SHE’S A HUGGER. This is the defining characteristic of Annette Dove, and it says everything about her. Along with her late husband, Annette founded Targeting Our People’s Priorities with Service (TOPPS) as a nurturing place for disadvantaged children in the Pine Bluff area. Over 250 children and teenagers are now enrolled in the program and 23 college-graduated TOPPS students are still learning as mentors-in-training. Annette’s work has garnered attention across the nation—most notably a piece by The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof, and an interview by one Chelsea Clinton—but her focus remains on the life success of “her kids” here at home.

On Defining Success: Success, for me, is when I see these young people that might not have had an opportunity to achieve. When you see these young people graduate college or working or their lives have changed, you can’t put a dollar amount on that. When a young person tells you “Mrs. Dove, I’d probably be in jail right now,” there’s no way to describe that feeling. I’m a servant. I’m supposed to help people. And I’ve been blessed. I appreciate people recognizing me, I get tickled when people say, Aren’t you the one that was on the da-da-da?, and I say, Yeah, but that’s not why I do what I do.

On Reshaping a Community: If we’re not there to support those kids, if we don’t show those kids something different, then we can’t change our community. If we can say, Let me show you something different—it doesn’t have to be violence, it doesn’t have to be drugs —and guide them to other places and experiences, things can change. And you never know when one of these kids will lead the community to something different just because they were exposed to something different. We teach the kids to give back.

On Overcoming Difficulties: My faith is what I operate on. I wrote a little book called Birthing the Vision, and I can’t even stand to read it because I can’t believe some of the things that happened to me. But I know that with my faith I was able to overcome a lot of things.

On the Power of a Hug: I believe people know when you are for real, and what comes from your heart reaches their heart. When you embrace a person, you can determine what’s in their heart right then. When I embrace my children, I’m letting them know I’m connecting to their heart. We’re connecting. If I can’t educate you on everything, I at least can teach you to have compassion. It’s letting someone know you really care. I just get a thrill from connecting with people.

Support TOPPS’ programming by signing up to volunteer or by making a donation at toppsinc.org.