On this episode of Connected Nation, we focus our attention on Teens Teach Tech - a program that's bridging generations by using the skills of teenagers to help adults take part in an increasingly digital world.
Learn how one pastor, who is also in the Gospel Hall of Fame, leveraged the program to help thousands of adults and teens.
Teens Teach Tech - https://connectednation.org/programs/teens-teach-tech
Jessica Denson, Host (00:11):
This is Connected Nation, an award-winning podcast focused on all things broadband from closing the digital divide to improving your internet speeds. We talk technology topics that impact all of us, our families, and our neighborhoods.
On today's podcast, we focus our attention on a program that's bringing generations together by using the skills of teenagers to help adults take part in increasingly digital world, hear from one pastor who's leveraged the Teens Teach Tech program to help thousands of adults and find out how it's helped the teens who are taking part to also learn, grow, and even earn. I'm Jessica Desen, and this is Connected Nation.
I'm Jessica Desen, and today my guest is Allen Bolton, a pastor in Muskegon, Michigan, who has reached some incredible milestones recently by leveraging the Teens Teach Tech program. Welcome, Allen
Allen Bolton, Pastor, Teens Teach Tech Mentor (01:03):
Well, thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here.
Jessica Denson, Host (01:06):
I'm excited to talk to you about what you've done. It's been pretty incredible. But first, before we get into teens Teach Tech, I'd love to share with our audience some of your background. Did you grow up in the Muskegon, Michigan area, which you had to help me with that pronunciation earlier?
Allen Bolton, Pastor, Teens Teach Tech Mentor (01:24):
No, actually, I've been in Muskegon 12 years approximately, but I grew up in Mississippi. I grew up in a place called McLean, Mississippi. Both of them, Muskegon and McLean starts with an M, but the difference is McLean, just in the last 15 or 20 years, probably made it on the map. It was so small. On a good day, our little town McLean will probably have a total of eight or 900 people. That's counting everybody.
Jessica Denson, Host (02:03):
Oh wow. So very small town life, small town upbringing.
Allen Bolton, Pastor, Teens Teach Tech Mentor (02:08):
Yes, absolutely. I mean, a community of community of just people who always, everybody knew everybody even from birth, literally.
Jessica Denson, Host (02:24):
But even though it was a small town, you had a large family, right? You were one of 20 children.
Allen Bolton, Pastor, Teens Teach Tech Mentor (02:29):
Absolutely. Now, that's the one thing that set our family apart in that town. Everybody would always say you talking about the, they say, yeah, they said the big family. That's the one thing. We were labeled as the big family, 12 girls and eight boys. We all 20 kids raised up with the same mom and dad. I mean, so that was kind of wild.
Jessica Denson, Host (02:53):
And your father, he was a pastor as well?
Allen Bolton, Pastor, Teens Teach Tech Mentor (02:56):
Yes, my father, he was a pastor for over 50 years, and that's what he did. He certainly pastor for over 50 years down through there. And a good thing about it's that he's passed away and now they have the main street in our town named after Linwood Boat and Avenue. It's amazing.
Jessica Denson, Host (03:22):
That is amazing. And tell me a little bit, or share a little bit more with the audience about what it was like for you to grow up one of 20 children, the father who's a pastor being well-known in the community. What kind of lessons did you learn from that? Did you learn how to share? Did you learn frustration? I mean, what was that for you?
Allen Bolton, Pastor, Teens Teach Tech Mentor (03:44):
It ranged from social lessons to religious lessons to community lessons. Now raised up in a family like that, you'd never get bored, always. There was a group that was outside shooting bald in, there was another group working in the garden, so then there was another group mowing the grass. There was another group up the street helping grandma. So I was among the youngsters. So I had the luxury to fluctuate from different groups, and I learned so many lessons about getting along because in a family of that nature, you can't stay mad over a few minutes at somebody because it may be the sister that's cooking dinner that day. You want to make sure you keep it. So it taught me and taught us value, the importance of community, the importance of partnership, the importance of caring.
