New Board Members Appointed

June 24, 2021

Affinity Mentoring today announced several new appointments to its board of directors, including Malaina Weldy and Frank Acosta.

Frank AcostaFrank Acosta | Independent Bank

Frank is a dedicated and driven young marketing professional focused on making a difference in the community. He currently serves as the Digital Marketing Manager for Independent Bank.

When he’s not in the office, you can likely find him outdoors or spending quality time with his family and friends. Frank has volunteered through Affinity Mentoring at SWCC in Grand Rapids for 2 years and is excited to give back to the organization through board service. Frank also serves on the board of directors for the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of Grand Rapids. He is Vice-Chair of the Marketing Committee for the Michigan Bankers Association and a Planning & Strategy Committee member for Habitat for Humanity of Kent County.

He earned an Associates in Science and Arts Degree from Muskegon Community College and a Bachelor of Business Administration, Marketing Degree from Davenport University.


Malaina WeldyMalaina Weldy | Warner Norcross + Judd LLP

Malaina received her Bachelor of Arts in Business from Goshen College and her Juris Doctor and Master of Business Administration from the University of Notre Dame. She is currently an attorney in the business practice group at Warner Norcross + Judd LLP and focuses her practice on corporate governance, formation, mergers and acquisitions, and commercial financing. She also assists with trademark licensing and domain name dispute resolution. Malaina grew up in northern Indiana and has loved getting to explore Grand Rapids and call it home. Malaina volunteers with her church and enjoys playing soccer, reading, and walking her rescue dog, Vinnie.


A full list of board members can be found at affinitymentoring.org/about/the-board-of-directors/.

New Board Members Appointed

January 05, 2021

Affinity Mentoring today announced several new appointments to its board of directors, including Marcia Boyce, Abigail Bruins, and Christine Mwangi.

Marcia BoyceMarcia received her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from Yale University and her Juris Doctor from Fordham University School of Law. Marcia practiced as a Corporate Banking and Finance attorney for over 15 years. She is licensed to practice law in the states of Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania and recently completed both General Civil and Domestic Relations Mediator training. Marcia has taken a hiatus from the practice of law to focus on her family but remains active in the community. Marcia is a member of the State Bar of Michigan and the Grand Rapids Bar Association, currently serves on the PTO Board of her daughter’s school, Ada Vista Elementary, and is the Treasurer and a member of the Greater Grand Rapids Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, Inc. In the past, Marcia served on the Fundraising Board of the Kent District Library and as Treasurer of the Board of the Grand Rapids African American Health Institute. Marcia and her husband, Hayden, have two children, Christian and Morgan. Marcia enjoys reading, traveling and spending time with her family.
Abigail BruinsAbigail was born and raised in Grand Rapids, and currently resides in the Baxter neighborhood. She has a background in community engagement, sales and development, and environmental chemistry. Abigail spends her days working as the Director of Business Development for local company Canopy Resources. She also owns and operates her own pet sitting business. Abigail is a graduate of Michigan State University where she received a degree in Earth Science. In her early 20s, Abigail spent time teaching middle school science, which is, in part, what drew her to Affinity Mentoring. Abigail is eager to support Affinity Mentoring in driving forward the mission to create equitable learning opportunities throughout our city.
Christine MwangiChristine is a change agent who has utilized her entrepreneurial background to establish a charitable organization that has helped educate hundreds of marginalized women on critical women’s health matters. As a global citizen who has lived, worked in and been educated in 3 continents (Africa, Europe and N.America), Christine also possesses a global lens that she skillfully uses to facilitate courageous conversations about race, privilege and culture. She lends her expertise and thought-provoking leadership to non-profits, educational institutions, foundations, and public sector organizations. Christine is the proud founder of Be a Rose, Inc., Grounded in Equity, LLC and the Pulsing Black Podcast.

A full list of board members can be found at https://affinitymentoring.org/about/the-team/.

Affinity Appoints New Executive Director

By Rachel Humphreys

Affinity Mentoring’s Board of Directors has named Cassandra Kiger the new Executive Director. Cassandra will begin Wednesday, May 20, 2020.

Cassandra has dedicated her career to advocating for equitable opportunities for youth in settings with refugee and immigrant youth, in child sexual abuse prevention, and in education support. She has her Master of Social Work from Grand Valley State University and brings a decade of experience in program development and management; research and data utilization; development and sustainability work; and diversity, equity and inclusion training, programming and leadership to the team.

