Mission, Mutual Liberation, and BLM: A Letter from Affinity’s Executive Director
On June 1, like many local and national organizations, Affinity Mentoring made a public statement supporting Black Lives Matter (BLM). We struggled with the decision of whether or not to release a statement, not because we don’t fully support it, but because a statement is just words unless there is action and accountability behind it. We decided to publicly show our support for BLM to hold ourselves accountable, lean into our mission, and leverage our networks and resources to encourage others to do so. Included in our statement we wrote:
“We believe an individual’s ability to provide for their family, have access to basic resources, and an opportunity for equitable education are all pieces of this broader work. Over 80% of the students and families that partner with Affinity identify as people of color, and over 80% are economically disadvantaged; this is not a coincidence (Learn more about equitable economic growth and access to capital).”
Additionally, our website reads: “[w]e work towards the mutual liberation of all community members and believe that youth are already leaders and community members, but need equitable access and platforms to use their voice.” This verbiage is based on a quote by Lilla Watson, an Indigenous Australian artist and activist who stated, “[i]f you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
As we continue to internally scrutinize our work and identify our blindspots and where we have room for improvement, one key area is in how we spend our dollars, and deciding to intentionally reinvest back into the communities we partner alongside. We have taken advantage of the Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses’ (GRABB) #30days30dollars challenge to hold ourselves publicly accountable to making financial decisions that support Black lives.
In GRABB’s words, “[t]he challenge aims to promote Black-owned businesses across the city and increase dollars flowing to the businesses and communities they are located in. By shifting your dollars to Black Businesses you will be playing a vital role improving the quality of life in economically marginalized neighborhoods in Grand Rapids while purchasing great products and services.”
We want to make it clear that this is not charity or philanthropy work. We need these services and products, we investigated who had the ability to provide quality services and products, and Black-owned businesses have earned our capital. During the month of September Affinity Mentoring spent $3,898 at local, Black-owned businesses, and between last quarter and this quarter we will have spent $5,845 at local, Black-owned businesses. As September comes to a close and the #30days30dollars challenge ends we call on individuals, for-profit, and nonprofit organizations to consider not only how programming and products impact our community, but how expenditures can contribute towards greater wealth divides or greater equity amongst community members; our mutual liberation depends upon our conscious decisions.
Below is a list of businesses that Affinity has or will receive excellent products and services from; we highly recommend each of them. We invite the community to continue to hold us accountable and continue challenging us on ways that we can improve living out our belief that Black Lives Matter. We also gratefully accept recommendations or new ideas for how we can continue to spend our money at Black-owned businesses.
We highly recommend the Cookie Baking Kits for a team building activity to do in-person or virtually, individually wrapped snacks for in-person events, and they will be a featured part of our Cuentos y Comida event goodie bags.
They will be running our online Cuentos y Comida event; tune in to see their amazing skills.
Grounded In Equity
Christine Mwangi is highly experienced in leading teams through diversity, equity and inclusion work, and she will be supporting our team as we work to build better DEI practices into our long-term strategic planning. Contact her at email@example.com.
Medra’s Art by Medra Stoner
Medra Stoner, a local mix-media artist, completed two commissioned pieces that now hang in the Affinity Mentoring Goei Center office. You can follow her on Instagram and Facebook at @medras_art.
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.”
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).
“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 Affinitywe 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!
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.
Kent District Library (KDL) has been an excellent partner alongside Affinity Mentoring for the past year. “KDL leadership is proud to support Affinity Mentoring and grow our partnership this fall. All KDL employees are encouraged to become mentors. To help make this a reality all KDL employees can use one paid hour of time each week to mentor,” explains Brian Mortimore, Director of Human Resources and Organizational Development at KDL and mentor at Burton Elementary.
“Promoting literacy skills is what we’re all about so it was a natural fit for KDL to partner with Affinity Mentoring and encourage our staff to mentor young people and we’re proud to continue that tradition in the year ahead,” continues Brian.
