Advancing Equity through Innovative Partnerships

By Rachel Humphreys

At Affinity, we work towards the mutual liberation of all of our community and believe that youth are already leaders and community members, but need equitable access and platforms to use their voice. Affinity’s mentoring model provides individual, one hour per week mentoring with trained, safe, supportive adults to support the growth of leadership and social-emotional skills, as well as math and literacy skills.

“We collaborate closely with school administration, community partners, and community members  that share our values to build close relationships and are strategically involved in area schools in a manner that strives to advance equity. Our partners help recruit mentors, financially support our program, and advocate for our organization,” explains Cassandra Kiger, executive director of Affinity Mentoring. “We have nearly 30 local partners, including Gordon Food Service, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Steelcase Foundation, and Kent School Services Network.”

This year we have worked extremely hard to rebuild and innovatively rethink our entire approach to mentoring in the most equitable way possible. As we reviewed community feedback and local data on health and safety, as well as personal fears surrounding COVID of various populations (Kent County Racial/Ethnic Data) (Kent Co. Latinos with COVID Die Younger and More Often) (African Americans Disproportionately Affected), we quickly realized that traditional mentoring would no longer be accessible to all students. 

For the past eight weeks the Affinity team has worked tirelessly to develop accessible, equitable, and safe methods for all mentors and mentees to continue meeting weekly from the safety of their homes, and/or with students in clean, individual spaces in mentor centers. “The overall cost of this overhaul in staff time and material resources has been approximately $30,000 above and beyond regular programming costs, but we believe that it is worth all students safely having access to mentoring, and we recognize the long-term investment that we are making in accessibility and technology,” explains Cassandra.

We shared our need for COVID relief and virtual mentoring support and our partners at Gordon Food Service (GFS) immediately stepped up to help. Despite being financially affected themselves by the pandemic, GFS committed to supplying 60 devices for our Mentor Centers. (Though students receive devices through their school, each household has a different level of technological fluency. Devices will be provided to families who specifically site issues with technology navigation as a barrier to virtual mentoring, as these devices will be specifically preprogrammed with all technology necessary for mentoring.) This equates to roughly $12,000 in technology support, not including the countless hours their IT department spent to ensure the computers were ready for students and mentors. GFS has been one of Affinity’s community partners since 2015 and the number of employees that volunteer as mentors has grown exponentially (8 to 84). 


Dave Veldink + Student Mentee

“Our [company] culture is reflective of our values. The Gordons are an amazing family and [Affinity Mentoring] ties in closely with the values of GFS,” says Dave Veldink, NA Director of Marketing and Merchandising Operations at Gordon Food Service and longtime mentor at Affinity

Not only are employees encouraged to volunteer, but leadership at GFS has done everything to remove obstacles from employees who would like to be mentors. This includes being flexible about scheduling accommodations for mentors and not requiring hourly employees to clock out during their mentoring hours. 

“We are proud to support Affinity Mentoring as an organization, but it’s our caring volunteer mentors that are the heart of our effort,” explains Rich Wolowski, President and Chief Executive Officer of Gordon Food Service (GFS). “This recent donation of technology will help ensure kids continue to connect with and build relationships with their mentors, to the social and academic benefit of the students, their families, and our community.”  

At Affinity we are grateful for our partners, like Gordon Food Service, who find innovative ways to leverage their resources, social capital, and network to support mentoring. To find out more about becoming a community partner click here.



Affinity is accepting applications for new mentors for Fall 2020. Our goal is to recruit 100 new mentors by September 9 and we currently need 53 more!

Laurie Vanderbroek + Student Mentee

Become a Mentor | Apply Now >
No prior mentoring experience is needed and we match people based on their interests, personalities, and background! Last year we matched 286 students with a mentor, our goal this year is 300. The online application takes less than 10 minutes. Once you have applied you will be contacted by one of our program staff to schedule an in-person interview. For the health and safety of students and mentors, this year mentoring will be virtual (learn more).

Commitment
One hour per week (during the school day 8am-4pm) for one school year (late September – late May). We cater to working professionals and can be flexible and reschedule sessions.

Mentoring Sites | More Info Here > 

  • Burton Elementary School and Burton Middle School
  • Southwest Community Campus Elementary 
  • Godfrey-Lee Early Childhood Center 

Affinity’s Back to School Wishlist

Help us stock our new mentoring sites at Lee Middle School and Godfrey-Lee Elementary and replenish our other sites. After hundreds of students use our supplies and games each week we are always in need of a helping hand!


