The name – Top Ladies of Distinction and Top Teens of America – sums up the focus of a nonprofit organization that marks its 35th anniversary in Longview this year.
“Top Ladies, Top Teens – we are top in service,” says Kasha Williams, president of Top Ladies of Distinction – Longview Oil City Chapter and a Longview City Council member.
The organization is focused on youth through Top Teens of America, improving the status of women, service to senior citizens, community beautification, and community partnerships, according to its website.
Its chapters support the National Council of Negro Women, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, United Negro College Fund, and award scholarships.
The organization’s local chapter began in Longview in October 1982. The national organization formed almost 20 years earlier in Tyler, growing out of a luncheon hosted by then first lady, Lady Bird Johnson. That gathering inspired a group of women to form an organization that would “marshal the talents, energies and skills of women nationally in a collaborative effort to help alleviate the moral and social problems confronting our youth in the mid-60s,” the organization’s website says.
In Longview, Evalonia Barrett-Bolton led the organization of the Longview Oil City Chapter, after she helped form a chapter in Marshall. Born to Louvenia and Dogan Barrett, she moved to this area after she married Patrick H. Bolton, who has passed away. Barrett-Bolton, 78, taught music in schools around East Texas.
“I was always brought up with community service with my mom and dad,” she says.
She liked Top Ladies of Distinction because it “wasn’t about degrees” or titles.
“It was strictly community service,” Barrett-Bolton says.
She recalls the club having about 25 members during those early years, working on such projects as addressing “blighted houses” in the Stamper Park area in South Longview and assisting Longview Habitat for Humanity.
“We were just trying to make things better,” she says.
Today, the organization focuses largely on its youth group, Top Teens of America. That’s how Williams first became involved with Top Ladies of Distinction, when she joined the Top Teens group as a student at Foster Middle School. She remained active throughout high school. She graduated in 1991 and returned to Longview about five years later when she was invited to join Top Ladies.
“I already knew what the organization was about. Knowing that made it a natural fit,” Williams says.
As a Top Teen, Williams participated in community service projects and met other students from around East Texas who belonged to the Top Teens group in Longview. The Longview group “was always on top” at Top Teen conferences, she says of competitions held at those events.
She’s now serving her second term as president of Top Ladies of Distinction. She also served two terms as Top Teens adviser.
The group has adopted Broughton Park, she says, and helps with beautification there, such as planting flowers. Members participate in citywide clean-up events, visit nursing homes and sometimes provide gifts to residents there. They also help at Longview Community Ministry’s annual Coats for Kids Drive.
“We do a lot. Look for the blue shirts – they’re there somewhere,” Williams said. “We focus on a variety of things that make our community better.”
Top Ladies of Distinction chapters are required to have Top Teens chapters, Williams says, explaining that it’s important to “uplift our children and youth.”
Women in the group work with the youth on such skills as communication and proper behavior. Earlier in the year, the women and Top Teens met together, bringing socks for a donation drive to assist homeless people in the community.
“Our goal is to ensure they lead healthy and productive lifestyles,” Williams says of the teens.
The local Top Ladies chapter has about 15 members, she says, and about 25 teens. The group is working to recruit more members.
“We’ve always been few in number … but the impact is great,” Williams says. “That’s our message.”
Top Ladies of Distinction membership is by invitation only. For more information about the organization, contact Williams at (903) 240-3464.