KDL plans to help recruit more employees this year even though mentoring will look at bit different. For the health and safety of students and mentors, this year mentoring will be in a virtual format (read more on virtual mentoring). However, what hasn’t changed is the support, “mentors will continue to have extensive support from site coordinators at each school, and support students in building skills in leadership, self-confidence, literacy and math,” says Cassandra Kiger, Executive Director of Affinity Mentoring.
Last year 8 KDL employees served as mentors and we want to highlight what a few had to say about their experience.
Julie Cook | Wyoming Assistant Branch Librarian “My favorite memory with my mentee is doing hands-on literacy activities, fooling them that we are just playing a game, but in reality, we are practicing important literacy skills. I would highly suggest that KDL employees take the opportunity to be a positive role model in a child’s life, especially if they are located near your KDL branch. You can promote KDL materials and programing ideas to a child. It really shows that an adult in her life, outside of her family, really cares for their success socially, emotionally, and academically.”
Anjie Gleisner | Wyoming Branch Manager “As a youth librarian turned library manager, I often miss reading to my story time kiddos! It’s wonderful to be able to share books with a child again. Mentoring has been a great way to establish a connection with a school near my library and it’s a wonderful change of pace to my work week. It’s something that I have always wanted to do but could not because of my work schedule. My employer allowed me the flexibility to do this during the workday. This was a huge plus! It’s something that I look forward to every week.”
Affinity Mentoring is committed to the health and safety of our students, volunteers, and staff. We continue to keep up to date with the most recent directives from Governor Whitmer, Kent County Health Department, and schools partners (Grand Rapids Public Schools and Godfrey-Lee Public Schools). We are using the MI Safe Schools: Michigan’s 2020-21 Return to School Roadmap to plan out health and safety measures we need to safely run mentoring this fall. The Roadmap provides required, strongly recommended, and recommended safety protocols to keep school communities safe based on the local status of the coronavirus. Additionally, the Roadmap provides recommendations across mental and social-emotional health, instruction, and operations within each phase of the MI Safe Start Plan to support all schools in Michigan as they continue their return to school planning and move towards implementation.
Health and Safety Recommendations
As stated in the Roadmap, “The effects of COVID-19 on the health of racial and ethnic minority groups and vulnerable populations are still emerging; however, current data suggest a disproportionate burden of illness and death among racial and ethnic minority groups. Evidence also indicates that access to technology—devices and high-speed internet—is correlated to race and socioeconomic status which is likely to manifest in learning loss amongst vulnerable populations.”
Over 80% of the students and families we partner with at Affinity identify as people of color and are financially disadvantaged. We are committed to implementing all required and strongly recommended protocols, and as many recommended safety protocols as resources allow to minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19 to our students and families that are most vulnerable in the community. Additionally we make the following commitments as we continue to navigate this pandemic alongside the community:
HEALTH PRACTICES: We will follow all of the most up to date health practices and recommendations as communicated by Governor Whitmer and the Kent County Health Department.
PARTNERSHIP: We will work closely with all of our community partners and, if they have more restrictive COVID-19 prevention policies, we will rise to their standards.
SAFETY: We will not allow any staff or mentor to be in the school buildings or meet one-on-one with students who, at the time of the meeting, tests positive for COVID-19, is symptomatic, or has knowledge of being around a COVID-19 positive individual in the past two weeks.
EQUITY: We will continue to support our community partners, students, and families through this time and provide resources and assistance as needed and able while maintaining and increasing our focus on equity through this process.
WORKING REMOTELY: Affinity Mentoring staff will continue to work remotely until it is safe for all industries to return to work. Staff are available via email. General questions can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
At this time we are preparing our programming to take place under Phase 4 (or less) of the Roadmap which recommends that schools be open for in-person instruction with more stringent safety protocols. In this Phase we can anticipate short-term dismissals, suspension of extracurricular activities, and reducing non-essential personnel in the building.
Keeping this in mind, it is our plan to move forward with the 2020-2021 mentoring program, however it will be converted to a virtual format. At this time we do not have all of the details but we are committed to providing:
students with the technology needed to connect virtually with their mentor*;
full site coordination and support for mentors and mentees in relationship building and technology use; and
adapting orientation, information sessions, and ongoing training to virtual models.
