January Is Mentor Appreciation Month!

Here at Affinity we believe in mutually beneficial mentoring relationships. We understand the the importance of continual community impact and in-reach–it takes a village. We enjoy hearing stories of how mentoring changes the lives and well-being of not only our students, but also our mentors. We appreciate community partners like Lexie and FWF who choose to continue making impact on students and families through Affinity Mentoring! Take a quick read of Lexie’s story below!

My name is Lexie Klunder and I am 23 years old. I went to Rockford High School and graduated with my BBA, Marketing and Sales from Grand Valley State University. After graduating, I began my career at Fifth Wheel Freight (FWF), a 3PL located in Kentwood, MI, in June of 2021. It has been an absolute joy to work alongside some of the most genuine and caring team members. Every day they are pushing me to be my best self, both personally and professionally.

I chose to volunteer at Affinity Mentoring when FWF presented the incredible opportunity. I knew that mentoring would be a great opportunity to push me out of my comfort zone, and it has in ways I could have never imagined. The Affinity Mentoring team provides a seamless and excellent experience for their mentors. Starting from the beginning of my journey with training up until the first day with my mentee, the Affinity Mentoring team was truly dedicated to giving 110% to make the experience incredible.

A special gift I see in my mentee is her ability to connect, care, listen, and empathize with others. From the start, she would ask me questions about my life and who I am. Her ability to connect and initiate conversation is admirable. When we walk down the hallway, she is constantly saying hello to everyone. She knows each of her classmates’ names, and she knows nearly every staff member. Every session, she greets me with a warm hug and a big smile. It is amazing how special it is to make that connection with my mentee.

One thing I wish everyone knew about mentoring is that it is not as intimidating as it may seem. I was not sure how I would get to know my mentee, and was nervous if we would be able to connect. The Affinity Mentoring staff does an amazing job from the start of the matching process, all the way through with their training program for new mentors. The site coordinators could not have been more spot-on with the mentee I was paired with. We share very similar interests and hobbies, along with our personal values.

I will never forget my first day of mentoring. All of the students were patiently waiting outside of the classrooms, lined up in the hallways awaiting the arrival of their mentors with excitement. When I saw my mentee, she ran up to me and hugged me. I did not realize how much mentoring would impact my life. My mentee continues to teach me more and more each week in every session we share together. I cannot wait to continue my journey as a mentor, and I cannot wait to see my mentee grow in the years ahead.

Affinity Changes the Age-Out Story!

Working in foster care taught me a few terms; Age Out being the one that has stuck with me throughout the years. In Michigan, most students age out of the foster care system at age 18 and are left to tackle the world, and all its difficult decisions, alone. There are very minimal programs that help develop these now budding adults in their decision making and life management skills–resulting in young adults having to experience life-altering transitions alone.

Fourteen years of age, or 8th grade is when students age out of Affinity. While walking with students from kindergarten to 8th grade is critical for identity and SEL development–another level of life and decision making happens from 9th grade and beyond. Affinity has MASTERED mentoring at the K-8 levels. We are able to see great gains in academic achievement, SEL development, and identity development with each of our students. 76% of our students report being able to make informed decisions, 80% report feeling trust within their mentor relationships, and 86% are improving in academics and attendance. While these are all great indicators of growth there is still more work to do. In 9th grade students are forced to make split second decisions that impact their entire life: career choices, post secondary options, financial planning, and scheduling. This is interesting considering that our frontal lobe, or decision making arena, isn’t fully developed until the age of 26. Students are making lifelong decisions during critical periods of neuro-development–mentors are necessary here. 

Affinity is working to continue mentoring for both high school and post secondary students. We are working with West Michigan Work’s Ascend Program to become a hiring site for ages 14-24 (in Michigan, one can pursue their high school degree until they are 24 years of age) and with Davenport University’s Casa Latina Program to promote secondary education to our students. 

While conversations with both programs are still budding, plans are in the works, and these two partnerships allow for both legacy and lasting relationships with students and mentors. I cannot wait to share more!

