BCBSM Foundation Grant

September 1, 2021

Affinity Mentoring is THRILLED to announce that we have received a two-year research grant from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Michigan. It might seem strange that a non-profit offering mentoring services would receive a research grant from a foundation focused on physical health and safety, but Social Determinants of Health have actually shown us that our short and long term health and ability to thrive, even how long we live, are greatly affected by many factors, such as our economic stability, education, and important relationships! For example, did you know that:

  • Social Emotional Learning (SEL) competence shows benefits such as: improved test scores, grades, attendance, positive social behaviors, and relationships with peers and adults (Durlak et al., 2011; Farrington et al., 2012; Sklad et al., 2012)
  • SEL has been found to: improve achievement, increase attitudes toward school, and reduce depression and stress (Durlak et al., 2011)
  • Kindergartners stronger in SEL are more likely to: graduate high school, earn a college degree, and obtain stable employment in young adulthood (Jones, Greenberg & Crowley, 2015)

This is why we are so focused on our key areas of growth at Affinity Mentoring: Social Emotional Learning, Self Esteem, Leadership Development, and Academics; because they all impact each other! Have you ever tried to focus on an important project or difficult task while stressed about an important relationship, or thinking about another hard task you have to complete, or while being afraid that you might fail, or while keeping silent even though you have important information to share with others? How easy is it to complete that project or task? 
Students are exactly the same. When they are anxious, worried, have low self-esteem, are afraid to speak up, and do not feel as if they have safe relationships with people they can talk to, it is significantly harder for them to focus in school and on academics, and there can be short and long term consequences.

THIS is why we love mentoring; THIS is why it matters so incredibly much; THIS is why an organization like the BCBS Foundation of Michigan recognizes the long term positive impact that mentoring can have on student health. Visit our website to learn how you can be a part of something with incredible impact and potential in the lives of students and families. 

Support 115 New Matches, Match4Match



“It’s finally happening! My dream!” ANTHONY, a fourth grader, had been anxiously waiting for a mentor for two years. Now that he found his match, he is excited to practice his English one-on-one without fear of embarrassment or failure.



With your help, we found Anthony’s match, as well as one for 114 other students like:

TREZURE, an active and social 1st grader, who loves dancing, volleyball and softball was matched with Rachel, a certified personal trainer. Together they love to play outside, building Lego towers, and reading books at our newest site, Godfrey-Lee Early Childhood Center.

KOMANI, a kind and playful 2nd grader, had been on the waitlist for two years at Burton Elementary. He loves basketball and was looking for a strong male role model. After an extensive search, we matched him with a former mentor and father of four, Eric. Together they play sports, games, and are goal setting!

We said “yes” to these kids but matching them with a mentor is just the beginning. We need your help to ensure students like Anthony, Trezure, and Komani receive ongoing match support that enables them to navigate the larger systems and effectively advocate for them and their families. You have the power to help unlock their potential, match4match.

Will you join us?

DONATE NOW


Wyoming Community Foundation Supports Expansion

By Rachel Humphreys

The Wyoming Community Foundation has awarded Affinity Mentoring a $2,750 grant to support expansion to Godfrey-Lee Early Childhood Center in Wyoming, MI. This award will be combined with the support from Molina Healthcare, Steelcase Foundation, and the Dollar General Literacy Foundation to:

  • 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 rhumphreys@affinitymentoring.org or check out our Community Partners Page.

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

Leading by Example: Mentor, Donor, Partner

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mentor, Donor, and Partner: David’s Story

Mentor, Donor, and Partner: David’s Story
By Rachel Lopez

“Richy has a soft heart, a real soft heart. I love this kid,” smiles Dave. Over the past 7 years they have developed a deep bond, “We did a little bit of academics and a lot of playing – he’s a pretty self-motivated kid. He’s probably better at math than I am,” he laughs. Dave has gone to a lot of Richard’s family events, and Dave invited him to his daughter’s wedding this summer.

On the books their mentorship ended in 2016 when Richard, transferred to City Middle School. However, they’ve remained close, “We still keep in touch. I see him 4-5 times each year.” Now an 8th grader, Richy is starting to think more about college, “I’m looking forward to helping him navigate his college aspirations. I told him him when he graduates college I’ll take him to any soccer game in the world.”

Dave has worked at Gordon Food Service (GFS) for 27 years. Over the years he has been a mentor, donor, and partner. Originally Dave, heard about the opportunity to become a mentor and jumped at it. Later on he began recruiting more GFS employees too, “It started with info sessions, but it’s a cool community here. There are lots of hearts to serve so it wasn’t hard to get mentors.”