It taught me the importance of having the vision because my dad, the one thing that astonished me most about him after the fact, after you look back at that, he put 16 of us through college, and I don't know to this day how he did it. I mean, he had so many cows and hauls and chickens. He was setting that stuff. People coming out there, big trucks, we had hundreds of acres of corn. And I just thought it was just something to be doing. But it turned out that it was a very structured business. He was running on that farm. I guess with that many kids, you got to have something. Right.
Jessica Denson, Host (05:46):
And growing up in a small town like that and seeing your father have to navigate a business and a church, could you see how having the internet access could help rural now?
Allen Bolton, Pastor, Teens Teach Tech Mentor (05:58):
Absolutely. Because our family was fortunate. Our family was fortunate enough to have this enormous talent base colleges from all over without seeking out my sisters for basketball colleges, NFL teams, looking at my brothers to play. And matter of fact, my twin sister played in the WNBA two time Olympic gold medal. That study, it helped me to understand the value of just really working together and the importance of community. I see how technology, the absence of technology, is detrimental to smaller communities that don't get on the map. There's no universities in those towns, and I see how technology is more than just a way to light up a phone. It could be a mere lifeline for some of these communities, for real. And I witnessed it. Yeah.
Jessica Denson, Host (07:20):
Yeah. And you touched on it briefly there about your sister, but you do have, there's a lot of success in your family, from what I could tell. You're part of a band with your brothers. Correct. And your sister wasn't only in the WNBA, but she also is a two-time Olympic gold medalist. Right.
Allen Bolton, Pastor, Teens Teach Tech Mentor (07:39):
Exactly right. My twin sister, matter of fact, she is, she played in WNBA, she was retired. She was inducted into the Hall of Fame in WNBA. That is enormous. She won two Olympic gold medals with the women, national Women basketball team. She played with Lisa Leslie and those girls. She won the original, when the WNBA started, Ruth Bolton Holyfield played with the Sacramento Monarchs. Anybody can Google. She's everywhere, all that internet. And so she was in high demand. Their statute right now beside Charles Barkley or Auburn University, Bo Jackson, they was the class at Auburn University that played. So talent really opened many doors for us. There was another sister I have that played at Auburn that because of a bad car accident, she didn't make it to the WNBA, but she was much better than my twin sisters. But she had a car accident and it prohibited that part of her career. But she's still an ambassador. She's like an age four, many of those ball players. But yeah, talent opened doors for us. My baby brother, Nathan, he still holds football records at Mississippi State University that hasn't been broken. I mean, he graduated a few years behind me in 1987, and he still hold records in Mississippi College that has not been broken. They just recently did a thing for him. So sports, it has opened many, many, many doors for my family. And that is just a few of the things.
Jessica Denson, Host (09:40):
And you guys, I mean, it's obvious you're very proud of what the accomplishments of your family, but you also are pretty very close to them. You do have a band, the Bolton Brothers, is that, I'd love for you to talk about that.
Allen Bolton, Pastor, Teens Teach Tech Mentor (09:59):
Me and my brothers, we started out, and I guess on them sometime, because I'm actually the youngest in this singing group, but I started when I was like 14 singing with them. And when we started singing, there would be sometime we would go to big programs and people, other recording artists would come to me afterwards and get on. My brother said, why did y'all give y'all a little brother a microphone? And I'm singing and sweating thinking I'm doing something. Come to find out that my mic wasn't even plugged up. They like, oh, we were just, we're trying to help you learn how to hold the right note. And so it turns out that our band has been nominated for several stellar awards. We've sang all over this country and many other countries. We did three records that just really went to the top of the charts recently in the last five years, we were inducted into the Hall of Fame of gospel music. So
Jessica Denson, Host (11:15):
That's huge. That's awesome.
