I like the bear! That does give it some personality. The sidebars are good, too. I agree that they’re more likely to be used when they’re so accessible, as opposed to on another page or when they scroll down one column too far. Not sure about the color. But you can always tweak that at some point (presuming it’s relatively easy to change color coding).
Maybe you could consider some border on the left side, so the text isn’t trailing off into whiteness?