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Finding 'infinite' family online

October 20, 2011 -- Updated 2319 GMT (0719 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Amy Stokes was named one of the top 10 CNN Heroes of 2011
  • Her nonprofit connects South African children with online mentors
  • Stokes: Millions of African children don't have adults to mentor them

(CNN) -- Amy Stokes is redefining "family" for South African children affected by HIV, AIDS and poverty.

Since 2006, her organization, Infinite Family, has used the Internet to connect almost 500 teens with nearly 300 volunteer mentors from all over the world. Stokes started the program after witnessing how HIV and AIDS left many children without parents.

CNN asked Stokes for her thoughts on being chosen as one of the top 10 CNN Heroes of 2011.

CNN: Where were you when you got the call that you'd been selected as a top 10 CNN Hero?

Amy Stokes: I was attending the Social Good Summit in New York, and I received the amazing news while I was standing in a stairwell at the 92nd Street Y.

I am personally gratified and honored to be selected as a top 10 CNN Hero, and thrilled for our entire team. Mostly though, I am very thankful because being selected will benefit the larger cause: affecting the lives of adolescents across sub-Saharan Africa.

We are very proud of the impact we've had. Being in the top 10 both recognizes this and encourages the entire effort.

CNN: What do you hope this recognition will mean to Infinite Family?

Stokes: Since conceiving of Infinite Family, we have been developing, refining and proving that our model works. Volunteer video mentors around the world connect with hundreds of South African teens every week. Expanding those numbers to reach tens of thousands of teens across sub-Saharan Africa is our next goal. We are certain that (this) will help propel us to the growth we envision. ...

Most people look at these big problems and think, "It's so big, I can't do it, I can't get involved." Having had the ability to have people say, "Oh, gosh, you don't have to be a millionaire to try something new," is really powerful.

CNN: How will you use the $50,000 award that you receive for being selected as a top 10 CNN Hero?

Stokes: We plan to use it to start two new computer labs and, at our existing four labs, connect children who are still waiting to have video mentors of their own.

CNN: What do you want people to know most about your work?

Stokes: We all learn best from each other, which is why growing up in families and communities of caring adults is so important. More than 50 million children in sub-Saharan Africa do not have this opportunity. ...

We're figuring out how many millions we can serve. I can't adopt all of those children, so I have to bring someone else into their lives in some way. ...

Infinite Family mentees are highly resilient and hopeful young people. They see and speak every week with their adult mentors face-to-face via the Internet -- an adult who is there for them and imparts life lessons and discusses, challenges, teaches, encourages, befriends and loves them.

We play a critical role in helping our youth learn and develop and one day to become contributing members of their schools, communities and countries.

Read the full story on CNN Hero Amy Stokes:
South African teens get virtual mentoring from all over the world

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