Oct 28/09 – Upopolis launches at Lutherwood in Waterloo, Ontario

Lutherwood’s residential program launches new secure website to connect children with community BY JOHANNA WEIDNER, RECORD STAFF

WATERLOO — Loneliness and isolation are often an extra burden for youth struggling with mental-health issues living in a treatment facility.

They can feel disconnected from friends and family — a problem compounded by the need to limit access to the technology youth depend on to stay in touch with their world. Now Lutherwood’s residential program has a safe way for youth to access the internet. Earlier this week, Lutherwood launched Upopolis, a secure online social networking site for children in specialized and hospital care.

“It’s another really important tool for kids to make a connection with each other and with important people in the community and important people in their lives,” said Lutherwood’s chief executive officer John Colangeli.

The site was created by Kids’ Health Links Foundation, a charity focused on helping children recover through technology solutions, and Telus. The pilot was launched in 2007 at the McMaster Children’s Hospital, and is spreading to hospitals across the country. These children’s facilities normally bar internet access due to concerns about privacy and inappropriate material. Lutherwood in Waterloo is the first children’s mental-health facility in the country to get Upopolis. “This is a wonderful way to have them be in a safe portal that’s designed for them,” Colangeli said.

Upopolis is basically like a specialized version of Facebook. After logging in, youth can email approved contacts and officials, such as welfare workers and probation officers. They can write a personal blog about their experiences or surf approved websites. They can get homework assignments from teachers and read child-friendly information about mental-health conditions.

Colangeli views the portal as a healing tool that will help the youth develop relationships, and eventually make the transition from the residence back into the community. “We’ve got high hopes for it,” he said. Many of the youth come to the facility from broken families, they’ve experienced abuse or struggled in school.

“They’re not really accepted anywhere,” Colangeli said. During their stay at Lutherwood, he said, “we’ve got to give them hope back in their lives.”

Two teenagers living at Lutherwood demonstrated Upopolis at the official launch on Wednesday, both eager to finally have a chance to use the site. They have been away from home for months, and saw Upopolis as a great way to connect again important people in their life. The pair also liked being able to look up information about their condition and treatment, post photos, and surf favorite sites.