*Mentors will be asked to provide their own device with audio/video capabilities and access to the internet. We will have more detailed information and instructions available mid-August. If mentors have any immediate concerns about this, please contact us at email@example.com.
Virtual Mentoring Costs
We are committed to providing mentoring services at no cost to families, students, or our school partners. There is a significant start-up cost for adapting our in-person mentoring program to a virtual platform. To learn more about our financial needs and how you can help check out our COVID-19 Relief Blog.
Questions or Concerns? Please direct your questions to the following people:
We will continue to share updates and resources with our families, students, volunteers, and community via email, our website, Facebook, and LinkedIn pages.
During this uncertain time, we ask that you continue to support the work of Affinity Mentoring and other nonprofits in our community. Your support through finances and time is more important than ever.
Thank you for your continued support and understanding during these challenging times.
Affinity Mentoring está comprometido a la buena salud y la seguridad de nuestros estudiantes, voluntarios y personal. Seguimos actualizándonos con las directivas más recientes de la Gobernadora Whitmer, el Departamento de Salud del Condado de Kent y los socios de las escuelas (Escuelas Públicas de Grand Rapids y Escuelas Públicas de Godfrey-Lee). Estamos utilizando la Guía MI Safe Schools: Michigan’s 2020-21 Return to School Roadmap para planificar las medidas de salud y seguridad que necesitamos para llevar a cabo la mentoría de manera segura este otoño. La Guía proporciona protocolos de seguridad requeridos, altamente recomendados y recomendados para mantener a las comunidades escolares seguras de acuerdo con el estatus local del coronavirus. Además, la Guía proporciona recomendaciones sobre salud mental y socioemocional, instrucción y operaciones dentro de cada fase del Plan de Inicio Seguro de MI para apoyar a todas las escuelas en Michigan a medida que continúan la planificación para regresar a la escuela y avanzan hacia la implementación.
RECOMENDACIONES DE SALUD Y SEGURIDAD
Como se indica en la Guía, “Los efectos de COVID-19 en la salud de los grupos minoritarios raciales y étnicos y las poblaciones vulnerables aún están en estatus emergente; sin embargo, los datos actuales sugieren una carga desproporcionada de enfermedad y muerte entre los grupos minoritarios raciales y étnicos. La evidencia también indica que el acceso a la tecnología (dispositivos e Internet de alta velocidad) está correlacionado con la raza y el estado socioeconómico que probablemente se manifieste en la pérdida de aprendizaje entre las poblaciones vulnerables.”
Más del 80% de los estudiantes y las familias con las que apoyamos en Affinity se identifican como personas de color y están en desventaja financiera. Estamos comprometidos a implementar todos los protocolos requeridos y altamente recomendados, y tantos protocolos de seguridad recomendados como permitan nuestros recursos para minimizar el riesgo de exposición al COVID-19 para nuestros estudiantes y familias que son más vulnerables en la comunidad. Además, asumimos los siguientes compromisos a medida que continuamos navegando esta pandemia junto con la comunidad:
PRÁCTICAS DE SALUD: Seguiremos todas las prácticas y recomendaciones de salud más actualizadas según lo comunicado por la Gobernadora Whitmer y el Departamento de Salud del Condado de Kent.
COLABORACIÓN: Trabajaremos en colaboración con todos nuestros socios de la comunidad y, si tienen políticas de prevención COVID-19 más restrictivas, alcanzaremos hasta sus estándares.
SEGURIDAD: No permitiremos que ningún miembro del personal o mentor esté en los edificios de la escuela o se reúnan uno a uno con estudiantes que, en el momento de la reunión, den positivo por COVID-19, tengan sintomáticos o tengan conocimiento de estar cerca de un COVID -19 individuo positivo en las últimas dos semanas.
