Published December 9, 2010
Saving spare change for a smile
Local TOPS chapter reaches out to nonprofit organization
ROSEVILLE — A local weight-loss support club has saved hundreds of dollars in spare change to donate to a nonprofit so that a child possibly half the world away can have life-changing surgery.
“It probably took us about six months to save for it because we were just putting our small change in the little jar,” said Diane Cupp, head of the local chapter of TOPS Club Inc. TOPS stands for Take Off Pounds Sensibly. “Just pennies, nickels and dimes. There was no big donation or anything like that.”
In the end, all that spare change added up to $250, which will go to a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization called The Smile Train that’s dedicated to eradicating the problem of cleft lips and palates. They service 78 countries around the world by performing free cleft palate surgeries and training local doctors on how to perform the procedures.
Cupp has headed the Roseville group for three years now, but says this is the first fundraiser they’ve had. She credits the idea to her sister, Jeannine Rusak.
“Jeannine just mentioned it because if you have a deformity of any kind, you are looked down upon,” Cupp said. “Kids tease you, as well as adults sometimes. And if you can’t speak well, you can’t get a good job. So she mentioned it, and we thought it was a good idea.”
Rusak said she read about cleft lips and palates first in AARP Magazine, then in a local newspaper, and immediately felt drawn to the cause. She cut a picture out of the magazine article and brought it to a group meeting.
“I told them rather than give each other birthday or Christmas gifts, let’s give to a charity,” Rusak said. “I said, ‘Let’s help babies or young children, like this one,’ and I showed them the picture.”
Wanda Sobkowiak, a member of the TOPS group for more than two years now and its treasurer for a year, said it took them awhile to save for the donation, but the group was committed to the cause.
“We were talking about doing something for somebody for a while,” Sobkowiak of Fraser said. “We knew we wanted to help, and when we saw the picture of a little kid with a cleft lip, we decided our money would best be put to use with them.”
According to the Smile Train’s website, www.smiletrain.org, the procedures are simple, take only 45 minutes and cost only $250, yet many children around the world never receive treatment.
Brian Dearth, the chief marketing officer for the organization, said the impact the surgeries have on the children’s lives is beyond cosmetic.
“Children with unrepaired clefts lead lives of shame and isolation,” he said. “Most will never eat or speak properly. They’re often not allowed to attend school, hold a job or get married. The free cleft surgery we provide gives them not only a new smile, but a second chance at life.”
The local TOPS group has already started saving for their next donation to The Smile Train, but its No. 1 priority remains weight loss. Still, Cupp says they don’t follow the strict guidelines of other weight-loss programs. TOPS, which has thousands of chapters all over the United States and Canada, has been around since the 1940s.
“We don’t say, ‘You have to do this’ or ‘You have to do that,’ because you have to make up your own mind about what you want to do, and that’s what I tell the girls,” Cupp said. “I tell them, ‘I can’t get the food and take it out of your mouth.’ You have to do that yourself.”
Cupp, a 67-year-old St. Clair Shores resident, has been a member of TOPS since 2002. Then she was 210 pounds. Today she weighs 125 pounds.
“Now I am a KOPS,” she says. “Keeping Off The Weight Sensibly. And let me tell you, it’s a lot harder. In order to stay a KOPS, I can’t go more than five pounds below or three pounds above my goal-weight.”
Cupp, along with the 20 other ladies in her group, participates in weekly weigh-ins before each meeting. Their weight loss is tracked, and each month, the top loser wins a small prize. They try to make the experience fun. Cupp described a game they are currently playing where each member can progress across a board to a “winning gate” as they lose weight.
“The first one to the gate gets $10,” Cupp said. “But that’s not all we do: We have 50/50 raffles each week and we hold silent auctions with the used knick-knacks we no longer want. The silent auction tickets are five for a $1, so you can end up going home with something that only cost you 20 cents.”
Her TOPS group meets once a week on Wednesdays at 11 a.m. at Big Jack’s Bar B Q, located at 27454 Gratiot Ave., on the 3east side of Gratiot, just north of 11 Mile Road. Membership in TOPS is $26 annually and $1 a week at meetings; members come from all over the area. Cupp says newcomers are always welcome at any meeting, and their first two meetings are always free.
She says the group — all women at the moment, but not always — is a like a family. “We know all about each other. We go around the group and share our problems with each other. We are very, very close. Everybody knows about everybody else.”
Her sister agrees. “I always say we’re the best counselors in the world to each other,” Rusak said. “We laugh together. We cry together. And we lose weight together.”