The way Barbara Top of Sioux Center views it, her purpose in life is to serve.
And she has a passion for reaching out to people who society may view as “underdogs.”
Her perspective is the same whether she is serving at some distant location such as Rehoboth Christian School in New Mexico, Mississippi Christian Family Center, Guatemala or Romania or right here in northwest Iowa at Hope Food Pantry, Sioux Center Community Unity Meal or West Sioux Elementary School in Hawarden.
“I’m on earth to obey and serve my God,” Top said. “These are where I have a little bit of knowledge or talent, and I can use what God has given me. My motto is to obey and to serve. That’s what God requires of me.”
In everything, she acts with humility. She doesn’t do it for her glory – but God’s glory. She quickly notices many others who do just as much or more than her.
But people have noticed and appreciated her outreach efforts as well.
For her selfless service, Top will be presented the sixth annual Addink Community Service Award during Promise Community Health Center’s “An Evening of Promise” Celebration and Fundraiser on Thursday, Nov. 2, at Terrace View Event Center in Sioux Center. She was one of a few people nominated for the annual award.
“It’s not that big a deal what I do. It really isn’t,” Top said. “I like to do it. If I didn’t have a heart for it, I don’t think it would be right to do it.”
Top isn’t exactly sure where her desire to serve people came from.
But she noted that her younger sister, Karen, had Down syndrome, so her family experience may have stirred her heart of compassion.
“You look at things differently because of that,” she said.
Top, who holds a doctorate in special education, dedicated most her career to students with developmental disabilities. After serving as an elementary teacher at four schools, she worked seven years at Hope Haven in Rock Valley, as a special education teacher and then in program development and administration. She helped establish the special education program at Dordt College in Sioux Center and taught there for four years. After working a second stint at Hope Haven for five years, she taught children with disabilities for a year in Elim Christian School in Palos Heights, IL. She served several years as a special education consultant in northwest iowa for the Area Education Agency. She then taught courses in special education at Northwestern College in Orange City for 12 years before retiring in 2005.
But her interest in serving people with various needs went well beyond her career.
Last month, Top returned from another of many trips she has made since 1977 to serve in Rolling Fork, MS, at Mississippi Christian Family Services, a mission that serves people with special needs and challenges.
She has worked with people in the residential program. She has assisted with the day habilitation program. She has helped in the shelter workshop. In more recent years, she has spent most of her time serving in the thrift shop, even bringing along a carload of items for the store. She has done various roles – whatever is necessary.
“I like to visit with people,” Top said. “In the thrift store, there are a lot of people coming in. Some people come every day. It’s almost like a social activity for them. You see more interaction between races than in the past. It’s a very positive thing.”
During the past 12 years since retiring, Top has traveled for a full month each year, usually in January, to serve Navajo children in the Rehoboth Christian School in Gallup, NM. She helps teachers by working with students who need special assistance individually or in small groups outside of their regular curriculum.
“I enjoy that. I enjoy diversity. I enjoy kids. I’ve gotten to be friends with some of the staff,” Top said. “Also, it’s a beautiful area. It’s very unique. New Mexico is called the land of enchantment, and it is. Some people call it barren. I just enjoy it.”
While serving at Northwestern, Top made four, weeklong trips with college students to Guatemala to lead spiritual retreats for children with physical disabilities and their families. She also accompanied a group to Romania in 2001 to present about autism in a few locations over eight days.
Top also has volunteered in many ways locally. For the past several years, she has mentored at-risk youth at West Sioux Elementary School in Hawarden on a one-one-one basis for a half-day per week from October to May. She has served on the Sioux County Board of Health for over two decades, facilitates Bible studies at First Christian Reformed Church in Sioux Center and volunteers at Sioux Center Health. She also serves at the monthly Sioux Center Community Unity Meal and the Hope Food Pantry.
In addition to reaching out to people with various needs, a common thread of Top’s service has been interacting with people of many races and ethnic backgrounds.
“The church is not just First Christian Reformed Church or First Reformed or Evangelical Free or something like that,” she said. “That’s not the church. The church is the world and God’s people in it. They’re all part of the church of Christ.”
Laura Heitritter, an instructor and chair of the education department at Northwestern College, said Top has been “tireless in pursuit of helping others” and is “a champion for the most vulnerable.”
“It is amazing how the efforts of one person can have an effect on so many people and places,” Heitritter said. “Barb Top’s commitment to improving the lives of people with disabilities has translated into years of volunteering both in her community and other places in the nation and abroad. She exemplifies the characteristics of the Addink Community Service Award as an outstanding teacher and servant to her community and others.”
PAST ADDINK AWARD HONOREES:
Here are the past Addink Community Service Award honorees:
Ken and Barb Addink – 2012;
Tom and Marlene Van Holland – 2013;
Jean Ellis – 2014;
Rob and Sharon Schelling – 2015;
Rod and Jayne Hofmeyer – 2016.
‘AN EVENING OF PROMISE’:
Promise Community Health Center will present its ninth annual “An Evening of Promise” Celebration and Fundraiser on Thursday, Nov. 2, at Terrace View Event Center in Sioux Center.
The event, which serves as Promise’s primary fundraiser every year, will begin at 6 p.m. Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. The event will feature a catered dinner, live jazz music, presentation of the Addink Community Service Award and a silent auction to support Promise.
Ticket sales for “An Evening of Promise” will run through Oct. 25.
Tickets are $40 for adults, $20 for youth ages 4-17 and free for children 3 and under. They can be purchased online at www.promiseevent2017.eventbrite.com or in person at Promise CHC, 338 1st Ave. NW, Sioux Center. For more information or to get a paper registration form, visit www.promisechc.org or call 712-722-1700.
Read this preview story to learn more about the event.