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.”
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! [Read how we are transitioning to virtual mentoring for Fall 2020 in our COVID-19 Response Plan]
Last year, we were able to recruit 115 new mentors! Help us support even more students in our community. Share our campaign on social media with the hashtag #100days100mentors and tag us on Facebook or LinkedIn.
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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
“When I think of Cindy, I think of a second mom. Mentoring had a huge impact on my life.”
Nicole was a shy and quiet 3rd grader at Burton Elementary, waiting for a mentor. Cindy was a member of Mars Hill Bible Church, involved in children’s ministry, and her oldest had just graduated high school when she heard about the need for mentors. Although she had never been a formal mentor before, she thought “That’s something I can do.”
Nicole and Cindy began meeting over the lunch hour. Nicole fondly remembers, “I’d be so excited every week. I’d get to miss class, meet with Cindy, play basketball, and eat McDonalds. I loved it.”
13 years later, Nicole and Cindy are back at Burton Elementary. Nicole smiles as they walk the halls, remembering various classrooms and teachers. Cindy looks up to Nicole, “I don’t remember you being this tall,” she teases. Cindy has journeyed alongside Nicole long past their formal mentoring days and has had the opportunity to see her grow into a strong, adventurous, and brave young woman. Even after Nicole transferred to another school district they remained close. “We committed to each other and built a good relationship,” explains Cindy. More than a decade later they still text, meet to catch up, and connect via social media.
Leaning over a table in the library, the pair laugh like old friends swapping photos – remembering squinty graduation poses, Steak ‘ Shake dates, prom dresses, and their first year of mentoring. “It was really nice to have her there. She was always there for me for a lot of milestones – basketball, graduation, birthdays, prom – just like another family member celebrating with me,” says Nicole.
Every birthday Cindy would take Nicole to Chuck E Cheese to celebrate and she attended as many of Nicole’s basketball and softball games as possible. Nicole was included in many of Cindy’s family events too, like school plays, church, and sport outings.
“Mentoring is not hard when you have someone like Nicole. However, you don’t necessarily see the effect of it and are unsure if you’re making any difference,” explains Cindy. Although she didn’t know it, Cindy helped shape Nicole’s future path.
“Cindy being my mentor definitely had a huge impact on me. She helped me get out of my shy phase and she helped me find my passion for aviation. I used to want to be a veterinarian, but one summer Cindy helped me get into Grand Valley State University’s STEPS (Science, Technology, Engineering, Preview Summer) Camp.”
“I love getting my hands dirty, using wrenches, and ratchets. After that STEPS Camp I fell in love with aviation and knew that’s what I wanted to do. I love to just put on my safety glasses and do my thing. It brings me so much joy. Some people my age are still trying to figure out what they want to do; I figured it out in 6th grade thanks to Cindy.”
Once she locked onto her dream, Nicole pursued it with a passion. She took two years of aviation maintenance at Kent County Technical Center (KCTC), earned her Associates Degree in Applied Science at Lansing Community College, and received additional certifications in specialty areas including: general, airframe and powerplant aviation. Listening to Nicole describe her school and excitement for her new job Cindy beams, “I am so proud of her. She’s increased her confidence and I won’t take credit for that. Her mom is so involved, works really hard, and sets a great example.”
Over the past decade Nicole has discovered her passion and strength. Choosing to work in a male-dominated field, she has found herself being the only female in the majority of her aviation classes. “I’m used to it. I’m not worried about handling them,” she laughs confidently. Keeping in line with her adventurous side, Nicole recently relocated to Illinois for a new job. “As an aircraft structural mechanic I’ll be working on commercial aircrafts for Boeing. I’m anxious, but ready to work and I know I’m going to love it,” she beams.
“Mentoring is such a great opportunity. Not all 3rd graders might think of it like that, but it’s definitely worth it for every student that has the opportunity to try,” says Nicole.
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.”
Debbie, a kind and gentle soul, has been mentoring students for the past decade. She heard about the opportunity through one of Affinity’s partners, Mars Hill Bible Church. “I liked the one-on-one program where you invest in long-term relationships, build trust, and watch them grow.”
Debbie recalls the first few weeks of mentoring, “I was nervous about helping with school stuff and getting more immediate results. Then I realized it’s more of an investment of one hour at a time, it’s building the relationship and the foundation a bit more each visit.”