EQUIDAD: Continuaremos apoyando a nuestros socios comunitarios, estudiantes y familias durante este tiempo y proporcionaremos recursos y asistencia según sea necesario y posible mientras mantenemos y aumentamos nuestro enfoque en la equidad a través de este proceso.
TRABAJANDO DE FORMA REMOTA: El personal de Affinity Mentoring continuará trabajando de forma remota hasta que sea seguro para todas las industrias volver a trabajar. El personal está disponible por correo electrónico. Las preguntas generales pueden dirigirse a firstname.lastname@example.org.
En este momento, estamos preparando nuestra programación para la Fase 4 (o menos) de la Guía que recomienda que las escuelas estén abiertas para la instrucción en persona con protocolos de seguridad más estrictos. En esta Fase podemos anticipar despidos a corto plazo, la suspensión de actividades extracurriculares y la reducción de personal no esencial en el edificio.
Teniendo esto en cuenta, es nuestro plan avanzar con el programa de mentoría 2020-2021, sin embargo, se convertirá a un formato virtual. En este momento no tenemos todos los detalles, pero estamos comprometidos a proporcionar:
a los estudiantes la tecnología necesaria para conectarse virtualmente con su mentor*;
coordinación completa del sitio y apoyo para mentores y mentorizados en el desarrollo de relaciones y el uso de tecnología; y
adaptación de la orientación, sesiones de información y capacitación continua a modelos virtuales.
*Se pedirá a los mentores que proporcionen su propio dispositivo con capacidades de audio/video y acceso al Internet. Tendremos información más detallada e instrucciones disponibles al medio de agosto. Si los mentores tienen alguna inquietud inmediata en este respecto, contáctenos en email@example.com.
COSTE DE MENTORÍA VIRTUAL
Estamos comprometidos a proporcionar servicios de mentoría sin costo para las familias, los estudiantes o nuestros socios escolares. Existe un costo inicial considerable para adaptar nuestro programa de mentoría en persona a una plataforma virtual. Para obtener más información sobre nuestras necesidades financieras y cómo puede ayudar, consulte nuestro blog de Apoyo para COVID-19.
¿Preguntas o preocupaciones? Dirija sus preguntas a las siguientes personas:
Mentores, mentorizados o miembro de la familia que regresan: póngase en contacto directamente con la coordinadora de su sitio
Continuaremos compartiendo actualizaciones y recursos con nuestras familias, estudiantes, voluntarios y la comunidad por correo electrónico, nuestro sitio de web, Facebook y LinkedIn.
Durante este tiempo incierto, le pedimos que continúe apoyando el trabajo de Affinity Mentoring y otras organizaciones sin fines de lucro en nuestra comunidad. Su apoyo a través de las finanzas y su tiempo es más importante que nunca.
Gracias por su continuo apoyo y comprensión durante estos tiempos difíciles.
Sitting outside the Mentor Center at Burton Elementary, James and Jerry are intently working on an i-Pad. A victory sound chimes, Jerry eagerly turns to James with a huge grin and begins a celebratory dance in his chair. James congratulates Jerry on completing Level 8, a challenging activity to master “Silent E” (an activity assigned to the match by Jerry’s second grade teacher, Ms. Almanza).
The two are in their second year of mentoring. Jerry is cheerful, funny, and talkative. His mom, Blanca, enrolled him in the program because she wanted him to have a mentor to help him build confidence in speaking and have a positive role model.
James works at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) and heard about the opportunity to mentor through his colleague, Jason Loepp. Jason leads the BCBSM partnership, is an Affinity board member, and has been a mentor for the past 5 years. After learning about James’ background in nonprofit management, after-school programming, and love for the community he encouraged him to apply.
“It’s the highlight of my week,” explains James. “After a long work week, I look forward to our Friday mentoring sessions to share jokes and laugh,” he smiles. James is originally from the Lansing area and spent several years working in Detroit through MSU Extension. He and his wife, Samantha, moved to Grand Rapids a few years ago to work for BCBSM. The community partnership with Affinity made it easy for him to participate, “BCBSM gives volunteer hours. They are very open to volunteerism and being part of the community. I just had to let leadership know.”
