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Lose weight, gain friends go to TOPS

ONEIDA — TOPS (Taking Off Pounds Sensibly) is a non-profit organization helping local people get healthy and stay that way. Mindy Hoag, of Munnsville, began coming to the Oneida chapter’s meetings in late August 2008. By September, she had officially joined and started losing weight. She now weighs 73.5 pounds less, thanks to the “helping hand” provided by her fellow TOPS members.

“The people are all incredible...Everyone cares about everyone,” she said.

Yvonne Hicks, of Oriskany Falls, decided to join TOPS a year ago.

“I knew I needed help and couldn’t do it alone,” she said.

Today, she is 87 pounds thinner and 14 pounds away from reaching her goal weight.

“I love coming and seeing everybody,” she said. “It’s fun and they are a huge support.”

The Oneida TOPS chapter, which has been around for 25 years, draws most of its 25 female members to St. Paul’s Church on Sayles Street each Thursday for a weekly meeting and private weigh-in. Most meetings involve a program, given by a member, that features information relevant to the TOPS mission.

Chapter leader Jacque Roys said that unlike other weight loss groups that are a bit more costly, TOPS is an inexpensive way to embark on a weight loss, health-driven journey with the help of others.

Being a member of TOPS, a national non-profit organization, costs $26 a year. Members put forth 50 cents at each meeting towards paying those dues. During the year, members have access to a library of books and tapes to help them reach their healthy goals, as well as chances to go to TOPS conventions and workshops together. Most of all, there is unity, Roys said.

“One big thing is support,” Roys said. “We’re here as a group, not as individuals, and really support each other.”

Other components of every meeting include a TOPS pledge said at the beginning, as well as a chance for a member to share a personal “tip of the week.” There is also plenty of discussion between members about objectives. For example, May has been designated “Me Month” and there is extra emphasis on not gaining weight.

During a roll call, members aren’t obligated to say how much they’ve lost or gained, but they do say one of three things: “I lost,” “I gained,” or “I turtled,” which Roys said means staying the same - like a turtle stuck on its back.

And to those who say they’ve gained, members respond with a resounding “Good to see you” or “Glad you’re back.”

In addition to the support, there are some other incentives to losing rather than “turtling” or gaining. For one, there is a savings. If someone hasn’t lost any weight, that person pays 50 cents at the meeting. If they have gained weight instead, they pay 25 cents for each pound. This money is then used for a 50/50 raffle for those who have lost weight at that meeting.

Members who get to their goal weight — and stay within a minimal range of it — graduate from being TOPS members to becoming KOPS, or Keeping Off Pounds Sensibly, members.

About five of the women currently in the group have made it to this status, Roys said, and some current members have been in the club since it began 25 years ago. Doris Schoolcraft was the member who began the Oneida chapter in July 1984 after being a member of the Verona chapter. She said her favorite part has been the people.

“I’ve enjoyed all the friends I’ve made,” she said.

Joanie Vaillancourt belongs to the Oneida chapter in addition to a chapter in Florida during winter months. She has had her fair share of success with the program, she said, since joining a year and two months ago. She has dropped 27 pounds.

Her sister, Dorie, co-leads the group and is amazed by the people there.

“I’ve never met a group as friendly as this. You come in here and you feel like you belong,” she said.

Roy said that the group is always looking to add more members and that people are welcome to check out the chapter any Thursday. Membership is open to all, regardless of age or sex. Weigh-ins begin at 4 p.m. and go until 4:45 p.m., when the meeting begins and goes until 5:30 p.m.

For more information, call Jacque Roys at 843-8180 or Dorie Vaillancourt at 363-5344, or visit: - By LYNN COLLIER:Dispatch Staff Writer


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