Cassandra leans into the quote from Lilla Watson, an Indigenous Australian artist and activist, “[i]f you have come to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up in mine, then let us work together.” 

Cassandra believes, “Every person within our community brings valuable history, experience, knowledge and expertise to contribute to making our community great, from the youngest to the oldest. I want to work at Affinity to have a greater opportunity to work together with my neighbors, working towards our mutual liberation, and equitably contributing towards a bright and prosperous future.”

Cassandra is prepared to support Affinity in moving forward as an agent of equitable change, focused on the communities in our city that have systematically received less resources and support, and participate in a movement towards integrated diversity, equity and inclusion in our city. This includes a future oriented lens that supports quality, equitable education for the diverse student body that will one day become our local community members and workforce as they learn and grow today.

Cassandra strongly believes in uplifting youth in a supportive network, “the students that Affinity works with are not future leaders, they are leaders today, and I am excited to galvanize the community to support their growth and help them build a prosperous and healthy future for our city,” she explains.

Her past experience includes providing language access services to the community at Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, building system and policy level equity initiatives at the Children’s Advocacy Center in Ottawa County, and supporting refugee and immigrant youth as a Case Manager at Bethany Christian Services.

Cassandra is a homeowner and active participant in the 49507 Garfield Park neighborhood. She is excited to work alongside local residents and schools to support equitable growth and change through Affinity Mentoring. In her free time she enjoys playing soccer in the GR Champs League, reading, urban gardening, salsa dancing, and snuggling with her spouse and puppy. 

Help us in welcoming Cassandra to the Affinity family! You can contact her at ckiger@affinitymentoring.org.

Meet Affinity’s New Board President: John Robinson

Past Board President, Susan Lukaart, and her husband Steve Eckert.

By Rachel Humphreys

Three years ago, community leader and lifelong educator, Susan Lukaart, stepped into Affinity Mentoring’s newly developed Board President role. Susan, a retired educator (teacher and principal), has led other nonprofits, both regional and international.

Executive Director, Laura Ward, explains, “Susan and I built the board together. We met after I presented one day at Mars Hill; she came up and introduced herself and wanted to learn more. It was quickly apparent that her love for children, experience as a teacher and principal and unique passion for governance, would be a huge asset to Affinity in laying our foundation.”

During her time as Board President, Susan has helped Affinity’s team to understand governance and shape the organizational structure and policies. She is incredibly intentional about building a foundation and organizational culture that has set up Affinity well for future growth and sustainability. “Susan is a mastermind when it comes to governance and policy. Her fingerprints are all over the foundations of Affinity. She also mentored me as I have grown into this Executive Director role,” explains Laura.

We are very grateful to Susan for sharing her expertise, insights, and of course, her leadership. She has been an integral member of the Affinity family. “It has been an honor and privilege to work with Laura to help create a solid foundation upon which others can continue to build. I am grateful to God for giving me this opportunity to serve,” remarks Susan. “

As Susan steps away from her President’s role, Affinity welcomes a new leader, John Robinson. Susan says, “Meeting monthly with fellow board members has been very inspiring and satisfying to me. I have enormous hope for the future as Affinity enters a new chapter with John and Laura together at the helm.”

Affinity’s new Board President, John Robinson

John is an experienced education professional focused on the power of relationships, and currently the Parent, Family & Community Engagement (PFCE) Manager at Head Start for Kent County (HS4KC). Prior to HS4KC, John spent 20 years in K-12 education in various roles: teacher, teacher coach, curriculum specialist, athletic coach, assistant principal, assistant director, principal, executive director and superintendent. Outside of his work with Affinity Mentoring and HS4KC, John is a Life and Leadership Coach, a member of Pi Lambda Phi (a fraternity dedicated to Leading Courageously and the Elimination of Prejudice), an actor and musician, a husband, a step-dad and a grandfather.

He was introduced to Affinity Mentoring by Susan, and he joined the board in April 2018. He was appointed a Co-Vice President in June of that year, and has continued to serve as Vice President. Now stepping into the President role in January 2020, John is excited about helping the board and the organization continue to grow and blossom. “I’m so very grateful for the foundation Susan has built at Affinity, and for the mentorship she has provided all of us along the way. I am happy she introduced me to the great work being done. Moving forward, I very much look forward to working more closely with Laura. I am so appreciative of, and impressed by, her skill in her role, her care for the staff, and her passion for how Affinity Mentoring serves the community,” says John.