Jerry’s favorite thing to do together is read the “Fly Guy Series” (if you’re unfamiliar with what kids are reading these days, this popular series follows the adventures of a kid, Buzz, and his pet fly, Fly Guy, as they navigate daily life challenges). Jerry and James are often found in heated (yet playful) debates on which one of them is more like Buzz or Fly Guy.
James and Jerry have strengthened their friendship over the last two school years. “I see his confidence and best-self coming out. We play a lot of soccer, read books, and we work through things when he’s upset, often talking about Fly Guy,” says James.
With two young children of his own and full-time job, James is very intentional about making time for mentoring each week, “My job is chaotic, but I just make it work. When I’m here I make sure I’m present in the moment and attentive. I shut everything else out.”
James appreciates the staff support and says, “It’s been really helpful. Rocio does a great job of letting me know if Jerry and his family are coming to an event or if I miss a progress report.” This year his goal is to get Jerry more engaged in the mentoring events that happen.
“We’re always working together,” explains Jerry. “He helps me learn new words.” He describes James as “nice, helpful, and kind” and he looks forward to his weekly mentoring. Jerry says, “If we stopped meeting I would feel sad. I was waiting for like a year to have a mentor. I feel really happy together. It’s a lot of fun.”
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.
Recruit, screen, train, and match 30 mentors with a student
Stock the Mentor Center with games, activities, crafts, books, and other resources
Provide ongoing match support to retain and support students and their mentors
So far, 17 kindergarteners and first graders have been matched with a mentor, but there is still a need. If you are interested in becoming a mentor, apply here.
The Wyoming Community Foundation, a regional affiliate of Grand Rapids Community Foundation, evaluates local needs and opportunities and looks to fund projects that address the areas of art & culture, community development, education, environment, health, or social needs.
If you or your organization would like to support Affinity’s expansion to Wyoming please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or check out our Community Partners Page.
Each award category recognizes those who are leading in growth and innovation, strengthening the business community, enabling collaboration and connections, and accomplishing incredible endeavors with a focus on the future.
This year, over 150 nominations were submitted for consideration. After the selection committee comprised of Grand Rapids business leaders studied the nominees’ newest initiatives, collaborative efforts, impact in the community, and philanthropic vision, 40 finalists were announced in September, and 9 recipients were honored at the EPIC Awards Celebration on Wednesday, October 30 at 20 Monroe Live, including Affinity Mentoring at the “Nonprofit of the Year!”
Executive Director, Laura Ward, accepted the award on behalf of the Affinity team, “We share this win with our 1,700+ students their families and their mentors. We know it takes all of us to lift up children through a supportive network and we’re grateful for our 30+ Community partners that invest in the life of children and sustaining this important work.”
“We’d also like to thank our partner schools, Burton Elementary, Burton Middle School, Southwest Community Campus, and Godfrey-Lee Early Childhood Center for inviting us to be a part of their school community and walking alongside our work,” says Laura. “Affinity Mentoring values relationships and it starts with our people – our dedicated team members and board members who bring the passion, drive, and commitment to quality mentoring. And we’re just getting started!”
Join Affinity Mentoring foran evening to reflect on our journey to independence and future growth. The Mars Hill community has played a significant role in building, sustaining, and championing our mission to lift up children in a supportive network.
Come witness firsthand, the impact of your contributions of service and financial support. As a compelling force for good, we want to thank you for your devotion to the Burton families. There will be refreshments, a tour of the Burton Mentor Center, and a short presentation to share the measurable change you have made and where we’re headed next.
The EPIC Awards (Entrepreneurial, Progressive, Innovative and Collaborative) recognize businesses or individuals who are leading the way in growth and innovation, strengthening our business community, enabling collaboration and connections, and accomplishing incredible endeavors with their focus on the future.
Winners will be announced at the event on October 30, 2019. Get Tickets.
Date: Wednesday, October 30, 2019 5:30 PM – 8:00 PM Location: 20 Monroe Live
11 Ottawa Ave NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49503