Mentor Story: Cait + Merlyn

September 2022 | By Rachel Humphreys

Cait’s first day of mentoring at Burton!

Cait was looking for an opportunity to give back. She yearned for an opportunity to make her life more well rounded; to find a volunteer opportunity that fed her soul. She stumbled upon Affinity Mentoring in the tail end of 2019. Then the pandemic happened and starting something new was set aside, for the time being at least…

As the fog began to clear a bit in 2021 she reached back out to Affinity Mentoring. 

“I was so nervous the first time I met my match,” recalls Cait. She remembers thinking, “I don’t have a ton of experience with kids!” Cait hadn’t done anything like mentoring before. 

“I was so worried about being matched and not being able to click with my student, but Rocio does a really great job of pairing mentors with their mentees,” she says. “After our interview, Rocio knew exactly the kind of student I would pair well with. She read me like a book. She paired me with a high energy, creative girl and the match was perfect!”

Cait was matched with Merlyn, a spunky, chatty, and excitable 8 year old. “We’re both the middle of 5 children. During our mentoring time we talk a lot, read, make crafts, and play. Family is very important to her and she has a good support system. She enjoys lots of quality time with her mom.”

Her goal is to make space for Merlyn to express her authentic self without fear of being teased or mocked. Cait explains that mentoring can be a healing experience. She recalls being nicknamed “loud girl” in school. “I was hyper, loud, and weird. I want Merlyn to be able to have a safe space to be her authentic self.” 

Learning about another culture has also been an added benefit. “It’s very eye opening, she’s learning two languages. Activities like reading together go a little differently than when I used to read with the boys I nannied in Ada.”

Whether it’s about her latest craft at her art table at home or stories of her ‘millions’ of cousins, Cait has found the key to mentoring – being present and listening.

“Mentoring is such a rewarding experience for both mentor and mentee. You can do so much good in such little time. I don’t think people realize how low of a time commitment mentoring can be and how easy it is to fit into your schedule. I hope more people look into mentoring,” she explains.

Although the mentoring commitment of one year has been completed, Cait will be returning this Fall to mentor Merlyn again. “I want it to be a long-time match. I want to be there, cheering, as Merlyn graduates high school.”


Interested in becoming a mentor? Sign up here.

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.

Meet Affinity’s Better Together EmCees

April 26, 2022 | By Rachel Humphreys

After two long years, Affinity Mentoring is back to hosting its annual Better Together Benefit! This signature event showcases student talent, leadership, and the importance of mentoring relationships.

The funds raised from this event are essential to sustain our organization and support students and their mentors. Affinity’s goal is to raise $70,000 of unrestricted funds we use to support students during this crisis and throughout the entire year. Get in-person or virtual tickets here.

This year’s EmCees are Cass Salas and Isabel Landero!

Cass Salas (they/them)

Cass is an avid community volunteer, in addition to being a mentor to a 7th grader at Lee Middle School they are passionate about supporting unhoused residents of Grand Rapids, breaking the stigma around mental illness, caring for animals, and facilitating conversations about highly intersectional topics.

In their day job, Cass has worked in the restaurant and service industry for over 10 years. Their skills range from CNA, server, to event planning and self-proclaimed declutterer. A common thing about Cass is their service mindset, bringing dignity and hope to community members, and holding space for a judgment free perspective to learn from others.

Since becoming a mentor Cass says, “It reminds me of how to listen, teaches me all the ways I don’t know the world, and invigorates my soul.” They have also been an integral part of building the Lee Middle Mentoring Program through their work on the Middle School Mentoring Steering Committee.


Isabel Landero (uses all pronouns)

Isabel is a 9th grader at Lee High School. They are a very driven student and are extremely active in their school community. They love performing, having been in musicals, plays, and band. Isabel plays the Oboe and has also been part of the drumline. They enjoy the constant challenge and mastery of playing instruments and in the future want to attend the University of Michigan and play in the marching band.

Education is very important to their family and will be a first generation college student. Their dad is from Mexico and mom is from Estonia. Their family emigrated to the US to be able to give their kids a better life. Spanish is a big part of their family and after visiting family in Mexico it became one of Isabel’s goals to become more fluent.

Isabel is a passionate and driven leader who continues to maintain a 4.0 while balancing extracurriculars and work. In addition they are a member of the Student Advisory Council. Which most recently involved taking pictures at the High School’s Ground Breaking Ceremony and being a representative for student needs. When they’re not at school or performing, Isabel plays on the school soccer and volleyball teams, and also works weekends at Burger King.

