Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

January 30, 2013

Creating ‘Top Kids’

Single mother and two sons develop new mentoring program

By Lindsey Ziliak
Tribune staff writer

— Angela Smith was heartbroken when two single mothers in her apartment community died and left behind two young children with no one to turn to for support.

At first, no one in the community even knew what happened.

“No one out here knew this boy was with his mom when she died,” Smith said. “That broke my heart. I’m a single mother.”

But those orphaned children weren’t the only kids in her community who needed help. She said so many of the area children are spending a lot of time at home alone.

One young boy Wednesday admitted that he’s home by himself for at least four hours most nights.

“As a mother, that bothers me,” Smith said.

She wanted to do something to help all of them. Smith turned to her 13- and 14-year-old sons for ideas.

Together, they decided to resurrect and revamp a business and ministry the boys started more than three years ago.

In 2009, Jordan and Josue’ Hicks launched Top Kids Magazine, a faith-based publication that highlighted the happenings in kids’ lives.

For the first issue, they interviewed local pastor A. Wendell Brown Jr. and had a phone interview with Indianapolis Colts’ Super Bowl champion running back Dominic Rhodes.

“We talked to him about his childhood,” Smith said. “He grew up without a father, too.”

The Hicks brothers didn’t want to shy away from tough issues. They said in 2009 that there would be frank talk in the magazine about ADHD and anger issues as well as bullying and creating good study habits.

Unfortunately, after the first issue, the boys ran out of money, Smith said.

The venture fell by the wayside until last year when Smith lost her job.

“I needed something to do with my time besides looking for work,” she said. “So I spent three or four months creating a mentoring program.”

She named it Top Kids Mentoring after the magazine her sons created.

It started in January to celebrate National Mentoring Month.

Right now, it’s only open to children in Bradford Run Apartments, the community she lives in. That’s unique she said. No other apartment community in the city has an on-site mentoring program.

Smith said she eventually wants to open the program up to all children living on Kokomo’s west side.

“The kids on the west end are often left out,” she said.

Many of the current mentoring programs are too far away for kids in her area to attend. She wanted to develop something where transportation wouldn’t be an issue.

“It’s not that all of them don’t have transportation,” Smith said. “But some parents are working two or three jobs.”

And while those parents are at work, the kids are often sitting at home alone.

Not anymore, though. Smith has put them to work.

The program’s 11 members meet twice a week. They help each other with homework, work on bringing back the Top Kids Magazine and write, direct and cast plays.

Their latest play is about a rich professional basketball player who sees a past, present and future version of himself. He doesn’t like what he sees and wants to change his ways, said Kavaurie Johns, the 13-year-old lead writer for the play.

“It’s about him seeing what other people have compared to what he has,” Johns said.

Twelve-year-old Jordan Hutchinson plays a hobo in the production. He begs the basketball player for money.

He smiled and said he was excited about the role. Hutchinson was already planning his costume. He said he would cut holes in his socks to look the part.

On Wednesday, Hutchinson practiced his lines, which include a rap.

“Homeless man ain’t got no rent, asking you for 30 cent,” he rapped.

Eventually the player sells his mansion and donates the money to an orphanage.

When their first production is finished, the team will redirect its focus to the magazine.

The preteens and teens are already thinking about who they want to interview for it.

Hutchinson wants to talk to Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.

Thirteen-year-old Kylinn DePalma is debating whether she wants to try for a professional tennis player or football player.

Emily Catt’s dream interview is with a special effects artist. That’s what she’s interested in, she said.

Smith will try to use the connections she has all over the world to help the kids.

“My job is to make some kind of contact with these people, so the kids can talk to them,” she said.

The kids will produce and print the magazine at the apartment complex. They will be responsible for selling them then, too.

Each issue will be sold for $2, and the kids will keep any money they make.

That will be a learning experience, Catt said.

“It will expand our knowledge of business skills,” she said. “We don’t learn that in school.”

There are other ways the students can earn money, too. When they volunteer to help out somewhere, they earn points that can be turned in for cash rewards, Smith said.

The kids will help with a backpack program that supplies food to needy kids in the apartment complex.

That’s what the program is all about, Smith said.

Hutchinson was already looking for ways to give back Wednesday.

“Miss Angela, can we send some of our money to Africa?” he asked.

That’s great, she told him.

But that reminded her of a scripture passage, she said.

You take care of your home first, she said. Then you take care of your neighbors. Then, if you have money left, you go abroad.

Smith told Hutchinson there were a lot of people right here in Howard County that they were going to help if they could.

“We have people here who are homeless,” she said. “They get eviction notices, and they have nowhere to go. I was one of them before. There are people whose lights are being turned off. People who are hungry.”

Hutchinson nodded and said he was hungry sometimes.

Then he turned to his friends, and the conversation turned to something that happened at school.

The group of students laughed and carried on Wednesday.

Hutchinson said he’s thankful for the group.

“It gives me a chance to get out of my house,” he said. “It keeps me out of trouble.”

Josue’ Hicks said he’s glad his mom helped him and his brother launch Top Kids Mentoring and that they get to bring the magazine back and help others in the process.

“I’m happy that we’re back in business,” he said. “It’s been a long time.”