Victoria, a compassionate and loving person, has four daughters, including Stephanie and Emelinda who have both been part of the mentoring program. She remembers first hearing about the program when Emelinda came home from Kindergarten saying, “Mami, quiero un mentor.” She helped her sign up, however, Victoria never realized what this relationship would blossom into or how their two families would intertwine.
Emelinda was soon matched with Debbie. Victoria describes Debbie as someone with a huge heart that loves working with kids. She recalls Debbie always being at every event. After a bit of time together, she saw her shy and quiet daughter come out of her shell and become more confident. Emelinda started to play more, talk more, paint, and improve her English.
“[They’re] my surrogate family,” smiles Debbie. “Her mom and I have the same birthday and we always text each other. They are a really nice family that supports each other. I’m glad I can be a part of it and that they trust me.” Victoria agrees, “God put her in our path, she is part of our family and my daughters are really happy with her. Every time our birthday comes around we ask each other – so where are we going to celebrate?”
“Debbie gives good advice, like another mother, to my daughters, but also to me. She tells me I’m doing a good job, to be patient, and not to worry because I’m a good mom. No one has ever told me that before, not even my own mother. I don’t know whether she is like another mother to my daughters, or to me,” explains Victoria.
After Emelinda and Debbie had been a match for 6 years, it was coming to a close. Emelinda was entering middle school and yearning to spend more time with friends. Debbie and Victoria both felt the change and comforted each other as they saw her pull away, not wanting to talk, and becoming more distant. Debbie wasn’t sure what to do. However, after talking to Affinity staff member, Laura Ward, she helped her understand that she was no longer in need of a mentor and that was OK. Being a mom herself, it finally clicked and she understood not to take it personally, “I thought to myself, ‘I know that age.’”
Victoria remembers, “When [Emelinda] was done with the program I was worried about losing the relationship with Debbie. No one was going to be there helping me, telling me I’m doing a good job. We both cried. I knew, she too, was sad in her heart. We started texting each other. She helped me understand girls go through their changes differently. She kept telling me to be strong, and she would help me. I would repeat it to myself over and over.”
Debbie sees the role of a mentor as an encourager. “I always tell Emelinda ‘You’re so smart, creative, generous, and amazing.’ Later I would hear her repeat it, ‘You know, I am pretty smart and creative.’” Victoria started to feel more confident too, “Now there were two people [Debbie] and I sending Emelinda messages and reinforcing the same thing.”
One day, there was a big surprise for Victoria, “I got her off the bus and she was happy, smiling and said ‘¡Hola Mami!’ and grabbed my hand. Later that evening I sat between my four girls asking them about school.” Emelinda went last, “‘¿Mami, tienes la oportunidad de hablar?’ It was a huge surprise, we talked for over an hour. She recalled Debbie’s talks about how middle school is so different and Emelinda was surprised that everything she said would happen, did.” Afterward they both hugged and finally, turned a corner in their mother-daughter relationship. The first thing Victoria wanted to do was to let Debbie know that she’s going to be OK.
As fate would have it, Emelinda’s younger sister, Stephanie, had been in the mentoring program too. However, due to life circumstances her mentor, Marla, had to leave after a year and Stephanie was devastated. However, Affinity’s Burton site coordinator, Rocio Moreno, recognized this as a great opportunity to bring the two families together again. She reached out to Debbie and Victoria both to see how they felt about matching Debbie with Stephanie – they both wholeheartedly said yes.
Growing up, Stephanie had known Debbie and attended events with her older sister and Debbie. When Stephanie learned that Debbie would now be HER mentor, she started jumping around and was so happy. Victoria says, “Now I don’t have to worry about when they are together. I trust her. She is a huge help to my daughters and they have so much fun together.”
Victoria is a big advocate for mentoring and has already been referring other parents to the program, “Mentors help with the things you can’t teach as a mom or dad. They can play soccer, do different activities, if your kid likes something that you don’t the mentor can do it with them. It’s a whole new experience – for the whole family.”
*Editor’s Note*As most Affinity’s blog articles are captured, I had the opportunity to sit down one-on-one with Debbie and Victoria to hear their story. Victoria’s interview was in Spanish and Debbie’s in English. Neither one speaks the other language. One of the most remarkable things about their relationships is that despite their language barrier, they have developed this deep, lifelong bond. Our team is honored to have the opportunity to play a role in these two families’ journeys and support where we can in cultivating meaningful relationships and experiences.
Last month we shared the need for a male mentor to be matched with a 2nd grade student. This student, who is playful, kind, and enjoys basketball, had been on the waitlist for two years and would benefit from having a strong male role model in his life. This post was shared 37 times!