No longer a formal mentor, he sees himself as an advocate for Affinity Mentoring, “I don’t mind getting people in touch with senior leadership. It’s a ministry I believe in and want to support. I know it takes money to run and support the staff. I want to see [Affinity] be maintained and grow.”

He had a vision to grow the partnership. He brought the idea to Cliff Charles [the former Director of Diversity and Inclusion at GFS] and asked if he could “provide the horsepower to do it.” The team along with passionate mentors, like Will Holland, ran with it.

The partnership with GFS now boasts over 60 mentors and it’s still growing, “Our [company] culture is reflective of our values. [Affinity Mentoring] ties in closely with the values of GFS – the Gordons are an amazing family, there are hearts to serve at various levels.”

Contact us if you’re interested in becoming a mentor or starting a partnership with your organization.

 

Mentor and Donor: Alicia’s Story

Mentor and Donor: Alicia’s Story
By Rachel Lopez

Born and raised in Grand Rapids, Alicia went to Kenowa Hills and a private Catholic school. However, she didn’t feel like she fit into any standard box.

Her father is Mexican and her mother is Irish. There was often a cross-over between her two cultures, both emphasizing the community as an extension of the family. She loves her family’s legacy and rich cultural history, but being bicultural wasn’t always easy for her. With fair-skin, freckles, and curly red hair she often didn’t feel Mexican enough. Other times, she didn’t feel Irish enough.

Her parents instilled a sense of resourcefulness, hospitality, and kindness in her, “We didn’t have a lot growing up, but they always gave others what they could, whether it was hand-me-down clothes or a warm meal.” It wasn’t unusual for friends and neighbors to feel at home at her house and share big meals. 

Her family left a legacy of service in the Grand Rapids’ community. Her grandmother, Maurilla Ortiz Blakely, was an educator, mother, and community activist. Orphaned at age 6, she married at age 16 and had 5 kids by age 30. At age 47 she earned her bachelor’s and went on to have a 20 year career in social work (Have you heard of the Grand Rapids’ Mexican Festival? Yeah, that was Maurilla’s brainchild in 1970).

Although her community work was important, she remembers her most as a warm and loving grandmother who took her grandkids to Meijer in the evening to burn more energy and taught the entire family how to make tamales .

Alicia’s mother was a teacher, earned a master’s in education, and is also a mentor at Affinity. She credits her mother and grandmother for instilling her desire to serve, support, and advocate for children. Alicia was a nurse for a local summer camp for three years and taught weekend cooking and crafting classes to kids when she was younger.

As members of Mars Hill Bible Church, Alicia and her husband began financially supporting Affinity Mentoring, “We saw the benefit of putting resources into kids. We come from families where children are valued and celebrated.”

Three years ago she decided to become a mentor too. Alicia loves being in the Burton school and feels the sense of community she has longed for. Alicia was matched with Leidy, a shy, quiet, and smiley first grader. “She was hard to get out of her shell but we bonded over both wearing glasses.” After meeting weekly for three years Leidy has become more confident, giggly, and “happy-go-lucky.”

“She’s highly competitive and plays until she wins. Our last Uno game lasted 40 minutes. We went through the deck twice. Alicia loves being a mentor, “It makes me really happy. This is what I look forward to every week. Everything is scheduled around it. I truly love it.”

She enjoys the flexibility of the program to meet students where they are at. During times when Leidy was struggling with reading they started checking out books. They tried many popular children’s series, but neither of them were convinced, “I don’t know if you’ve ever read Diary of a Wimpy Kid, it’s not that good.” Finally they found it, “Leidy loves Penny Dreadful (Penelope Jones). It’s a mix of stories and pictures, it’s perfect for her level and keeps her attention.”

Alicia appreciates the resources and support from Affinity staff, “It’s more than just mentoring. There’s a social work aspect. They put [students] in touch with resources, bedding and household needs, and make sure [mentors] get resources. It’s encompassing the whole family, not just the child.”

Alicia and Leidy will be meeting over the summer. They already went shopping and out to lunch. Leidy got to choose. Her favorite restaurant is McDonald’s but decided to give Red Robin a try. Later in July Alicia is taking her to the zoo.

Alicia hopes to teach Leidy that, “She can do absolutely anything she wants to, regardless of where she comes from. We all know life is hard and teaches you tough lessons.”

Alicia encourages anyone thinking about becoming a mentor to “just do it” and shares 3 tips

  1. If you don’t know if you’ll be any good at it, you’ll be amazed what just being there once a week will do for both you and your mentee.
  2. It’s not parenting, you’re their friend.
  3. If you think you don’t have time, you do. You might not realize what you get out of it until you’re in it.

If you’d like to learn more about becoming a mentor like Alicia apply here or support a student by becoming a mentor sponsor.