Let’s imagine, together, the future stories told from an Affinity Student who was matched with a mentor in kindergarten, is now graduating college, and their mentor is right beside them. Imagine the comfort, pride, and sense of support that student feels.  I recently had a conversation with a mentor who has been matched with a third grader. With tears in her eyes, she explained how she cannot wait to be with that student when they graduate middle school. Imagine the tears, excitement, joy, fulfillment present when she is able to see that student graduate from college! With Ascend we are able to walk with youths during that critical time of brain development and decision making by providing mentorship on a professional level. With Casa Latina we are able to provide post secondary education options and resources for first generation college students and ELL students as their program offers bi-lingual education. 

I am excited about the opportunity to envision and implement a program that demands legacy and lasting impact on the lives of students right here in our community. I am even more grateful for partners, like you, who come alongside Affinity to run with the vision! Together, let’s continue to make a difference!

Juantos avanzando!

Sharalle Ankrah–your E.D.!

100 Days, 100 Mentors

Each year we have over 100 students on our waiting list, asking for mentors across our six partner schools.

We need your help.

In the next 100 days, our goals are to:

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 (virtual and in-person mentoring options available)!

Share our campaign on social media with the hashtag #100days100mentors tag us on Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn.

Black History Month

February 2021

February is Black History Month!
This is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history. We’ll be sharing personal experiences, celebrations, and resources from our board and team members!

The theme for 2022 focuses on the importance of Black Health and Wellness. This theme acknowledges the legacy of not only Black scholars and medical practitioners in Western medicine, but also other ways of knowing (e.g., birthworkers, doulas, midwives, naturopaths, herbalists, etc.) throughout the African Diaspora. The 2022 theme considers activities, rituals and initiatives that Black communities have done to be well.” ASALH: Association for the Study of African American Life and History

Consider supporting and learning from more local Black scholars and medical practitioners:
– Grand Rapids African American Health Institute
– Baxter Community Center
– Urban Core Collective
– NAACP Grand Rapids
Our board and team members reflect on Black History Month:

"As a Black transracial adoptee, my identity as a Black person was not always something I celebrated. My closest family members are white. My parents are white. My school, my church, all my friends were white. At home, we had dolls, books, and toys to remind me that Black people exist, and Black people are beautiful. But still, my surroundings were white.

One time, maybe around 8 or 9 years old, I was in the car with a friend and her mom (both white) when my friend asked me why I was darker than my family. Excitement shot through my body. I knew my story was special. My family and I always shared this story among ourselves with such pride. As I began to explain my adoption story, my friend's mom whipped her head around from the front seat to scold her daughter for asking such a personal question. I felt the embarrassment rush in. "Maybe being adopted is bad," I told myself. 'Maybe being Black is bad.'

I decided I didn't want to talk about it anymore. My Blackness became something to hide. I would straighten my hair, watch Lizzie McGuire, and listen to 'white people music' only. I suppressed myself. Condensed myself. I made myself less. I figured if I could fly under the radar, 'act less Black,' maybe no one would notice or ask questions.

When I started college, my whole world changed. I had enrolled in a program specifically designed for students of color. For the first time in my life I had Black educators. All my professors were Black, and all my peers were people of color. The people I saw every day were people of color. For the first time ever, I didn't feel smaller than the people around me. I felt the flimsy shell of faux-whiteness cracking off my Black skin. I felt Black. But not in a 'stop asking questions' way. I felt Black in a good way.

Recently, the Black experience in America has been under more surveillance than ever. Netflix and HBO are highlighting films with Black actors. Ben and Jerry's broke the internet in June of 2020 with this hot take. Ibram X Kendi sold nearly 2 Million copies of 'How to Be an Antiracist.' Everyone is reading the books. Everyone is eyeing the statistics. Everyone is trying to do their due diligence as we unpack 'Black.' For me, my due diligence is an internal reminder that I owe to my once-9-year-old self: My experience is a Black experience simply because I am Black.