John really believes in Affinity Mentoring’s work to interrupt the cycle of poverty through mentoring relationships that improve students’ academic skills, social skills and self esteem. This past fall, John became a mentor for an elementary student at Burton Elementary. “I appreciate John’s passion for Affinity’s work, his ability to be a big picture thinker and also understand how to operationalize those big visions. He’s a compassionate and wise leader and I’m excited to have him leading the board,” says Laura.

Affinity invites mentors, supporters, and community partners to attend our upcoming Mentoring Appreciation Night on Tuesday, January 28 at 6:30pm at the Listening Room. You will have the opportunity to thank Susan for her leadership and welcome John to the helm.

Interested in joining Affinity’s Board of Directors? Learn More.

Affinity Welcomes New Board Members: Jatnna + Veronica

Affinity would like to introduce our two newest board members, Jatnna Abreu and Veronica Bradford.

JATNNA was born and raised in the Dominican Republic and moved to Grand Rapids at the age of 14. She has a Bachelors in Business Administration from Grand Valley State University and a Masters in Organizational Development from Western Michigan University. Jatnna currently works at Amway as a Senior Talent Management Specialist in Human Resources. She is the Vice Chair of Amway’s Multicultural Inclusion Network and will be the incoming 2020 Chair. Jatnna was recently recognized by the Grand Rapids Business Journal as a 2019 GRBJ 40 Under 40 Honoree. During her free time she mentors through Affinity Mentoring at Southwest Community Campus and serves on the board of a small international non-profit organization called Changing Thirsty Lives. Jatnna loves spending time with her husband and three year old son.

VERONICA is the Diversity & Inclusion Specialist at Gordon Food Service where she supports the delivery of the North American Diversity & Inclusion strategy.  Veronica is active in her community, as evident in her work and commitment to organizations such as Jack and Jill of America Inc. where she is a member and serves as Program Director for the Greater Grand Rapids Chapter, and member of Women United – Heart of West Michigan United Way. Veronica has supported Affinity’s work as a partner through her work at Gordon Food Service as well as Jack and Jill of America Inc. She is a 2011 graduate of Heart of West Michigan United Way Project Blueprint as well as 2016 graduate of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce Leading Edge Program. Veronica and her husband, Derek, have two sons Grayson and Easton. In her spare time, she loves to enjoy time with her family and travel. 

We’re thrilled to have these amazing and talented community leaders join our board of directors, welcome! If you’re interested in joining our board get more information here.

Affinity Welcomes New Board Member

Mia Jankowia is the Director of Marketing & Events at the Grand Rapids Chamber. 

We’re pleased to welcome our newest board member, Mia Jankowiak! Mia is the Director of Marketing & Events at the Grand Rapids Chamber where she oversees the day to day operations of the marketing and events team and over 150 chamber events/programming, all while working to tell member stories and impact across the region.

With a background in non-profit and real estate, Mia is passionate about community work and volunteers her free time to be a Lead Graduate Coach for Dale Carnegie, sits on the Communications Strategy Council at Ronald McDonald House of Western Michigan, and chairs the Next Gen Council for Silent Observer. Outside of Chamber and community work, Mia works as a professional photographer and enjoys spending time with family. Welcome to the Affinity family, Mia!

If you’re interested in learning more about joining our board of directors, please contact lward@affinitymentoring.org and check out our Board Opportunities.

Meet New Team Member: Keyla

Keyla Araujo, Godfrey-Lee ECC Site Coordinator

We are thrilled to welcome the newest member to the Affinity family, Keyla Araujo! Keyla recently accepted the position as Site Coordinator at Affinity’s newest school partner, Godfrey-Lee Early Childhood Center (ECC). She brings a broad experience of community engagement and volunteer coordination.

Keyla is bilingual in Spanish/English, has experience coordinating programs and volunteers through her church’s Family Leadership Initiative and other programs. She’s an active community member who has been connected at Godfrey-Lee ECC for some time. In her spare time, she likes to work on her garden, get involved in her church, and spend time with her husband and four children.

Please join us in welcoming Keyla and celebrating the opening of our 4th site by attending our upcoming Ribbon Cutting Ceremony!

Date: Wednesday, August 14
Time: 3:30pm
Location: Godfrey-Lee ECC (961 Joosten St SW, Wyoming, MI 49509)

Affinity Celebrates Loving Day

By Rachel Lopez | June 12, 2019

Loving Day is an annual celebration of the 1967 case involving Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving (Loving vs. Virginia) which struck down the criminalization of interracial marriage. On June 12, cities across the US remember this monumental day and celebrate multiracial love, identity, and acceptance.