It was only a matter of hours before former mentor, Eric Killgore, reached out to our team. He saw the Facebook post and felt it was a sign. He had been contemplating coming back to mentor, but he has 4 kids of his own and works full time. However, this was the push that he needed. It was a perfect match.
Z | A playful and funny leader. He is a 1st grader and his primary language is Spanish. He enjoys playing video games and with Legos. His current challenges are in math and reading.
E | A sweet, cooperative, and competitive 1st grader who can use help managing his emotions. He enjoys playing basketball, checkers, relaxing, coloring, and building Legos. Looking for a positive black male role model to help with his social skills, confidence, and following directions.
M | A funny and imaginative 1st grader. He enjoys reading, Minecraft, and building. He is in Special Education and needs help with his ABC’s, reading, and social skills.
D | Respectful, shy, and kind 1st grader whose primary language is English, secondary language is Spanish. He loves building Legos and playing outside. He struggles with anxiety and being separated from his mother, who is very active in his education. His father is deceased and he could use a male role model so that he can feel secure at school without needing his mother present at school and build his confidence.
L | Loving, strong-willed, and fun 1st grader who loves to share and dance. He has ADHD and is on the spectrum for Autism. He enjoys trains, cars, water play and basketball. Having a one-on-one male role model would be a great benefit for him with learning impulse control and getting help with math, writing, and reading. His dog died in the beginning of the year, his dog was his best friend.
G | Talkative, funny, kind, and playful 1st grader. He enjoys playing soccer. He is doing good academically but can benefit with help in his reading and spending one-on-one time with a positive male mentor.
P | Reserved and strong-willed 5 year old boy in Kindergarten. He loves to build and take things apart. He does well with anything he has an interest in. At times he struggles socially in school. He does very well one-on-one and seeks male bonding.
L | Talkative, loud, playful, imaginative, strong-willed, and curious kindergartener. He loves animals and learning. His dad passed away a year ago in October. He will benefit in having a positive male role model and needs help with reading.
N | Shy, quiet, and reserved 1st grader who enjoys playing with cars, trucks, and playing outdoors. It takes him a while to warm up to people but loves puzzles and could use help with reading and math.
R | Respectful and attentive Kindergartener who loves to play and paint. He is very shy and not very communicative. He would need help with building his social skills and confidence.
I | Talkative, outgoing, responsive, and a hands-on 1st grader. He enjoys playing baseball, video games, and has a great imagination. He is a visual learner who needs help with math.
K | Talkative, strong-willed, playful, and imaginative Kindergartener who enjoys reading, learning, soccer, and basketball. One of his strengths is his creativity. He is very smart but has a hard time focusing and staying on task.
X | Talkative, playful, imaginative, and emotional Kindergartener who enjoys math, numbers, sports and music. His strength is in counting and math. He can be slightly unfocused, and may have speech problems. He needs help academically in reading and recognizing letters.
G | Talkative, strong-willed, playful, competitive, and energetic 1st grader. He enjoys high energy activities such as sports, biking, swimming and tumbling around. He tends to be very hyper. He needs help with reading and writing.
N | Very active, talkative ,and playful Kindergartener who enjoys playing outside and running. He needs help with recognizing the alphabet.
A | Talkative, playful and respectful student who loves Black Panther. [We’re working on gathering more information to help match!]
Become a Mentor
If you, or someone you know, are interested in spending one hour a week with one these amazing kids, please contact email@example.com or apply online at https://affinitymentoring.org/mentors/.
Learn about our latest COVID-19 updates and how we are planning to keep students, mentors, and families safe here.
Becky grew up in Grand Rapids, but spent nearly a decade living in Los Angeles. In LA she earned a Bachelor’s of Arts in Media Arts and Animation and started working in the media industry while also teaching art classes at the local Boys and Girls Club.
When Becky returned to Michigan, she felt some culture shock moving from Southern California, and wanted to find a way to reconnect with her community here in West Michigan. A friend of hers was a mentor with Affinity and had shared the need for 100+ mentors. Becky decided that was something she could do something about.
In 2015 she was matched with Lupita. Becky describes Lupita as “incredibly compassionate, smart as a whip, and hilarious.” She notes there have been several times she’s been in tears laughing so hard with her mentee.
Although she had had various experiences working with kids as a camp counselor, volunteer, and daycare worker, becoming one student’s mentor was new and a little nerve wracking. Early on she remembers feeling “a little wrongfooted” and worrying about whether or not she was making an impact.
