By Chelsea Clinton
Rock Center special correspondent
As I started to think about my first ‘Making a Difference’ segment, I knew I wanted to focus on an organization that was scalable – either in the sense that it could be serving more people if it were to have more resources, or it could be a potential model for other communities. I certainly found it in the incredible work of the non-profit Targeting Our People's Priorities With Service (TOPPS), in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and its founder Miss Annette Dove. TOPPS meets every need of her kids all under one roof. The program provides them with a safe place to do their homework and socialize after school; tutoring help; mentoring programs; the opportunity to visit colleges and the world beyond Pine Bluff; and healthy meals and snacks. Miss Dove also helps teach kids how to cook and make nutritious meals out of what their families receive from the food bank or the Salvation Army. On an average day, TOPPS feeds 280 kids, a number that rises to 440 in the summer. Often, TOPPS feeds kids’ parents too – there are some days when TOPPS feeds 500 people, and even more in the summer.
Dozens of kids participate in the daily tutoring programs and close to 100 make the commitment to participate in the mentoring programs that target young girls, older girls and high school-age boys. The waiting list to get into the programs is far greater than the number of kids currently enrolled. Miss Dove is incredibly – and justifiably – proud that the students in the tutoring programs, and particularly those in the mentoring program, stay out of trouble and see their grades improve. Five students from the older boy’s mentoring program, led by Miss Dove’s son Michael, went to college last year – five boys who may not have graduated high school without Miss Dove and Michael’s leadership and support. Many students told us that without Miss Dove in their lives, they would be failing school, have dropped out, be locked away in juvenile detention or jail, or possibly even be dead.
As Miss Dove told us, she fills the gaps she sees in her kids’ lives and in her community. She started TOPPS with the community reading program RIF (Reading Is Fundamental) in 2002 serving a handful of kids. In the decade since she founded TOPPS, Miss Dove and her team, including all four of her grown children, have affected thousands of kids’ lives. Beyond the direct services TOPPS provides, Miss Dove goes with kids to their juvenile hearings, their teacher conferences, sometimes even to talk to parents with substance abuse problems about getting sober and back on track.
In Pine Bluff, Arkansas, a community with one of the highest per capita crime rates in the country and where more than 75% of kids are on reduced or free lunch plans, Miss Dove helps kids be kids – and gives them the support, nourishment and love to give them a chance to grow up into responsible adults. Mayor Carl Redus said he couldn’t imagine Pine Bluff without Miss Dove and TOPPS. Lieutenant Shirley Warrior from the Pine Bluff Police Department told us that she, the Police Department broadly and the juvenile justice system all refer kids to Miss Dove. Miss Dove’s impact extends far beyond the thousands of kids she’s helped and the hundreds she serves daily – she’s affected the city of Pine Bluff and how it sees its future. Her city, her family, her staff and, most importantly, her kids at TOPPS all say Miss Dove is, indeed, making a difference.
Editor's note: To learn more about Miss Dove and TOPPS: http://rockcenter.co/w2rnF5