Their leadership and work ethic in Middle School was recognised by Principal Andy Steketee and was one of three students personally invited by him to be part of the Middle School Mentoring Steering Committee.

They joined the MSMSC to help students who may be struggling. Even though Isabel has never had a mentor of their own, they wanted to make sure others would benefit from the program.


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

Affinity Launches New Middle School Mentoring Steering Committee

June 2021

MEETING A COMMUNITY NEED
In 2020 Jim Jensen, Principal at Godfrey-Lee Public Schools (GLPS) Middle School, reached out to Affinity Mentoring and asked if we would begin a mentoring programming for GLPS middle school students, to be an additional piece of support for students as they navigate the difficult transition years between elementary school and high school. (See our letter of support from Jim Jensen.)

Additionally, our Community Listening Project (page 3) revealed that community members believe that expanding our mentoring program with our current mentoring partners, and especially expanding middle school mentoring, should be our highest priorities. 

With this push in mind, we did some additional research that aligned strongly with feedback from the community. We found that, as of 10/12/20, 34% of Michigan households with children reported feeling nervous, anxious, and on edge, while 22% reported feeling down, depressed, or hopeless; that COVID-19 affects both mental and physical health, with communities of color facing the highest concerns (3); and BIPOC individuals are at the highest risk for the “loneliness epidemic”, with isolation shown to be up to “twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity.” (2) Additionally, poor literacy is linked to long-term negative health outcomes (1), while Middle School has high rates of loss in academic success and increased fail rates (4), and students of color have additional concerns and stigmas to face during this transition  (5). (See our full bibliography.) Our research confirmed what Principal Jensen and the community were telling us; middle schoolers need mentoring support! 

LAUNCHING THE STEERING COMMITTEE
With this confirmation to move forward with growing mentoring in the GLPS Middle School, we wanted to proceed with intentionality. After taking the time in 2020 to carefully and thoughtfully consider not only what our work is, but how we do it, we firmly stand behind beliefs that “youth are already leaders and community members, but need equitable access and platforms to use their voice”, and that, “[w]e believe in cultivating a brave space that amplifies the voices of young agents of change in a diverse and inclusive community”. Rooted in these beliefs, two staff members (Angela Reyna and Holly Hetherington) submitted a project to the Steelcase Social Innovation Fellowship 2020 to give key stakeholders the ability to help us build this program. (Check out their Video Pitch!) They were awarded the fellowship and have spent the past three months facilitating and building the Middle School Mentoring Steering Committee, whom we are thrilled and proud to introduce to you today:

COMMITTEE MEMBERS 

Year Joined: Summer 2021

LAUREN ENOS | Affinity MSW Intern
Lauren works at Community Living Services as a Self Determination Coordinator, working with adults with developmental disabilities and their supports coordinators. This year she is serving as the MSW Intern for Affinity Mentoring where she supports the work of the Executive Director, Cassandra Kiger. She remembers the difficulties of being a middle school student and transitioning into adulthood and wanted to join the steering committee because she recognizes the positive impact that this type of program can have on students.

"Middle schoolers are on the verge of something brand new. It can be an exciting time; they are on the precipice of transitioning to young adulthood, yet still so full of wonder and imagination. Middle schoolers are incredibly funny, exciting, creative and silly, but are also ready for that next step and they deserve that respect."


Year Joined: Spring 2021

JACKLYN HERNANDEZ | GLPS Parent, School Board Trustee
Jacklyn is parent of middle schoolers at Lee Middle School, is president of the PTO, and she serves as a School Board Trustee for Godfrey-Lee Public Schools.

"I want to make sure that we give voice to what parents and students want and need. I hope that we are successful in creating relationships through mentoring that will have and create lasting impact on our students and community."


Year Joined: Spring 2021

HOLLY HETHERINGTON | Affinity Staff Facilitator
Holly is the Office Coordinator for Affinity Mentoring and is one of the facilitators of this committee. This past year she also began mentoring through Affinity. Holly is currently seeking a Master’s in Social Innovation at GVSU. In her free time she loves to play soccer, eat delicious food, and kayak.

"I want students' voices to shape the work we do. Their leadership will make the mentoring program at the middle school so much more impactful."


Year Joined: Spring 2021

ISABEL LANDERO | GLPS Student
Isabel is a 9th grade student at Lee High School. They enjoy playing volleyball, soccer, video games, and watching a lot of twitch streams.

"I really liked the steering committee it was full of hard working smart people who want to help people!"




Year Joined: Spring 2021


ALEJANDRA MEZA | GLPS Alumna
Alejandra graduated from Lee High School and currently attends Grand Rapids Community College. She serves as the Family Support Services Manage at the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan and volunteers as an Affinity mentor at Southwest Community Campus (SWCC).