Allen Bolton, Pastor, Teens Teach Tech Mentor (11:17):
Yeah, that's huge accomplishment. And we still sing to this day. It's through these platforms, my sister, our music. That helps me to encounter so many of these communities that I know, that I know team teaching tech needs to be introduced to. Some of the things, some of the places you go, you realize people need just a handout, a help, somebody to help. And I'm telling you, team teaching tech is a masterpiece for this generation, for this era. It's not just a good program, it's a needed program.
Jessica Denson, Host (12:07):
Yeah. I'm glad you brought that up. So let's get into that. You came to us through WeCare, right? That's a program you've established. Talk a little bit about the WeCare program and then we'll get into how that works with teens Teach Tech.
Allen Bolton, Pastor, Teens Teach Tech Mentor (12:22):
Sure, absolutely. During the pandemic, many of the churches across this country were closed down because trying to prevent the further spreading of covid, many of the churches, many. And so through that, we launched what is called Beyond Ministry Walls, BMW Ministries. It was a platform to connect people across this country, pastors, community leaders, just for inspiration during such a tough time. And We Care is a program inside of BMW that really puts feet on the ground in these communities, put feet on the ground. Every community needs somebody who care about that community and put feet on the ground in that community. Who knows the networks in that particular community. And that's what we care if we care about the youth trying to bring down crime rate. These kids need something to do. They need something to do. And that's what we care about. You and your kids, the elderly who can't afford the luxury of exclusive nice nursing home, they barely can afford to stay in their home.
We care is a way of connecting the divide between, I say almost practically the forgotten population. They are really the forgotten. And so We Care is the program that put feet on the ground in these communities. And we do it by connecting with people who are in that community, who already know that community, who already understand the limitation of their own community. There's nothing like the person being active in a community that they are familiar with. They know the pains that visitors don't see. They know that family live down that street who don't even much less have wifi. They don't even have a phone in that house. So somebody on the ground in that community knows those intimate needs that they won't just say publicly because they don't want nobody to know they're ashamed in some way. And then another thing could be that they're like, well, why should anybody know? It's not going to help change the situation. So that's what we care is We Care is an open invitation for them to partner with us to know that, Hey, we care about you. You care about your community, we care about you. We care about your community with you, and we do what we can to help you. We care and listen. Some of the issues we can't resolve, but we maximize a platform of resources.
We may connect with a social worker in their county and say, what programs are available in this county? These people here don't know about it. So we care. We put feet on the ground to make a difference. We try to, my dad used to always tell me, said, listen, don't just talk about it, son. Be about it.
Jessica Denson, Host (16:10):
Oh, I love that. Yeah,
Allen Bolton, Pastor, Teens Teach Tech Mentor (16:12):
Yeah. He's like, don't just talk about it, be about it. He said, listen, we used to always, because my mom and dad would always after church on Sundays, they would get, we always fix dinner. They would get five or 10 plates and put 'em in bags, and then we would ride to other little communities and they would get, I say, go take this plate. And I would go and take the plate. I was just a kid, 12, 13 years old, knock on the door and had the plate to an elderly couple that maybe not were able to get out the house in time. You have to wait at the door, five minutes for 'em, even can get to the door and you hand them the plate. And they said, listen, you made a difference. I said, really? They said, you took a meal to a family that didn't have nothing to eat today. And I think
Jessica Denson, Host (17:04):
That's a powerful lesson. Very powerful lesson.
Allen Bolton, Pastor, Teens Teach Tech Mentor (17:08):
Jessica Denson, Host (17:10):
I think, go ahead, Allen. I'm sorry.