Check out our Amazon Wishlist for a full list of needs!


BOOKS

  • Spanish books K-3
  • English books K-3
  • Middle school books
  • Diverse + educational

CRAFTS

  • Pencils + colored pencils
  • Markers + crayons
  • Pom poms, pipe cleaner, buttons, sequins
  • Construction paper
  • Glue + glue sticks
  • Cotton Balls

GAMES

  • Flashcards
  • Math + reading games
  • Legos
  • Uno
  • Sorry
  • Kerplunk
  • Mancala

OFFICE/OTHER

  • Printer/scanner
  • Kleenex
  • Disinfectant wipes
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Stapler
  • Pencil Sharpener
  • Rolling Cart

OUTDOOR GAMES

  • Hula hoops
  • Soccer balls
  • Jump ropes
  • Basketballs
  • Footballs
  • Frisbees
  • Sidewalk chalk
  • Cones

Thank you for your support!


Please send or drop off donations at:

818 Butterworth St SW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504

Contact: Rachel Humphreys | rhumphreys@affinitymentoring or 616.215.0888

100 Days, 100 Mentors

Each year we have over 100 students on our waiting list, asking for mentors. With seed money from the Steelcase Foundation we are expanding to a 4th site this fall [Godfrey-Lee Early Childhood Center] to help meet that need.

But we need your help.

In the next 100 days, our goals are to recruit:

  • 100 new mentors
  • 100 match sponsors [to donate $10/month]

Will you join us?

Become a Mentor Match Sponsor 

Make a small, monthly contribution to Affinity. Your gift will not only help students academically, but it’ll also give them the social and emotional support they need to work towards a positive future.

Become a Mentor.

Sign up today to mentor one student for one hour week starting this fall and ask a friend to mentor too!

2017-2018 Annual Report

We are excited to share with you our first annual report! In this report you will find:

  • A letter from our executive director
  • Revenue and expenses
  • Growth and sustainability
  • Community impact
  • Mentor stories

Check it out now! Affinity’s 2017_2018 Annual Report

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.

To Affinity and Beyond

An interview with Affinity Mentoring’s Executive Director, Laura Ward, about Affinity’s Journey to Independence.

 

Affinity’s Journey

In 2001 Mars Hill Bible Church launched the Mars Hill Mentorship Program at Burton Elementary with 8 matches under the umbrella of Kids Hope USA’s “one church, one school” mentorship model. Over the years, this program grew to serve more than 150 matches a year and had a large network of support and passionate volunteers. However, there was still a greater need for more mentors and more schools.

With 15 years of experience and a deep desire to become more inclusive and diverse, Affinity Mentoring was born as a 501c3 independent nonprofit in 2016. Affinity’s vision was to broaden our impact by engaging more schools, serving more students, diversifying our team, and cultivating relationships with more community partners.

As we begin a new school year we wanted to reflect on where we’ve been and where we want to go. So we sat down with our Executive Director, Laura Ward to hear more about Affinity’s journey to independence. In the last 4 years Affinity has:

  • established a board of directors,
  • received 501(c)(3) nonprofit status,
  • transitioned operations to Affinity (accounting, bookkeeping, and became its own employer of record),
  • developed a recurring giving program, and
  • secured more sustainable funding to replace Mars Hill funding.

 

Expanded Community Partnerships

“We believe community collaborations build stronger communities. We’ve gone from a few to more than 20. What we’ve seen is that one person volunteers to mentor and then they share that experience with a co-worker or supervisor. Soon after it starts to spread organically throughout the department and organization,” says Laura.

“I’m excited to see is that businesses are looking for tangible ways to deepen relationships in the community in a lasting and deep impactful way. Mentoring is one way to do that,” explains Laura. “What we’ve seen from our partners is that people are really enjoying the experience. They are connecting more deeply with the community, a widened world-view, and are meeting more people from their own organization from different departments.”

 

Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives

Affinity staff: Monica Zavala and Angela Reyna

At Affinity’s core is the belief that it takes all of us to lift up students in a supportive network. Laura states, “It’s really important that all kids know who they are and what they want to be regardless of what society tells them. Our job is to listen and journey with them to help them discover that for themselves.” Affinity understands mentoring is not the “silver bullet” but a small piece of the puzzle.

