There's an old saying about the night being at its bleakest just before the light of a new day ascends. Annette Dove will testify that the observation's true, and also witness that being spotlighted by the national media can lift a struggling local interest from the edge of extinction to new heights on a worldwide stage.

There’s an old saying about the night being at its bleakest just before the light of a new day ascends. Annette Dove will testify that the observation’s true, and also witness that being spotlighted by the national media can lift a struggling local interest from the edge of extinction to new heights on a worldwide stage.

“It’s amazing,” said Dove, founder and director of the TOPPS (Targeting Our People’s Priority with Service) non-profit organization, dedicated to improving the lives of Pine Bluff children. “We were literally going to be in darkness at our (1000 Townsend St.) headquarters with our lights being turned off, but God is faithful, and He put some people in our path who helped to get things turned around in a hurry.”

The wave of improvement began its roll with the Dec. 12 debut of television journalist Chelsea Clinton, daughter of former President Bill Clinton and current U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Chelsea Clinton, born in Little Rock in 1980 during her father’s first of five terms as governor, reported on TOPPS and its dwindling finances on the “NBC Nightly News” and then in an expanded format on the network’s “Rock Center With Brian Williams.”

Several national media critics were less than friendly in assessing Clinton’s first reporting effort, but Dove was quick in taking issue with those opinions, and believes she’s got good reason in doing so.

“Within minutes of Chelsea’s report, we started getting telephone calls from across the nation,” said Dove. “Then we began receiving contacts from around the world, from places such as Berlize and London. We’ve gotten so many encouraging words, in calls and cards and letters.”

TOPPS has also received donations of nearly $300,000, and more funds are expected with coming grants from businesses matching employee gifts. Additionally, volunteerism is up at the agency and it’s gained contributions of stocks and assorted material goods.

Delta Trust of Little Rock is overseeing the monetary bestowals.

Dove, admittedly “overwhelmed” by the flood of support, reasons that much of the credit is due to Clinton.

“Chelsea’s reporting style is no different than what she is as an individual,” said Dove. “She’s real, she’s sincere. She arranged the telling of TOPPS’ story in such a way that it captured attention and concern throughout the nation and world.

“When she was here doing her interviews for the report, you could see that she is totally genuine. She’s so caring and compassionate, something I could tell that her parents instilled in her. She got involved with the kids and had a real grasp on what we’re doing and the importance of our needs.”

Dove said the TOPPS children seemed “gravitated” to Clinton.

“They immediately accepted her and she and the kids established a natural rapport,” said Dove. “There’s no difference in her and the kids we serve. There was nothing to indicate that she’s the daughter of a president. If any of the kids were apprehensive about meeting her, their uneasiness evaporated as soon as she began interacting with them.

“She’s a remarkable person, and she did a fabulous job.”

Dove said Arkansas Foodbank Marketing and Communications Director Ray White, a former Pine Bluff journalist, is responsible for bringing TOPPS to NBC’s attention. “Ray said people needed to know about us and what we do,” said Dove. “People know about us now, and I thank him for being a catalyst for us.”

Additionally, Dove recognized actor Judge Reinhold and his wife, Amy, who reside in Little Rock, her hometown. Dove said the pair have been “instrumental” in advancing TOPPS’ Web site “to another level” and “filling in gaps we wouldn’t have been ready for because of the attention we’ve received.”

TOPPS’ new-found support has reaped huge dividends, and the agency is no longer in danger of being unable to meet its operating expenses. Dove said the development has been such a “blessing” that she finds herself sometimes having to take steps to control her emotions.

“We’ve already sent out 3,000 thank-you cards and we’re not finished yet,” she said. “I haven’t been able to read all the cards and letters we’ve received because sometimes I get choked up reading them and I have to stop for a while.

“Many people I never expected to reach out to us have extended their hands and hearts. The individual donations have ranged from $2 to $10,000, but in my thinking, each gift is as important as the other. I appreciate every contributor.

“Funding options have replaced funding concerns. We’re now being able to focus on some staff and facility needs that had been seemingly impossible. We’re going to be able to continue our programs for helping our children.

“We’re excited.”