Allen Bolton, Pastor, Teens Teach Tech Mentor (17:13):
Yeah. One other thing on that, and what the philosophy behind week here is one day my dad was asking me, and I come to find out that he wasn't the first one to say this. Later on for a long time. I thought, wow, the only one ever said anything like that. But I come to find out, once I went to college and learned a broader perspective of the world, I saw the other people. But my dad would say, one day a man was driving by the beach shore and it was all kinds of fish had been washed up on the shore, and it was two men riding together. One pulled over and said, listen, I'm going to make a difference out here. The guy said, you see all them fish? He said, there's too many fish out here to help make a difference. And the man walked over and said, come here for a second. There one fish that was flopping. He picked that one up and threw it back in the water. And the guy, he said, you see, he said, I'm making a difference. Man. Said, listen, you see all these other fish out. He said, I made a difference for that one.
Jessica Denson, Host (18:15):
Yeah, that's lovely. I mean, that's a parable that I think really speaks to what you're doing with We Cares. We Care program. And I think it's fantastic because being in the community is what really matters, and understanding what people need and meeting them where they are.
Allen Bolton, Pastor, Teens Teach Tech Mentor (18:32):
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. There's nothing, see, we care not only through this platform, allow those communities to receive the benefit of the program, but the psychological benefit to say, Hey, we're connected. We're connected. Something that's making a difference is coming into our community. That's motivational, that's that gives a sense of hope. It does more than you have the technological side, but then Hope is a powerful thing when kids, and it spread quickly among youth when youth can say, Hey, I'm doing this. I'm connected to We Care Connected Nation, and Connected Nation is connected to At&t. When kids are able to say that at a young age, it makes a huge difference. It changes the vibe in the community. And so that's the reason why I know that team Teaching Tech is, in my mind, in my idea, from my perspective, it's a lifesaver. It's a game changer. Yeah.
Jessica Denson, Host (19:59):
Let me give our audience a little bit of background on it. So teens Teach Check is powered by at t, as you mentioned, it's a Connected Nation initiative, and it's currently supported through funding from at t, which makes it possible. It's offered at no cost to adults who want to take part, and the students can even earn money. The teen, it empowers teenagers to share their digital skills as adults. I mean, anybody of a certain age can tell you that younger people definitely understand technology. It's much more ingrained in their lives than it was for some of us that have a little bit older age. So how did you hear about the program and decide to bring it into the fold of part of WeCare?
Allen Bolton, Pastor, Teens Teach Tech Mentor (20:45):
I actually heard about it through an organization called Peer Broadband out of Michigan. I was invited to listen to a presentation about it, and I listened and I listened with a open mind, even though I had four or five other meetings that were coming up that day, I decided, I said, we tuned them out and listen. And as I listened, a light came on in my hand and I thought about, man, this could really help those seniors who are in their home, their kids moved away. Many of them don't know how to FaceTime, stuff like that. My mind started working and I said, I'm going to look further into this. And that's how I got involved. And once I understood the concept, once I understood how it worked, at least enough to move forward, I don't have do stuff. Either I'm in or I'm out. I don't do stuff just, I do it with purpose. I'm a purpose driven purpose person. Purpose is what motivate me. You give me purpose.
Jessica Denson, Host (22:13):
Yeah, purpose definitely worked because you've had a lot of success. If you allow me a moment, I'm going to give you, get some stats. You had nearly 40 teens take part across eight states. And those states are Michigan, Indiana, Alabama, Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, Oklahoma and Louisiana. But that itself is pretty incredible, but really incredible. These teens trained more than 3,200, that's 3,200 adults in digital skills, and they earned more than $65,000 doing. So when you say you do it with purpose, you definitely have had success. So what are some things that you did right or lessons you learned through this process that if others wanted to take part in teens teach Tech, you'd really think that they should know?
Allen Bolton, Pastor, Teens Teach Tech Mentor (23:01):
I think that if a person is going to take part in this program, they should know that first of all, they should understand young people, the teenagers who are going to do the presentations, because each one of those teams are different. We went through, I began to set up trainings for them to learn the slide, the PowerPoints that was created, mobile device, basic, computer, basic. I began to reach out to these communities. I would do just like we're on Zoom, I would do trainings and give them opportunity from various states to tune in. And then this is the work behind the scenes.