For Affinity, this day holds a special place for many of our staff and board members. We asked them to share a bit about why this day is important to them.

“I’m thankful for those that paved a way for us. If they hadn’t, I’m certain we would be doing what we could to do it today. We’ve never once regretted loving each other and/or creating the family we have together. When I look at our kids, the product of our loving marriage of nearly 18 years (and going strong) … I see a beautiful representation of who we are and what we believe in! We love this big, diverse world we live in and long for the day our local communities better reflect that diversity! Until then, we will represent the best we can in the lives we live!”

Missy Jackson, Board Member

“When Wayne and I announced that we were engaged, we were told not to get married. We were told that people would treat us, and our future children, poorly because we’re an interracial couple. This month we’re celebrating our 10 year anniversary with our two beautiful children. We have experienced discrimination because of our interracial marriage. But, more frequently, we’ve been able to have really enlightening and beautiful conversations with people that cause them to think a bit differently. What can be more powerful to break down barriers than love?”

Laura Ward, Executive Director

“Thank you to the Lovings for fighting for their freedom to love, regardless of the discrimination they experienced. They have taught me that love is love regardless of what your partner looks like. Intertwining Vietnamese and Mexican culture has granted us both the opportunity to learn and experience new things in our lives.”

Angela Reyna, Program Assistant

“We were married in 1996 and have three BEAUTIFUL children with a heart for diversity in their friendships. We saw the Loving movie as a family a couple years back at a community celebration in Eastown. What was shocking to me was my son catching the fact that our marriage would still have been illegal in 2000, in at least one state.”

Johana Rodriguez-Quist, Board Member

“The idea of an anti-miscegenation law is difficult to grasp in 2019, which is a great thing. While some areas of our society certainly have a way to go when it comes to genuine tolerance and acceptance, we are happy and appreciate that we’re able to live our lives together and do not have to worry about the concept of state-sanctioned intolerance.”  

Adam Russo, Board Member

“Loving Day is important to me because I’m the product of an interracial relationship, and because I’m in one as well. I’m so grateful for people like the Lovings who worked so hard and sacrificed so much so that relationships like ours could be possible.”

John Robinson, Board Member

Leading by Example: Mentor, Donor, Partner

 

Leading by Example | Board Member, Mentor, and Community Partner
By Rachel Lopez

Jason Loepp is a father of two young children. He and his wife, Heather, are from the East side of Michigan and lived in Tennessee for several years. In 2008 they moved back to Michigan to be closer to family, which is when Jason joined the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) team.

Leadership at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan
Over the past 10 years Jason has worked his way up from Individual Contributor to Director of West MI/UP Customer Consulting and Reporting at BCBSM. He enjoys being an active member of the community and taking part in local events. One of those events was a “Friends of Burton” at Burton Elementary – which is where he was first introduced to Affinity Mentoring.

“Being a father of two kids – I understand homework and the extra need and push.” He instantly connected with Affinity Mentoring and the message resonated with him. “Hearing about the need tears at your heart. I came back to the office and drummed up more support. I recruited 4 or 5 more mentors.”

That was 4 years ago. The partnership between BCBSM and Affinity is growing stronger each year. This year 8 employees from BCBSM are volunteering weekly as mentors. “I’m a big believer in the program, I try to get as many people involved as possible,” says Jason. A large part of the growth is through word-of-mouth and employees returning from mentoring talking about their experience.

“People started getting involved in small events, like the Secret Santa Workshop, and I talk to my co-workers about mentoring. People want to get involved. It starts with one day, so what’s one hour per week?”

Weekly Mentoring
Jason, a mentor himself, has been working with Angel for the past 4 years. “We’re both competitive. We play a lot of Uno – but add math into it. The first one to get 100 points loses. I think I’m the proud reigning champion, but you can say he is. The first time he beat me he was so geeked,” chuckles Jason.

“I usually go on Friday mornings so I can be in my jeans and relaxed. We usually spend some time in the library and pick out a book. The last one he picked was about Abraham Lincoln, so I picked out an encyclopedia to see what else I could find about him. Then we talk about it more. I’m a nerd like that.”

Jason explains that Affinity aligns with many of his company’s values, “We like to do things that are athletic. It’s important to get kids out and active. BCBSM has a campaign to get kids active 60 minutes a day – if I can help get 20 minutes of those, that’s great. Angel loves soccer so we’ll sneak out onto the field to kick the ball around.”

