't joking. He then continued walking to his car. I then quickened my pace into the building only to realize that my co-worker wasn't the first to have already "walked the green mile" so to speak. As I sat down at my desk, I kept seeing other colleagues in my department being called to the front of the building, being escorted by the department manager, never to return. I sat there cowering in fear and hunched over, foolishly thinking that if my manager didn't see me, maybe I'd be safe.

After about 2 hours of being completely destroyed emotionally, and bewildered by what was going on (not knowing was the worst aspect of this), another manager in my department came over to me to see if I was ok. I told him no, of course. My face was pretty pale and I was about to throw up. He went to the department manager and told him that he'd better clue me in on what was going on for fear that I'd collapse. By that time, the layoffs had ended and the department manager came up to me and told me that it was going to be ok. I was finally able to breath again, but I was still stunned to see my department shrink from 11 people to 5. This experience made me to learn to position myself strategically within any company that I'd work for -- make yourself indispensable. Do your best, and you'll be too valuable to be let go, regardless of your job title.

Being in my late 20's at the time, newly married, and with a large mortgage to pay, the thought of being laid off was incomprehensible. It would have been the most traumatic experience of my life, so I thought. Feeling like a failure, feeling worthless. And then the thought of going through the effort of finding a new job... The interviews. The waiting. The salary negotitation. I couldn't bare the thought. Fortunately, I never had to really face this threat in practice, but being surrouded by the cloud of layoffs for several years helped shape me into the entrepreneur that I am today.

My prediction is that 2009 and 2010 will see unprecedented growth in sole proprietorships. I've been seeing this already since mid-2008 as more and more new companies have been coming to Red Dream Studios in search of logos, business cards, and a website -- the earmarks of a new company offering. Since our niche has long been small business and entrepreneurs, we've been fortunate enough to cater to quite a few of them.

As people will find themselves in the unfortunate position of having lost their job, questions of course arise -- to find a new job with another company (and obviously face that miserable possibility of being laid off again), or become one's own boss, with merely one's own potential to be held accounted for as a business success or failure. What excites me about all this is that countless of great ideas are floating out there in people's minds -- however the fact that many of these ideas never get off the ground into something tangible because the people that have these ideas are locked into careers (which they may or may not even be passionate about), is something truly devastating.

What if someone knew how to solve the world's energy crisis, but felt compelled to keep their job buying socks for the president of some company for fear of not earning an income. Would they have the possibility of bringing their idea to the rest of the world? Possibly not. This is why I think that entrepreneurs are the most powerful and respected people on the planet. They take the risks that most others would not. They dare to explore the possibility of human potential and dare to dream the ideas that others dare not.

So despite all the doom and gloom predicted for the next 2 years, I am excited to see the human potential that arises from tragedy. When people are pushed to explore options they dared not challange, what a fantastic world this could be.

What do you think?