Because I would train, I would've hours of training and they would have to do those presentations to make sure that they understood it, and they could be from many different states. They were able to meet some, were able to meet one another for the first time, and there's so many others that came in on the training, but they never materialized into getting ready to put the work on the ground. Some that I didn't feel comfortable enough with their training or whatever, but we spent hours training these kids, building their confidence. Some were afraid to talk, and I want to help them in so many ways. And so that's what we train these kids, gave them a sense of purpose. I want them to know, you are making a difference. You are helping somebody.
And man, once we train these kids and how do you feel? Let me hear you do the presentation. They would learn because I want them to experience not only, but I want them to feel comfortable. I want them to experience what doing something in the spirit of excellence felt like. I want them to know, I want them to taste success.
Jessica Denson, Host (25:40):
Allen Bolton, Pastor, Teens Teach Tech Mentor (25:40):
Jessica Denson, Host (25:41):
I think that's fantastic that it's important also that the adults may be learning from the kids or the teens, but the teens, this is also an opportunity for teens to grow.
Allen Bolton, Pastor, Teens Teach Tech Mentor (25:51):
Sure. Exactly. And this was one of my main factor. I understand some of this psychological struggle when you're coming from a family of limited resources and means people don't understand the psychological oppression that has when you already know, my family only have $10. When you even go in a dollar store, you got to get the cheapest of the cheap. So it's a built in mindset when the teens understand the limitations of their family and for them to experience and taste some success in that, it revitalized vision for them, for their family. They can begin to see how they can make a difference. And it caught on, we would say, my dad would say like wildfire.
Jessica Denson, Host (26:59):
Yeah, it definitely did. With so many people trained, did you notice or have you heard from the different teams about how that really showed up or impacted the cross-generational discussion as in adults respecting the skills of teenagers and respecting them in that way, and vice versa, youth learning more about the adults in their community?
Allen Bolton, Pastor, Teens Teach Tech Mentor (27:26):
Oh, absolutely. We've heard stories from teens now feeling like, I've heard some say now I feel like I'm the teacher. They're like, yeah, everybody been bouncing me around. They said, like, now I'm the teacher, so I get to, but yes, I've heard from them. Many of them talks about how their success stories, how impacted their lives. We've heard stories like one lady in her eighties who her family had bought her a new iPad for Christmas, and she thought it was just a picture frame. She stuck it up in that closet. She didn't know what that was. She had never seen an iPad, and I'm talking about one of them expensive ones, and through Teen Teaching Tech, she realized, oh, this thing comes on. Is this a computer or something? And so she realized that it would not only, you could put pictures on it, but now she could touch a button and talk to her kids. She's like, wow, this lady 87 years old. So she didn't know anything. And so it's stories like that that makes you realize that, man, this team, teaching tech is something. It is something special. Yes.
Jessica Denson, Host (29:01):
Your motto, when I was preparing for this, one of the things that was sent to me was that my motto, our motto is making connections that change lives. Do you feel like you've seen that through this?
Allen Bolton, Pastor, Teens Teach Tech Mentor (29:15):
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. The reason why us making connections that change lives, these connections, first of all, it changed the lives of these teenagers. They are now walking with their head high, their chest stuck out. They approach school now like, Hey, I'm among the smartest, the smartest on this campus. And in the back of their mind, they probably thinking, I could teach all some stuff. So it does a lot for their confidence, it does a lot for their confidence. It literally changing their lives because the money that they earned through this program, many of them were able to buy, listen to this, their very first pair of brand new shoes, many of them, many of them were able to buy their, they're used to hand-me-Downs. Downs. And I can relate to that. When I was growing up in a large family in the country, I knew, I knew, listen, I better have some good Ajax and some Bleaks because whatever, when I grilled a little larger next year, I knew what shoe was coming to me.
