Happy ‘losers’

At local TOPS chapter, participants find support group that’s ‘more like a family’

Warwick Beacon ·

As Nicole Johnson-Morais puts it, Oakland Beach’s local chapter of TOPS “is full of losers.”

But don’t worry, she means that in the best way.

Oakland Beach Chapter 44 of Taking Off Pounds Sensibly (TOPS), led by chapter leader, state publicity person and state advocate Johnson-Morais, is proud to have not one, but two Queens, members who have been recognized for the most weight lost in the past year.

In an interview, Johnson-Morais explained that the local TOPS chapter in Oakland Beach has “two awesome state queens.” Amy Bernard is the 2019 Queen and Heidi Niederberger is the 2020 Queen.

“This is a really big accomplishment,” said Johnson-Morais, whose mother, Jean Belleavoine, was crowned the state Queen in 2005.

Niederberger “was supposed to have been honored at the International Recognition Day, but due to COVID, they canceled the event again,” said Johnson-Morais.

The International Recognition Day (IRD) was set to be held at Niagara Falls this year, bringing together TOPS members from the United States and Canada to celebrate, as Johnson-Morais says, “the biggest losers.”

According to Johnson-Morais, Bernard lost 54.2 pounds to her goal, and Niederberger lost 99.4 pounds to her goal.

Once TOPS members achieve their goal weight, they become known as KOPS, Keeping Pounds Off Sensibly.

To recognize both women for their achievements, the TOPS group held a ceremony at their meeting at St. Rita Church. The meeting featured a visit from Joan Tinkham, the coordinator for TOPS U.S., who presented Neiderberger with a crown and sash.

“She’s shy, and doesn’t want anything big,” said Johnson-Morais. “Amy was the one who would’ve wanted something larger.”

Johnson-Morais says the TOPS groups are more than weight loss groups, but are also “supportive families.”

“Every group is great, but mine is more like a family,” she said, noting that the Oakland Beach TOPS chapter does weekend retreats, most recently to New Hampshire where the group “did a bunch of activities to promote healthy living.”

“We currently have 17 [members] on the roster, and we did lose some to COVID,” she explained, hoping to draw new members in by promoting the successes of the state Queens.

For TOPS members, it’s not just about losing weight, but about giving back to the community.

Prior to the COVID pandemic, the local chapter of TOPS took part in community service activities and expos, but have since found themselves searching for events to promote the group at.

“We used to do the Women’s Expo and the Wedding Expo, and the balloon festival, but really haven’t found anything coming up,” Johnson-Morais said. “We are a small nonprofit, so all our advertising is word of mouth.”

“Obviously not during COVID, but our chapter is pretty busy,” she explained. Together, the group participates in Alzheimer’s walks, Oakland Beach clean ups, adopt-a-family projects during the holidays, and working with Habitat for Humanity to build houses, which Johnson-Morais says was “a fun and unique experience that taught us a lot.”

Other projects taken on by TOPS include hosting a drive to collect duffle bags and personal care items for children in foster care, after learning that many kids use plastic garbage bags to pack and move their belongings.

“We’ve done quite a bit, and we’re probably the most active chapter out of the seven statewide,” she said.

The TOPS chapter is on the hunt for a community service project to tackle this year.

Johnson-Morais says the biggest gain for TOPS members isn’t a goal weight, but “definitely confidence. I’ve seen that in every member.”

Johnson-Morais explained that Amy Bernard, the 2019 Queen, wasn’t always as outgoing as she is.

“Amy was super, super shy,” Johnson-Morais said. “And when I met her she told me she didn’t have any adult friends. She told me I was her first adult friend.”

What sets TOPS apart from other weight loss programs, Johnson-Morais says, “is that we don’t give any specific diet plans or anything like that. We teach people how to do it on their own. We offer weekly weigh-ins, and accountability to show up every week for the meeting and do what you need to do to meet your goal.”

The Oakland Beach TOPS chapter 44 is open to anyone currently on a weight loss journey. The group meets on Wednesday nights at St. Rita’s Church basement at 722 Oakland Beach Ave. Weigh-ins are 4:45 to 5:10 p.m. and the meeting runs from 5:15 to 6:00 p.m. It costs $32 in yearly dues. For more information, contact Nicole Johnson-Morais at (401) 332-7616 or nicoleistops2015@yahoo.com. To find other chapters or for more information about TOPS, visit tops.org.

“As we always say in TOPS, we have a lot of losers in our chapter and we’re happy about that,” said Johnson-Morais, laughing. “It’s a great thing to hear ‘You’re such a loser.’”

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