Board Member
Jason wears many hats and is involved with Affinity at different levels – partner, mentor, and board member. “The people involved in Affinity’s leadership and their employees make a difference. They are there. It’s a hands on organization, in every level. They have a pulse on what’s going on,” comments Jason.

As a board member, he loves to get other people excited about the mission, share his experiences, and the personal benefits mentoring offers. “I think at work, it gives people from different areas of the company something in common. At home, it’s interesting that my mentee and son are both in 6th grade. It helps me make sure I’m holding my son accountable in his homework too.”

Community Partner
Jason has led the partnership between Affinity and BCBSM, they are big believers in mentoring and are in it for the long-haul, “As long as we’re here in GR we will always have people that want to mentor. To see the happiness of the kids – that’s what it’s all about. We are going to support local organizations that make a profound impact on children and Affinity does that. We’d like to get two more mentors each year.”

Not only do their employees donate their time, but the company also donates their “treasure.” As a partner, BCBSM has committed to covering half of the cost of each of their employees’ mentor match ($600 per match). “[Mentoring] is not free – the cost of supporting a match for a year. There’s a cost the run the program and we wanted to be able to support, not just the talent, but the time and treasure. We’d like other organizations to also donate their time, talent, and treasure. These kids are our future so let’s invest in them now,” says Jason.

If you’re interested in learning more, check out our Mentorship Opportunities and Community Partnerships.

Board Member, Mentor, and Donor: Maddie’s Story

Board Member, Mentor, and Partner: Maddie’s Story
By Rachel Lopez

A big smile and bigger heart, Madeline (Maddie) Aguillon is a long-time mentor, donor, and board member for Affinity. She has a long history of empowering and engaging the local Hispanic community in Grand Rapids.

During her time as a student at Grand Valley State University, she along with 6 friends, founded Sigma Lambda Upsilon | Señoritas Latinas Unidas Sorority Incorporated. Maddie and her friends felt their college experience was lacking the community they wanted, so they created their own. It was a place to belong, celebrate their heritage, and give back.

After graduating, she longed to stay connected to her roots and continue giving back to her community. While working at Gordon Food Service she came across the opportunity to mentor. She jumped at it because “it was a way to integrate my passion and work.”

Now, Maddie and Meylin have been meeting for the past 3 years. “Meylin is a free spirit. She likes to be funny and lives by her own rules. Sometimes she can be misunderstood. She wants to be part of the cool crowd, but doesn’t know how to fit in. We both look forward to this hour together. It’s a time for me to do something I’m passionate about and a time for her to be herself and not have to worry about trying to fit in or impress people.”

“Meylin loves the free play. The mentoring room always smells like nail polish because of us. She likes each nail to be a different color,” Maddie laughs. “My favorite thing is to see her improvement in reading in English. At first we only spoke Spanish to each other. Now she’s reading English and she’s excited to read (even if it’s just for the prize).”

She regularly talks to Meylin’s parents, “it’s like an extension of family.” They talk about church, challenges at school, and family. Maddie’s 3 year old daughter, Carmen, loves to play with her. “They hang out at all of the picnics and go on the rides together.” Meylin often jokes “My mom likes you, but her favorite is Carmen.”

“[Mentoring] has helped me not to forget my roots. The obstacles and everything it took to get to where I’m at.” Maddie grew up in the Southwest side of Grand Rapids. Her parents, resilient and very giving, worked a lot, usually 60-80 hours a week. They worked seasonal jobs, like railroad construction, to provide a comfortable life for Maddie and her two older brothers. “They would give you the shirt off their back, even if it was the last thing they owned,” she explains.

“I get it. I know what these kids are going through.” Her family lived on Crofton, down the street from where she would later mentor. Each week is something new, she’s learning right along with her mentee. “When I sit with Meylin she says she wants to be mentor. To be able to have that impact has been amazing. I learn so much from her.”

This past year, Maddie joined our Board of Directors. She serves as the board secretary. “Being a board member allows me to witness first hand what each individual contributes to the organization at every level. We all truly keep it going.” She not only donates her time as a board member and mentor, but she also sponsors a monthly match, “It’s fulfilling to know that my donation goes directly towards such an important and much needed program in the community. No matter how big or small the donation, knowing that it could contribute towards a new mentor/mentee match or a new board game in the center for the students to enjoy, makes it all worth it.” Maddie is a committed and passionate community leader that understands it truly, takes all of us.

If you’d like to make an impact in your community sign up to become a mentor or support mentor matches by giving monthly.