I am Black. I am Black in a good way. I am Black in the best way. I am not small. I am not hiding. I am so proud to be Black. I am so proud to be me. "

Abigail Bruins
Board Member

"As a woman who identifies as Black, African and American, my identity has been very complex to describe...'you had to be there' or 'you had to live it' is how I candidly describe it. However, because of the intersectionality of my identity - I can say that I am mostly proud, because I am able to relate to the lived experiences of very many Black, African and American people. I am grateful for the journey my life has afforded me, the struggles that taught me memorable lessons and the grace that allows me to extend genuine empathy and compassion to those who are marginalized because of these identities."

Christine Mwangi
Board Member

"I’m using this month to reflect on how I invest my time, talent, and treasure to support and amplify Black voices in my personal and professional realms. The erasure of Black voices in history, education, and liberation movements (only to name a few) is perpetuated and upheld by individuals and systems that do not correct past and current treatment of Black Americans. While dedicating a month to honor and celebrate Black Americans’ contributions to the nation is important, it’s also essential that we make long term solutions to amplify and support the Black community all year long.

In my professional day to day activities I’m making a point to research, read, and listen to Black philanthropists. If there’s one thing I have learned it’s that Black philanthropy IS American philanthropy. Black erasure is prevalent in most every sector, but especially philanthropy. Where certain groups are labeled “givers” or “receivers.” According to the 2018 Demographic Report of the Association of Fundraising Professionals of the more than 31,000 members, less than 10 percent are professionals of color (This includes those who self-identify as: African American, Hispanic, Native American, Multi-Ethnic, Alaskan Native, and Pacific Islander). This is problematic for a number of reasons, more than I can speak on in a blog. But this led me to begin exploring how Black philanthropists have been erased from history and why most fundraising practices are focused on white, upper-middle class donors.

A prime example is of Madam C.J. Walker’s legacy of charitable giving during the 1900s and Jim Crow era, which is often overlooked or a footnote in her accomplishments. Madame C.J. Walker was born to enslaved parents, was orphaned young, and became the first SELF-MADE millionaire. Her giving was strategic and an essential part of her life no matter what amount she had in her pockets.
Book: Madam C.J. Walker’s Gospel of Giving: Black Women’s Philanthropy During Jim Crow by Tyrone McKinley Freeman
Netflix Limited Series: Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker

I’m an avid reader and love to explore local coffee shops. This month I've been adding to my list of Black-owned businesses, authors, and movements to further my knowledge and support local.
A City Within a City: The Black Freedom Struggle in Grand Rapids, MI by Todd E. Robinson
Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement by Tarana Burke
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Bookstore:When you are buying books, see if we are lit (local multicultural bookstore) has it first!
While you’re at it, support Black-owned coffee shops like Last Mile Cafe and Shift Coffee + Culture🙂

I’m always geeked to meet a fellow bibliophile and nerd out on my latest reads - add me on Goodreads!"

Rachel Humphreys
Communications and Development Director

"For some time now I’ve always known that February is Black History Month and I saw it as an opportunity to educate myself on how enslaved people were treated and how they became free, I pay my respects by watching inspirational movies and documentaries. Although I am Hispanic and do not identify as Black, I do relate to being minority. As I get older I am understanding that Black History Month is not just about slavery, MLK, and protests, it’s also about celebrating Black community and achievements, it’s an opportunity for us to step out of our own circle and embrace other cultures, and support Black-owned businesses. February is a reminder to create awareness, get involved, and respect the sacrifice endured. I celebrate not only the historical freedom but also the freedom of the emotional bondages within ourselves and our community. Together we thrive!"

Mayra Rodriguez
Office Coordinator

"Black History Month is a regular opportunity for me to remember how much I simply don't know, and to be grateful for the beautiful, kind, patient Black people who have graciously helped me learn (or graciously told me to stop asking them and go learn on my own). This month is a cognitive reminder to celebrate the accomplishments collectively fought for and made, to lament how far we have yet to go and the inequities that remain in our society, and to make actual plans and move forward real goals towards change. Black History Month makes me remember that I need to strive for more empathy, that there are stories and life experiences that I will never understand, that I need to believe black people when they share their experiences and follow their lead in change."