So those teens, many of them were able to buy their very first pair of brand new shoes. And then many of them were able to, some of them didn't have wifi in their home. These are a lot of things that I didn't reveal, but many of them now through their program and with their family, they're able to, A few thousand dollars is a life changer for some households when your mother is on social security or disability, and it just, it's a life change. These connections are changing lives. It changed lives.
It made a difference in the life of these teenagers and those seniors in their community who felt like nobody's thinking about me. It changed their lives. And now it's kind of like one little guy mentioned, he said, listen, that lady that we was helping with the tech program, the teen teaching tech program, he said, when I bump and turn to go, she called me, Hey, little computer boy. She called him a little computer boy. Why? Because she was in a class that she learned something from him. She learned, and they now put the labels on these kids. Oh, little smart guy, you little techy guy. And that changes the vibe of a community. They're being helped. These connections are changing lives, and I'm telling you, and we care only scratch the surface. I wouldn't even say of the populations that we are capable of reach, we only scratch. I would say we reach 1%. I'll be honest with you, there's so
Jessica Denson, Host (32:56):
Many. So for you, Allen, what would you like to see happen for the program to continue more or similar things like it out in the communities? What would you like to see in the future?
Allen Bolton, Pastor, Teens Teach Tech Mentor (33:08):
I'm a crazy thinker because listen, I've seen miracles with, I've seen us start out the year with 25 cows, and I knew my dad, I knew what he was making per cow, and I was like, oh, man, we running short and I've seen 25 calves be born in a year. So I've seeing stuff. And so I believe in miracles. We have 50 states in this United States, and it's a small feat to say to reach a thousand learners in each state. I would love to see that. I mean, what is 50 states? I can list now 50 to a hundred churches across this country. I know, listen, they probably have deacons and mothers in those churches. Some of them probably can't read. I know these things, and I work around these limitations with many of these churches I know they can't read. And that's the reason why sometimes when I go to these place, I have a teenager or somebody to come up and read scripture for them.
I've been doing this almost 40 years, and it's so many, so many, so many. And what I would love to see, I would love to see each of these. I know you can't reach everybody, but I would love to see as many community have what it's called, their team teaching tech experience. I would love to see a team teaching tech experience, and not only every town, maybe for a region where all the other towns can come in, you promote it, let 'em know, listen, you going to do 30 days in their area or 15 weeks, not 15 days in their area. You recruit the teams and you send 'em out in their own community. You send 'em to events, and the people come to one central location, and so they can learn. I would love to see so many other community have the opportunity to have their team teaching tech experience.
This program is perfectly designed for so many people that need it right now. I'm telling you. It's like you go in a shoe store and you say, they said, do this fit. You're like, no. They said, let me get you another size. And then you move around. You walk around. Oh yeah, team Teaching Tech is a right fit because what it is, these kids are, they need that confidence. They need that motivation. They need that for more than just the tech program for themselves. They need for somebody to believe in them, and this program affords that.
Jessica Denson, Host (36:38):
Allen, let's leave it there. I think that's a great place to leave it because that's fantastic thought, and I appreciate all you do with, we Care with Teens, teach Tech, and in your communities that you're helping.
Allen Bolton, Pastor, Teens Teach Tech Mentor (36:51):
Jessica Denson, Host (36:55):
Again, I've been talking with Allen Bolton, a pastor in Muskegon, Michigan, who has reached some incredible milestones recently by leveraging the teens Teach Tech program.
Connected Nation is currently looking to add mentors and teams to the program, which as you heard, Allen would love to see again at no Cost, and the teens can earn money through the program. I'll include a link to Teens, teach Tech, and to We Care programs in the description of this podcast.
I'm Jessica Denson. Thanks for listening to Connect to Nation. If you like our show and want to know more about us, head to connect to nation.org or look for the latest episodes on iTunes, iHeartRadio, Google Podcast, Pandora, or Spotify.