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Moose team up with Safe Surfin'

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By Tom Wilmoth

For several years the Safe Surfin' Foundation has been looking for a national organization to partner with it to promote Internet safety for children.

Last Friday, that partnership was announced.

Moose International, a 1.2 million member organization, has joined with the Safe Surfin' Foundation in its quest to educate youth about the danger of the Internet. Safe Surfin' is the educational arm of the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, known as Blue Ridge Thunder, a unit based out of the Bedford County Sheriff's Office.

"It's going to benefit them and I know it's going to benefit us," Bedford County Sheriff Mike Brown said of the agreement. "I think it's going to be a great partnership."

Wes Crowder, Supreme Council of Moose International, and longtime member of Bedford Lodge #1897, said Safe Surfin' is a good program for the Moose to support, both for the local community and for the country. "We care for children," he said of the Moose, noting the organization's Mooseheart City and School. Mooseheart is a residential childcare facility, located on a 1,000-acre campus 38 miles west of Chicago. The Child City is a home for children and teens in need, from infancy through high school. "This goes hand-in-hand with what we do."

Among the program's supported by Moose is its Youth Awareness Program, in which high-school-age leaders are organized into a "speaker's bureau" to speak to preschool and elementary-age youngsters about life issues. The program, founded in 1986, has expanded to bring awareness to 4-to-9-year olds on subjects such as child abuse, gangs and other elements that have an adverse effect on the youth of today. Now those will also include Internet safety.

During the announcement Friday, the Virginia Moose Association presented Safe Surfin' with a check for $12,000 for the support of the program.

The Supreme Council of the Loyal Order of Moose approved the partnership of Moose International and the Safe Surfin' Foundation in October 2007. The Virginia Moose Association was the first Association that has stepped up to the plate and raised funds to assist the Safe Surfin' Foundation.

Crowder presented the donation that was raised by members of lodges and chapters across the state, as well as Virginia Moose Riders, the group's official motorcycle club.

Also attending the presentation were Shawn Baile and Kurt Wehrmeister from Moose International in Chicago, Ill., and Kenny Head, Youth Awareness Chairman from Woodbridge Lodge #583, who all traveled to Bedford for a Special Olympics softball tournament that was sponsored by the Moose organization last week. Also in attendance were Matt Grove, regional manager of the Association, as well as Ivan Nester, state president.

Brown said the best time to reach children about Internet safety is during the elementary and early middle school years. The Moose program fits right in with that effort, he said. "Educating our kids is the best way," he said of keeping them safe on the Internet. "We need to make them aware there are dangers on the Internet."

According to information from Safe Surfin', some 88 million youth use the Internet, including 32 percent of kindergartners and 80 percent of high school students. The FBI reports that youth have a 100 percent chance of being contacted by an online predator.

The Safe Surfin' Foundation was incorporated in 2000 and funds are raised to support its programs, which are provided at no cost to those who receive them.

For more information see www.safesurfinUSA.org.