Teenagers at St. Mark Church in Monticello have organized classes for adults in their parish and at St. Mary Church in McGehee (Desha County) to help them better use and understand technological advances.
The classes, organized by the 4-H Club and held every three weeks after 9 a.m. Mass, are meant to improve employment opportunities for adults in southwest Arkansas. For retirees, everyday skills like turning a smartphone on silent also are taught.
The 4-H Tech Changemakers offer “The Dos and Donuts of Technology” with the goal of teaching adults about technology and the communication skills and knowledge they will need to be competitive in the job market, including best practices for internet use, writing emails and proper online etiquette, said Hope Bragg, a 4-H youth development instructor with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture and director of religious education at St. Mark.
“They bring in donuts and coffee, set up tables, provide lessons on topics parishioners request and answer questions on everything from establishing safe passwords, basic computer and cell phone etiquette and properly backing up information so that it is safe,” Bragg said. “They’ve taught some of our older people how to turn their phones off or silence them in church, that they can upgrade their phones without losing all their contacts, text messages, photos and other items. We’ve even had college professors come and ask for help with Google Documents. That was really rewarding for the kids to know that even college professors are coming to them with questions.”
The group started off with four kids who were confirmed last year. They took 40 hours of training to teach across the state, but primarily in southeast Arkansas, about the topics people need to know to be successful in finding and keeping a job.
“We’re lacking the necessary technology skills (in southeast Arkansas),” Bragg said. “A lot of folks are uncomfortable using the internet or don’t understand how to use it properly. Learning to be polite on the internet, how to responsibly use social media and verify what you say or share, reminding people that what they put on social media is there to stay and that employers look at that are the big things that our youth are pushing.”
The reaction from the community has been positive. Six people showed up for the first Do’s and Donuts session last year, but on Palm Sunday this year, 44 people came to the teens to help them with their tech issues. Many in the local Hispanic community have sought help, so the teens are taking some training to offer lessons in English and Spanish, she said.
4-H is administered by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture of the United States Department of Agriculture. Statewide, the 4-H program is run by the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service and clubs have traditionally been associated with helping farmers, but Bragg says today’s clubs “aren’t your mama and daddy’s 4-H.”
According to the national organization, it was founded in 1902 to instruct rural youth in improved farming and farm-homemaking practices. Now the goal is to develop citizenship, leadership, responsibility and life skills for youth.
“4-H, today, focuses on providing opportunities to kids to acquire knowledge, develop leadership skills and practice behavior that will enable them to become self-directing, productive and contributing members of society,” Bragg said. “That includes science, engineering and technology programs, like computer coding and other skills that are useful throughout life.”
She said there are 4-H Tech Changemakers groups across Arkansas, including in Arkansas, Bradley, Clay, Drew, Grant, Jefferson, Pulaski, Saline, Washington and White counties.
Bragg’s teenage daughter, Beth, is a member of the 4-H Tech Changemakers team at St. Mark.
“The skills that we are teaching are very important when it comes to the job market,” she said. “Nowadays, there is an underlying understanding that you know how to work with technology, you know how to handle email, how to set up a document and be prepared professionally. What we’re doing is really important because we do have that technology gap where people don't know. They just don't know how to start asking questions. So, we're able to help them bridge that gap to understand those skills.”
While the group is currently focusing their training on adults, Beth Bragg said they are hoping to expand the program to help teens and young adults who may who are looking for a part-time or full-time job.
“We have been working with the local school district, and we’re planning next year to have a coding night,” she said. “The local library has also reached out to us, and we plan on hosting an event there.”
Beth Bragg said being able to help people find solutions makes her heart feel good.
“I just feel so happy and relieved because now people who have these questions — and you don’t know how long they’ve had these questions. They were able to get the answers that they need. And just knowing that you’ve helped them understand and you're just helping bridge that technology divide that they’ve been facing, it feels amazing.”
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