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March 12, 1999


Baltimore, MD- Cybergroup, Inc., an Internet consulting and web development company at the UMBC Technology Center, has developed the Dreamsurfer Network, a high-tech good deed connecting teenagers with chronic illnesses through a collaborative effort with the Grant-A-Wish Foundation, the Johns Hopkins Cystic Fibrosis Center and the USF&G Foundation. The Dreamsurfer Network is an expansion of a password-protected World Wide Web site created in September 1997. The site, Hopkins Teen Central, connects teenage patients at the Cystic Fibrosis Center with their peers and the hospital staff. Teens with cystic fibrosis interact online and participate in problem solving, mutual support, fun and friendship from home. Hospital staff provide patients with peer support, education and illness counseling. Hopkins provides Web TV systems for patients who don't have Internet access at home, and teenagers are enthusiastic about keeping in touch via cyberspace. Hopkins Child Life Specialist Russ Ravert, a longtime advocate of using technology to meet patients' needs, worked with Hopkins social work, pediatrics and information systems staff to establish Teen Central. The site flourished, but as it grew, the demand of managing and updating using conventional HTML grew overwhelming. Through a contact at Grant-A-Wish, Cybergroup President Greg Bean stepped in to improve Teen Central and expand the concept to other children's hospitals across the nation. Bean volunteered many hours to build a basic framework automating time-consuming HTML with user-friendly forms and templates for site maintenance and interaction. Bean's model will soon spread to two other children's hospitals that have agreed to join the project by creating Dreamsurfer sites of their own: the cystic fibrosis unit at Cook-Fort Worth Medical Center in Texas and the oncology group at City of Hope Hospital in Duarte, California. Despite the time demands on himself and a staff of three in the competitive world of Internet startups, Bean saw Dreamsurfer as both an interesting technical challenge and a chance to give something back. "People say that startup companies should put volunteer or pro bono work on the back burner for a few years until they get more established," said Bean, "but I felt that this was a very worthy cause." "One of the most common suggestions from the teens is that the site needs to change more often," said Ravert. "If it changes, they'll come back. The new version Greg did is much easier for us to manage and update, and gives the teens more options as well." The Grant-A-Wish Foundation also saw Dreamsurfer as a good cause, providing financial support to pilot four new Dreamsurfer groups in 1999, two for cystic fibrosis patients and two for cancer patients. "Dreamsurfer will link support groups together from throughout the United States and the world in an encouraging, confidential, and counselor-supervised setting," said Brian Morrison, Executive Director of Grant-A-Wish. Future plans for Dreamsurfer include creating a "virtual camp" site allowing patients from sites across the country to interact. The camp's goal is to provide a central location for teens nationwide to participate in activities, just like a traditional camp. The Dreamsurfer partnership is currently seeking corporate or individual sponsors, especially Internet service providers with surplus server space, to donate to the project. If you'd like to help out, contact Cybergroup at 410-455-5680.

Posted by dwinds1 at March 12, 1999 12:00 AM