“As kids are growing and developing they’re discovering where they belong and who they are. It’s so important for them to have someone to journey with them that has had similar experiences. With the right support, students can see they don’t have to give up their native language or culture in order to belong and be successful,” explains Laura.

Strategic Plan Summary

Following our Strategic Plan, we have attracted and retained more diverse mentors, staff, and board members. “Our team right now is awesome,” smiles Laura. “Our whole team speaks Spanish and have a background in social work, nonprofit management, and/or community engagement. Several members of our team grew up in the neighborhoods where we work.”

“We’ve only had our board for a year and half, and to grow the board to 10 people and have it as diverse as it is is amazing. They are so dedicated and astute. They ask good questions and they’re invested. They’re always thinking about the here and now as well as the long­term vision and how to get there.”

 

Long-term Sustainability

Before entering this journey to independence our mentorship program was fully funded through Mars Hill. “Our independence means that Mars Hill is now a community partner instead of a parent organization,” explains Laura. “This next year is Affinity’s last year in the five year transition plan (the grant from Mars Hill ends in June 2020). As we grow and expand we are working on increasing funding from other sources to replace this grant funding and overall lessen our need on grants in general,” says Laura.

2017-2018 Revenue Sources

“We’ve gone from one revenue stream to five. It’s on my mind on a daily basis. The one thing we know is there’s needs to be diverse revenue streams. It’s been a heavy lift,” she explains.

“Getting Herman Miller Cares and Wege Foundation funding was a huge win. Because we’re working with kids and our work is so relational the funding needs to be sustainable. We can’t expand to another site until we’ve secured more sustainable funding,” Laura remarks.

 

The Future of Affinity

“There is plenty of research to show that mentoring doesn’t work – QUALITY mentoring works,” Laura explains.

Increasing Affinity’s organizational capacity is one of the key focus areas because there is a high demand for mentoring services, “it’s a balance between quantity and quality,” says Laura.

“My dream is for Affinity to be to provide mentoring for youth, throughout West Michigan, all the way through their educational experience, and even post-secondary,” says Laura.

Affinity is currently developing an expansion plan by identifying what are the next schools we’ll expand to and creating a strategic plan. Our hope is that we will be able to add a 4th school partnership by next fall. Then be able to add more schools in a regular rhythm.

 

Champion Affinity In Your Own Way

As we continue on our path toward sustainability and expansion, we need your continued support. Nearly 1⁄4 of our funding comes from individuals giving monthly. It may seem a small or insignificant, but we can assure you it’s not. Monthly match sponsors provide dependable sustainable funding to ensure participants experience quality mentoring.

Thank you all for your continued support, partnership, and love!

Herman Miller Cares Supports Capacity Building Efforts

October 2, 2018

Affinity Mentoring is pleased to announce it has received a $20,000 grant from the Herman Miller Cares Foundation. These funds will strengthen our capacity to serve more students, expand programming, increase literacy support, and implement our comprehensive evaluation plan.

“Every day, students stop in our Mentor Centers to ask for a mentor. With Herman Miller Cares’ support, we’ll be able to to tell more of them that this is the year that they’ll get one,” explains Executive Director, Laura Ward.

There are currently 130 students asking for a mentor across Affinity’s 3 sites in Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS). With the support of a mentor, students have better attendance in school, more academic growth and more positive relationships with their teacher(s) and parent(s).

“The mentor/student matches receive a lot of resources to support the student’s academic and socioemotional development as well as vital match support through our dedicated and skilled Site Coordinators. Furthermore, in partnership with Grand Rapids Public Schools, we’ll be implementing a comprehensive program evaluation plan to inform our work and assess our impact,” says Laura. 

In the upcoming year we estimate we’ll serve 280 students. By the end of the 2018-2019 school year we will expand our reach to more students, develop a plan for site expansion, have aggregate data to inform our work and evaluate our impact, and have a more sustainable and diversified funding stream. 

This is the second year Affinity Mentoring has received a grant from the Herman Miller Cares Foundation. We are in the process of developing a robust fund development plan that includes grants, individual donations, corporate sponsorships, special events, and in-kind donations to ensure a diverse and sustainable growth plan.

Applications to become a mentor are still open, apply at https://affinitymentoring.org/mentors/.