For more than a century, the Moose fraternity has had concern for the welfare of children at its core. So it should come as no surprise that the fraternity that cares enough about children to make Mooseheart a reality enters the 21st century with protection of children who use the Internet as a key concern.
As of the beginning of 2008, the Moose have entered into a partnership with the Safe Surfin' USA Foundation, a Virginia-based organization which has been a leader in attempts to keep the Internet a safe place for children to explore.
"Turn on the news any day and you'll probably find something about a child who's been abducted or otherwise exploited using the Internet," said Mike Brown, Sheriff of Bedford County, VA.
The Bedford County's Sheriff's office became one of the first agencies to initiate an Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force when it did so in 1998.
"The Internet, as wonderful as it is and as beneficial as it is to mankind, is also the greatest tool we've ever given sexual predators," Bedford County Lt. Tony Martin said.
Bedford County's ICAC was named "Operation Blue Ridge Thunder"; that organization helped spearhead a 2006 legislative drive that culminated in passage of House Bill 58--which organized a mandatory program of education in Virginia's public schools against the dangers of those who use to Internet to prey on children.
The Safe Surfin' initiative is three-pronged--involving education, criminal enforcement and advocacy.
In its partnership with the Moose, the goal is to take the message that has been successful in Virginia and take it from coast to coast.
"It is probably one of the hottest topics going, Internet safety," Brown said. "We're delighted that the Moose are doing it, and they're doing it for the right reasons."
Safe Surfin' uses no public funds for its educational program. Public monies are, of course, spent on law-enforcement initiatives. But Martin noted that this only provides a half-solution.
"We'd rather protect these children and prevent the tragic victimization in the first place, than we would round up the bad guys after the fact," Martin said.
"That's why this association between Operation Blue Ridge Thunder, the ICAC Taskforces and Moose is so significant to us."
Donated funding is necessary to provide the program for public schools, Brown said. One full-motion DVD disc per school is needed, along with complemetary printed materials delivered to children and parents.
This is where the Moose can step in. While costs are minimal--$1 per DVD for example, on a national basis--those costs add up.
"They want to take it on a larger scale, and that's what we're here to help them do," said Shawn Baile, Director of Fraternal Programs.
In addition to the presentations in schools, Safe Surfin's advocacy initiative attempts to gain passage of legislation similar to Virginia's House Bill 58 in all 50 states.
"The partnership with Moose can give us a platform to go to any other state and say 'we have a program already established; a proven, effective program in Virginia,' " Martin said.
For more information on the Safe Surfin' Foundation, go to http://www.safesurfin.org/.