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.

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