The silver connector

(First published in the February 28, 2019 issue of City Pages)

Meet the D.C. Everest student in the business of teaching seniors about technology

John Belton Silverlink

John Belton Silverlink

John Belton (center), here with fellow students at D.C. Everest High School, runs his Silverlink Technologies business to teach older adults how to master electronic devices.

When sophomore John Belton walks into a room of senior citizens who are about to become his students, as he has since age 13, he doesn’t make a big deal of his youth. To the D.C. Everest High School entrepreneur, age is irrelevant; he knows something they don’t and he can teach them. “I just try to treat everyone like my grandma,” the 15-year-old says. “I’ve always had a knack with technology and I’ve liked helping people… I didn’t start this to make money. I’m doing this to help senior citizens connect with their families.”

Through texting and social media like Facebook, multiple generations — grandparents, parents and grandchildren — are brought closer together. “I remember this time I helped a senior citizen connect with her old class in high school and she loved that,” he says. “There’s a lot of power in those connections and that’s why I chose to put ‘link’ in my (company) name.”

Belton plans to study economics in college, to apply in business or medicine. He already has a start. At school, he’s a member of the business club DECA. Last year he placed third in the state and landed in the top 10% at an international competition in Atlanta. This year he’s entering in two categories, one of them being a growth plan for his business, Silverlink Technologies. He foresees teaching in a wider area to include Stevens Point and Marshfield—when he gets his driver’s license.

He took a Wausau Area Chamber of Commerce class for young entrepreneurs when he was in eighth grade and estimates he has taught at least 115 seniors since. His first job was to help the Marathon County Retired Educators Association. The 200-member group was in the process of switching from a mailed newsletter to one sent electronically.

“John was part of that facilitation,” recalls one of the members, Denise Rhodes. “John was just there at the right time.” The association wanted its members to make the most of their electronic devices, so they set up classes with the teen instructor. “He just has a really good rapport with older adults,” Rhodes says.

Belton credits his parents, Austin and Sharon Belton, with teaching him how to relate well to adults and to take on computer challenges. His favorite approach is going into a client’s home to help one-on-one. “Every senior citizen has his or her own difficulty and it’s hard to have a one-size-fits-all class.”

Mike Theiss, a retiree who has taught his peers computer skills, has seen how new connections can enrich lives. He recalls an elderly woman in Stratford who learned to email her Marine Corps grandson overseas. “The class the following week was ecstatic,” Theiss says. “The whole group knew our world was changing. They could communicate with others without leaving the farm.”

John Belton is available for individual training sessions, but his next structured class is March 14, at Greenheck Field House. He’ll teach the basics of iPads and says the content will be suitable for beginners or intermediate users. Cost is $15 and loaner iPads are available. The fee also gives Belton’s students access to his help following the class. If one of his learners can’t recall in April how to email a photo, they can get a reminder by contacting him. He says he doesn’t mind the extra time. “The whole business is about helping people.”

For information, call 715-302-5423 or email [email protected].