“In the beginning it was a lot of reading books, however once she discovered there were legos in the Mentor Center that’s all we do,” jokes Becky. “[Lupita] makes very elaborate lego sets, often with a storyline, characters, and complex plot.”
After her initial nervousness settled, she and Lupita found their own rhythm and determined together what their mentoring hour looks like. Each week Becky asks three things “What’s the best part, the worst part, and the coolest thing she learned that week?” It’s become part of their weekly routine and Lupita has even started to be the one to ask Becky about her week.
Becky and Lupita eventually applied for “School-Based Plus” status, which allows mentors to take students on independent outings and has an added layer of screening and training. When thinking about their mentoring relationship, Becky explains, “I am a grown-up friend to her. She texts me every now and again things like, ‘I missed you last week. I’m glad we’ll see each other.’ We go to museums, orchards, and Lupita even came for cookie-baking with my family.”
Becky makes time each week to connect with Lupita’s family, “I usually walk her home after mentoring and hang out with her family. They are very similar to mine, close knit and really value education. Her family are super warm and compassionate people. In fact, her mom and my mom have become friends. She has a little brother and older sister, opposite of mine. Lupita thinks it’s hilarious.”
Becky is in the process of completing her second Bachelor’s, this time in Urban Forestry, and Lupita is planning on attending her graduation ceremony to cheer her on.
Over the past few years she’s witnessed Lupita grow and mature, “There’s more depth to our conversations. She’s moved from a self-focus to noticing what’s going on in the community and world. She’ll even bring up politics. There’s an emotional intelligence that’s really grown. She’s very empathetic and thinks about others a lot. ”
Becky found herself pleasantly surprised about the impact this has had on her own personal life. “It’s hard to articulate how. I don’t have any kids myself. But now there’s one person I’m super invested in. I’m interested in her friendships, how she’s changing as a person, and I’ll wonder things like whether or not she figured out her new locker combination.”
Not only has mentoring impacted her personal life, but Becky’s perspective of the world has changed as well, “The nature of having to help someone else sort out how they feel about something makes you more open as a person. It gives you a more deeper and richer understanding as life as a first-generation american, especially in this political climate.”
Becky’s response to those thinking of mentoring? “Absolutely, you need to do it. It’s the most fun hour of the week. Especially if you both decide to be a plus match. You’re able to share experiences in your own community with someone else and offer other perspectives. She has me laughing all the time.”
She adds that the staff support is amazing, “They remember me, remember to follow up, and offer one-on-one support the entire time. No one is forgotten or gets lost in the mixed, even through staff changes. Mentors and students don’t get left behind.”
Ryan Roff is a passionate, mission-oriented Affinity mentor and partner. For the past five years, Ryan has mentored a Burton Elementary student named Joel, building a lasting bond. Ryan is originally from Minneapolis, moving to Michigan to attend Calvin College many years ago. It is there that he met his wife, Brooke, whom he now has two young children with and settled into Grand Rapids.
Ryan is highly passionate about mentoring, which has led him to not only mentor, but partner his company, boldSOCKS, with Affinity as well. “I saw a need for mentoring,” said Ryan, “I valued mentors over the years in my own life and felt a desire to pass it on. I wanted to invest into someone else. Knowing there is a waitlist for students to be matched with mentors is heartbreaking.” Each week Ryan and Joel play games together like “traffic jam” and jenga, or sometimes they work on homework or draw.
Partnership with Affinity
Ryan is the CEO and Co-Owner of a Grand Rapids based company, boldSOCKS, which currently has 8 employees who mentor weekly at Affinity. Through company give-back programs and organizational culture, their team believes that, “Together, we are a community of bold difference makers that value more than just fun socks.”
Ryan firmly believes that, “for organizations to be sustainable they need the support of businesses. Individuals have the opportunity to help, but it’s the support of the businesses that are the lifeline.”
“It was just me [mentoring] at the beginning, but we were looking for year end opportunities. No one had a response, it was eye-opening. We needed to figure out ways for employees to get involved with important causes.” Ryan began recruiting employees to mentor too. Eventually it evolved from a handful to almost the entire team.
BoldSOCKS’ staff usually carpool together to mentor, making it a type of team-building activity. “Five of us go together – we like to come in like a wrecking ball and serve at the same time.” In addition to mentoring, boldSOCKS also supports Affinity’s Annual Benefit Dinner to help ensure more students are matched with a caring mentor.