Affinity Mentoring today announced several new appointments to its board of directors, including Marcia Boyce, Abigail Bruins, and Christine Mwangi.
Marcia 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 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 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.
Meet Burton Site Coordinator, Rocio Moreno, or better known to kindergarteners as “Mentor Boss Lady.”
Rocio joined Affinity in 2017 as the Mentor Center Manager and was promoted to Site Coordinator in 2018. Prior to her role at Affinity she served as a Trauma Counselor at Safe Harbor using Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Rocio earned her Master’s of Social Work from Grand Valley State University and her Bachelor’s of Social Work from Hope College. She always knew she wanted to work with children and her goal was to find an organization where she was supported, had the opportunity to grow, and felt a sense of belonging.
“I love the fact that this organization is family-oriented. Affinity always puts the best interest of the family first. I am able to speak in Spanish and not feel out of place or looked down upon. From the first time that I walked into the Burton Site for my interview, I could hear families and staff speaking in Spanish and I couldn’t help but feel like this was home.”
Rocio feels a close connection to many of the students and families in the Burton community. Fleeing a dangerous situation, Rocio came to the U.S. from Mexico with her mom and brother at the age of three. Moving to a new country with a different language and culture she explains, “I can relate to a lot of the kids and families. I only spoke Spanish and didn’t start learning English until Kindergarten. I hated reading, I was often embarrassed.”
Rocio was a good student and “good girl.” However, at the age of 11 she joined a gang for protection and belonging. “My mom worked more than two jobs to be able to provide for us. I started to get into a lot of trouble. I was the kid who got sent to the principal’s office and would get into fights.”
At age 16 she became pregnant with her first son, Luis. “I wanted to fill the void I felt and to feel loved.” Having Luis changed her life and perspective. When Luis was 3 months old she decided to get out of the gang. The only way to do this was to be “jumped out.” She spent the next two weeks in the hospital, but she knew it was the right decision.
Her next step was college, “I knew I had to go to school and complete it.” She dedicated herself to studying; going so far as taking Luis with her to class and walking across the stage together for her graduation. “I had no life. I only slept about two hours a night for four years, setting alarms throughout the night to study or finish homework. It was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do,” she recalls. After earning her Bachelors she went on to complete her Masters in an accelerated one year program.
Reflecting on where she’s been and where she wants to be, she smiles, “I have everything I ever wanted by 26; my Master’s Degree, two kids, and working in a job I want to be in – I leave each day wanting to come back the next. This is what I wanted for my life and what I wanted for my kids.”
“Working with Affinity has had a great impact on my career. I am not from the Grand Rapids area. But I have been able to make many different connections with many different people and organizations.” Affinity’s network includes over 30 local nonprofits and corporate partners, two school districts, and more than 300 mentors and families each year.
She sees herself as an advocate, “I am always trying to make sure that the family’s basic needs are met and that they are receiving the support that they need. I am always trying to connect with mentors to find out in what ways I am able to help support them so that the role of a mentor can be fun and exciting for them.”
Rocio approaches mentor matching with a unique perspective, “I always say that matching is a little bit of art, science, and a whole lot of gut because even though a mentor and student might have a lot of similarities that does not mean that they would be a good fit for each other. Which is why I always trust what my gut tells me.”
She starts by looking at the students who have been waiting the longest for a mentor, “After talking to the student, teacher, and parents I sit down and look at all of my mentors. I begin to look for similarities between the student and potential mentor as well as what the biggest need of the student is and which one of my mentors who help fill that need. Lastly, I trust what my gut tells me regarding a potential match.”
“I sit down with the mentor for an hour-long interview where I ask them multiple questions about their family, support system, and elementary experiences. Why they want to become a mentor and how they might go about handling certain situations. I also get an understanding of their interests and hobbies.”
“The hardest part of my job is telling a student that I was unable to find a mentor for them. However, it is even more difficult when I have to tell a 5th grader this because I am unable to match them in middle school. So in a sense, they missed out on the opportunity to receive a mentor. This is the hardest part because every student knows me as the “mentor boss lady.” They are very aware of the color papers that I distribute to different students. They know that green is the intake form, blue is the permission slip to receive a mentor, orange is an absent or day change notice, and white can mean anything from you having been matched to a letter informing their parents that I was not able to match them this year.”
When she’s not at work she loves to exercise, “I wake up at 4 am every day to go to the gym.” She has two sons, Luis and Rolando, “I love to be with my two wonderful boys playing games, being outside, reading, and dancing.” She also has a love for baking, especially sugar cookies. In the future Rocio hopes to one day become a probation officer for juveniles. This year she is focusing on studying to pass her Clinical Social Work State Exam.
Reflecting on her journey she explains, “The biggest thing that motivates me is knowing that throughout all of my tribulations I have learned so much and my boys will one day be able to look back and see that if mom was able to accomplish so much in her life they will have no excuse but to give it their all as well. Because I’m raising warriors who will help make this world a better place for us all.”
“Right now I am looking forward to seeing all of my kiddos’ faces once again. Seeing their smiles and making them feel important and valued when they come into my office is one of the greatest things when I’m in the office. I know firsthand how much feeling valued, loved, and understood can mean to a child and the lengths that they might go to feel the sense of belonging.”
We’re excited to share that we’ve added a new team member, Holly Hetherington! Holly will be filling Affinity’s newly developed role of Office Coordinator. She will assist the Executive Director and Development Director in their new headquarters in the Goei Center. This new role will help increase the teams’ capacity to serve more students in more schools.
Holly holds a Bachelor’s in English, Elementary Education from Grand Valley State University. With a desire to provide social emotional and hands-on learning opportunities for youth and children, she turned her efforts away from the traditional classroom and invested her career in out-of-school time programming. Her passion for equity is at the root of all her work. Holly is currently seeking a Master’s in Social Innovation at GVSU. In her free time she loves to play soccer, eat delicious food, and kayak.
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.
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.”
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 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and check out our Board Opportunities.
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)
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.”
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.