"I’ve first hand seen the benefit of being a mentor and know I would have benefitted from one if I had the opportunity so I support bringing mentoring opportunities into Godfrey Lee Middle School."


Year Joined: Spring 2021


KIM PLUM | GLPS Teacher
Kim teaches 6th grade reading at Lee Middle School. She has been teaching at Lee MS/HS since 1999 in various teaching positions.

"I joined this steering committee because a student I admire asked me to be a part of it - what better reason is there? I didn't know anything about Affinity Mentoring before this, but am looking forward to see where it goes and how it impacts our students at LMS!"

CASS SALAS | GLPS Mentor
Cass is an avid community volunteer, in addition to being a mentor to a 7th grader at Lee Middle School they are passionate about supporting unhoused residents of Grand Rapids, breaking the stigma around mental illness, caring for animals, and facilitating conversations about highly intersectional topics.

In their day job, Cass has worked in the restaurant and service industry for over 10 years. Their skills range from CNA, server, to event planning and self-proclaimed declutterer. A common thing about Cass is their service mindset, bringing dignity and hope to community members, and holding space for a judgment free perspective to learn from others.


Year Joined: Spring 2021

ANGELA REYNA | Affinity Staff Facilitator and GLPS Alumna
Angela is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s in Social Work at Grand Valley State University. Angela graduated from Lee High School graduated from in 2013 and is also the Lee middle school girls soccer coach. Angela was one of the first mentor matches for the mentoring program as a student at Burton Elementary. Through first-hand experience, she understands the positive impact that a mentor can have on youth experiencing poverty. During her free time, she enjoys playing soccer and going on adventures with her youngest sister, Sophia.

"Being a part of the steering committee team is very exciting since I will be able to work alongside middle school students, teachers, community members, and mentors to build a mentoring program that will work for LMS. The steering committee allows me to listen and understand what middle schoolers need in a mentoring program and it lets us all dream and be creative of how the mentoring program will look like."


Year Joined: Spring 2021


JACKEE THOMPSON | GLPS Community Partner
Jackee serves as the KSSN Community School Coordinator at Godfrey-Lee Middle School. She has worked in the GLPS district for the past two years and loves what she does. Currently, Jackee attends Spring Arbor University where she is pursuing a Master of Education with a focus on Trauma and Resiliency.

"I want to join the steering committee because I want to ensure that Affinity Mentoring is Successful at Lee Middle School, and students get the opportunity to build partnerships and friendships with mentors in our community."

No photo available.
Year Joined: Spring 2021




DULCE VELASQUEZ | GLPS Student
Dulce is a 7th grade student at Lee Middle School. She enjoys drawing and trying new crafts with her little brother. She joined the steering committee based on recommendations and encouragement from her teachers and Principal Jensen.

"The steering committee was interesting, it was my first time hearing about mentoring. It will be helpful for middle schoolers at Lee."




Year Joined: Spring 2021

ADRIANA ZAMORA | GLPS Student
Adriana is a 7th grade student at Lee Middle School. She enjoys reading and playing softball. Her favorite part of the committee was being able to hear other's ideas and learn more about them.

"Students will be able to have a distraction from school and have the opportunity to talk about all sorts of things with their mentor."

KEY FACTORS TO HIGHLIGHT:

  • This committee includes GLPS Middle School students, teachers, parents of students, and school partners
  • Students provide direct feedback on what they need and want to  want to successfully engage mentoring and encourage their peers to engage; teachers give feedback on how we can reduce their workload and be a support in and outside of the classroom; parents give feedback on how to successfully communicate and ensure guardians are a part of this mentoring team; and other community partners keep us from working in isolation and/or doubling up services unnecessarily
  • In an effort to avoid extracting knowledge and ideas without compensation, all non-staff participants in the committee for the 21-22 fiscal year will receive an honorarium
  • The committee is facilitated by Affinity team members, Holly Hetherington and Angela Reyna, who provide structure, resources, and advocate for the committee goals and needs
  • This committee is NOT about tokenism; we present these individuals to you in the same format that we do staff and board members, and interns, because we believe that their input is equally important, and we have incorporated an honorarium and budget for this committee to keep us accountable
  • This committee is NOT temporary. We cannot predict whether it will always function in the same way or in the same space, but this is simply one more way that we will innovatively involve students, parents, and partners more fully in our work (see our 2021-2023 Strategic plan for more details)

To learn more about this committee or to get involved contact Holly Hetherington at hhetherington@affinitymentoring.org.