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Arkansas program offering major resources to both mentors and mentees

TOPPS is a program based in Pine Bluff working to develop young minds in the community, all with the help of teenagers who are also being mentored.

PINE BLUFF, Ark. — The TOPPS formula sits at the top of its class, you can ask anyone in the building.

You see it immediately during a hot summer day in Pine Bluff, Arkansas inside of a small, white brick building where there’s no perspiration, just inspiration.

That inspiration comes directly from the fact that the TOPPS summer program is in progress.

TOPPS is an acronym that stands for “targeting our people’s priorities with service.” The program aims to develop young minds in the community with the help of teenagers-- older kids that are acting as direct mentors for younger students. 

This program has made an immediate impact since the very beginning, with Anette Dove discovering the value of TOPPS on the very first day, 20 years ago.

“Giving them an opportunity to work with the younger ones is an excellent opportunity, and then the little kids love them because they look up to them as big sisters and brothers," Dove said.

The teen mentors are important because they can relate to the children and sometimes explain things better on a kid's level. 

Dove built the TOPPS program with that principle in mind after teaching for 11 years and working for the HIPPY program, which is a service devoted to preschoolers.

"To me it's spending that time sacrificing time to give to a young person," she said.

But it's not just summer either. During the school year, TOPPS works to bring special tutoring during the week and mentoring on weekends, utilizing special services throughout 12 different programs.

Dove said these special programs are all in an effort to help the children, both during the summer and during the schoolyear.

"Kids need one-on-one, they need someone to zoom in on their specific skills or the deficits they're having problems with," Dove said.

The services also apply to older kids, as they're also mentored in a service that acts as a two way street for the students. This allows the student mentors to lead by example.

"The little kids are expecting that their mentors are achieving and so we want them to see that their mentors are achieving in school as well," she said.

Back in 2005, Dove wanted to do more for her teens in the program and hoped to broaden their horizons through different trips.

While it sure took money to go on these trips, Dove did what she had to do and didn't let it hold her back.

"Selling dinners and raffle tickets and writing donors," she said.

Over the years they have been to some exotic places and for some in the program, it's their first time out of Arkansas.

These trips reinforced a concept for both Dove and the students-- you have to spring onto opportunities whenever they arise.

"It's all about opportunity," Dove said.

This concept of opportunity is something that older students have come to understand. 

This program has presented its fair share of opportunity for both the younger and older students. The best part is that the attention doesn't stop for TOPPS's children once after they leave high school either.

"Well when they get ready to go to college, we have someone that will stay with them and mentor them through college," Dove said.

Amazingly, 96% of TOPPS students are college graduates. It's a stat that has a giving spirit that's contagious right at the core of it all. 

"When you show love and you're sincere about it, kids know that," Dove said.

TOPPS is now announcing in that they'll be moving to a much larger facility in August. While economic headwinds could be an issue, Dove will do what she's always done and push through.

"I believe if you ask for it, people will help you," she said.   

It doesn’t cost anything for a child to enter the TOPPS program during the school year.

In the past, there has been a charge for kids in the summer program, but thanks to a generous grant, it’s free this summer.

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