Cassandra Kiger
Executive Director

"Yay, it's Black History Month. Although I do not identify as Black or African American I'm always excited to learn about their amazing history and all that they have overcome to ensure a better future for the coming generations. Although there are still many obstacles to overcome I would like to share one of my favorite Black/African American people who in their own way have empowered me to be a bulldozer of a woman. Rosa Parks is one of the women that from a young girl I looked up to because I was mesmerized by her strength to stand up for what she believed was fair. I have always admired her for her bravery and her willingness to never back down no matter the consequences."

Rocio Moreno
Program Director and Burton Site Coordinator

"I have spent a lot of my life wondering about my identity. As a biracial Black woman, whose Black roots cross a variety of cultures and histories, I never felt like I was allowed to claim myself as Black. I grew up in Maine, surrounded by White people, asking me 'What are you?,' or making racist comments about my appearance, or making racist jokes around me then claiming I couldn’t be offended because I 'wasn’t actually Black.'

In college, I learned about Black identity development, and I experienced what is known as the encounter stage, in which I recognized not only that I was Black, but that I had lived through many painful and formative experiences specifically because I was Black. After that, I immersed myself in owning this identity, and being proud of it, and not concerning myself with what others thought I was, or whether they thought I was enough.

My new reality, however, is one of understanding what it means to be biracial Black. Because I do have many privileges not bestowed upon Black people. I recognize that I do not experience a lot of racial discrimination placed upon those who present as Black, and that I must do my part to ensure those voices are heard and that I am listening.

I continue to learn more about my Cape Verdean culture, I listen to the stories of others who have experienced life similarly to me. I spend time trying to find events, activities, communities in which people of color will surround me, so that I may immerse myself and my family into environments where I am safe, where I can connect with others, and where I can listen to their stories."

Lauren Enos
MSW Intern

"How do I celebrate Black History Month? I have to admit that I am in a learning stage. For a long time, I did not know the importance of celebrating the contributions of each culture to this country. But today, I know it is essential to value and honor each culture. I celebrate this month by advocating for each student so that their culture and legacy are respected in our schools. I created a space where they can share with others who they are. But the most important is I admit that I have a lot to learn, but I am willing to educate myself, so my future generations love and respect others every day."

Monica Zavala
SWCC Site Coordinator

Mentoring Appreciation Night Award Winners

2019 Ripple Effect Award Winners: Dave and Sue Hodson

January is National Mentoring Month. Each year we celebrate our amazing mentors, partners, donors, and families for all that they do to support students. See below for the complete list of Mentoring Appreciation Night Awards Winners!

2022 Awards: Join us virtually Wednesday, January 26 awards, prizes and celebration! Grab a drink or snack and enjoy. You must register before the event to receive the Zoom link.

YearGo for the G.O.L.D. AwardPush Through AwardSoaring High AwardLongevity AwardPriceless PartnerRipple Effect AwardLukaart Legacy Award
2022Karen Small

Veronica Meza

Alex Stevenson
Geoffrey Bonham

Kim Stoub
Claire WoltersMike ZieteseMallowfieldsErika VanDykeAngel Barreto-Cruz

Luis Perez
2021Gary EveyCandy Wilkes-Scheper

Larry Whipple
Mike KruppDebbie SchuhmanKent District LibrarySergio Cira-Reyes

Carole Paine-McGovern and Kent School Services Network
Karina Zarate
2020Sara ArandaMadeline Aguillon

Kathee Longberg
Will HollandCindy KesselGordon Food ServiceJohana Rodriguez-QuistSusan Lukaart
2019NAVanessa NolteMaura LamoreauxSuzann VanklompenbergBlue Cross Blue Shield of MichiganDave and Sue HodsonNA