Jania Burnett, left, age 15, Larry Lee, 16, Tyqueisha Riley, 15, and Chuck Booth, 18, work with the TOPPS program screen print shirts at TOPPS Graphics in the UAPB Plaza on Wednesday. Special to the Commercial/William Harvey
Annette Dove, the executive director of Targeting Our People’s Priorities With Service or TOPPS, as the non-profit agency is popularly known, says she is committed to bettering the lives of the children of Pine Bluff and Jefferson County.
To fulfill a part of that commitment, Dove spent the past two months working with her staff to teach a group of 15 boys and girls job skills they may need to achieve success in the workplace.
The 14- to 17-year-old participants served as junior job trainees from June 11 until Friday, when the program concluded.
“Two things happened that led me to create this program,” Dove said. “A while back I tried to hire some adults to do some work for me but I was having a hard time finding people who had the basic workplace knowledge and skills to do the job. This got me thinking about what a great idea it would be to train youth in how to provide professional services and teach them what expectations people will have of them in the workplace.”
Dove said that the students were given job duties in office administration, food services as well graphic design.
“In office administration, the students learned how to handle receipts, make bank deposits, work with the public and to act professionally,” Dove said. “The students who worked in food services served the children in our summer programs, ordered food from vendors, negotiated the best prices and made sure the meals met the requirements of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Their work was checked by a supervisor but they did the actual work.”
Dove said that the First Lady of Arkansas, Ginger Beebe, visited the program and was shown around the facility by several of the trainees, who had to explain the program in an informed and confident manner.
“A few days later we had a visit from Gov. Mike Beebe’s staff and and the trainees showed them around as well,” Dove said.
“We also had seven students at our graphic design shop in the University Plaza shopping center,” Dove said. “They designed and produced T-shirts and banners. We will also have students working in the shop during the fall. During the summer they were working 10 to 12 hours a week but in the fall it will only be a couple of hours a week because they will be in school.”
Dove said that around 150 kids took part in the TOPPS summer programs, with another 116 who participated in the daily meal program.
“As part of the summer program, we gave the kids backpacks full of supplies and reading books,” Dove said.
Dove has faith in her students’ abilities.
“Young people have such fresh ideas,” Dove said. “It can take me a few hours to enter data into the computer but these kids were able to do it in no time at all. We gave away hundreds of books at the National Night Out this week and the kids had the idea to create a tent and a banner and to dress up like clowns to give the books out. They came up with the idea and they put it all together on their own. It is so good to see what these kids can do when they are given some responsibility.”
Courteney Grant, 15, learned the duties of an executive assistant by working with Dove.
“I prepared invoices and receipts and learned about taxes,” Grant said. “I filed things and helped in the office. I worked with payroll and ordered things. I really enjoyed working with Ms. Dove. She is a wonderful role model.”
Morgan Tillman, 15, spent her time in the office as well as in food preparation and even served as camp counselor for the younger kids.
“When Ms. Beebe came I explained to her how everything worked,” Tillman said. “It was a great experience. I want to thank Ms. Dove for what she has done.”
Courtland Rucker, 14, was glad to have learned job skills that she will be able to put on her resume.
“I was all about the food,” Rucker smiled. “I prepared food for all nine sites where meals were served. I also had to order what we needed from vendors. I made new friends here. I thank Ms. Dove for everything that she has done for us.”
Dove said that the international exposure brought to TOPPS from a TV program she did in January brought her operation back from the brink. She was interviewed by Chelsea Clinton who was serving as a reporter for the NBC News program Rock Center with Brian Williams.
“We got donations from all over the world after that report,” Dove said. “We have put that money in place as an investment in the future of these kids that we serve.”