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. 

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."

No photo available.
Year Joined: Spring 2021



ISABEL LANDERO | GLPS Student
Isabel is a 9th grade student at Lee High School. She enjoys 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!"


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.

Kent District Library Partnership

By Rachel Humphreys

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 at Godfrey-Lee ECC

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 at Godfrey-Lee ECC

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.”




Learn more about our community partnerships or sign up to become a mentor.

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.

Molina Healthcare Supports Affinity’s New Wyoming Site

Molina Healthcare has awarded Affinity Mentoring $2,500 to support expansion to Godfrey-Lee Early Childhood Center. Molina’s support will be used to help cover the cost of recruitment, screening, training, and ongoing match support for the new cohort of mentor matches.

“Molina Healthcare of Michigan is proud to support Affinity Mentoring’s new site at Godfrey-Lee Early Childhood Center. Affinity Mentoring is working to interrupt the cycle of poverty and improve the life of our communities children by pairing kindergartners and first graders with engaging mentors for one hour, once a week. We were impressed to learn that when pairing a child with a quality mentor the student has better attendance, attitudes toward school, chances of going onto higher education, more likely to avoid drug use, stronger relationships with their parents, and better health,” says Heidi McGlinnen AVP Community Engagement of Molina Healthcare of Michigan.

Heidi explains, “At Molina Healthcare, we share similar goals by working every day to reduce barriers to physical and behavioral health care for vulnerable populations. We are committed to working collaboratively with community-based organizations, like Affinity Mentoring, to create communities that are stronger, happier, and healthier.”

Mentor Center Ribbon Cutting at Godfrey-Lee ECC.

Affinity’s expansion to Godfrey-Lee Early Childhood Center was made possible with seed money from Steelcase Foundation, but it does not cover all of the costs. It is with continued support from individuals and organizations, like Molina and Dollar General, that the new site will be fully supported. [If you would like to help support, donate here.]

First Mentor Match at the ECC!

Approximately 30-40 new volunteers will be recruited, screened and trained in both mentoring and the fundamentals of early literacy. The volunteers will be matched with a student in Kindergarten, 1st or 2nd grade. The mentor will work in collaboration with the teacher and Site Coordinator to support the student in developing his/her literacy skills. The program will be evaluated by looking at number of matches involved, student achievement, student attendance and social emotional skill development. 

Molina’s Story
Affinity Mentoring and Molina Healthcare share many of the same values and are both looking to make a positive impact in under-resourced communities. Molina’s mission is to provide quality health care to people receiving government assistance. Molina was created to fill a need in quality healthcare.

In 1980, emergency room physician, C. David Molina, MD, noticed that low-income, uninsured or non-English speaking patients were coming to the emergency room in need of general health care services. Without family doctors, they were not always getting the right care and information. These underserved families deserved better and Dr. Molina set out to do something about it. He opened a clinic in Long Beach, California to provide low-income individuals and families with a place to go to get personalized health care from Molina doctors. Now, nearly 40 years later Molina has over 3.5 million members and serves communities across the United States.



The Godfrey-Lee site is still in need of more support, you can help!

Dollar General Literacy Foundation Awards Affinity New Grant

The Dollar General Literacy Foundation has awarded Affinity Mentoring a $3,000 grant to support youth literacy. This local grant award is part of more than $160 million in grants awarded to nonprofit organizations, libraries and schools across the 44 states that Dollar General serves.

Reading proficiency by 3rd grade is the most important indicator of high school graduation and career success. In 2017, 3rd grade M-STEP data for Kent County indicates that 48.6% of students have achieved proficiency. To help fill this gap, Affinity Mentoring is working alongside, schools, local businesses, non-profit organizations and individuals to lift up students in a supportive network.

The $3,000 grant will be used to support Affinity’s newest mentoring site at Godfrey-Lee Early Childhood Center in Wyoming, MI. The grant will aid in Affinity’s expansion and build capacity to recruit, train, and match more volunteers to be a caring, positive mentor and literacy support.

Approximately 30-40 new volunteers will be recruited, screened and trained in both mentoring and the fundamentals of early literacy. The volunteers will be matched with a student in Kindergarten, 1st or 2nd grade. The mentor will work in collaboration with the teacher and Site Coordinator to support the student in developing his/her literacy skills. The program will be evaluated by looking at number of matches involved, student achievement, student attendance and social emotional skill development. 

The Dollar General Literacy Foundation is proud to support initiatives that help others improve their lives through literacy and education. Since its inception in 1993, the Dollar General Literacy Foundation has awarded more than $168 million in grants to nonprofit organizations, helping more than 10 million individuals learn to read, prepare for the high school equivalency, or learn English. 



The Godfrey-Lee site is still in need of more support, you can help!

Godfrey-Lee ECC Site Now Open

On August 14, 2019 Affinity Mentoring officially opened its fourth school partnership. The Grand Rapids Chamber, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Godfrey-Lee Schools, staff, board members, and community members celebrated the opening with an official Ribbon Cutting at Godfrey-Lee Early Childhood Center [ECC].

The expansion to a fourth school is funded by seed money from the Steelcase Foundation, which helped launch the new site [Read More]. However, the grant does not cover all costs and we are in need of additional sponsors and individual donors to support its continued growth. Read more about Community Partnerships.

Mentoring begins the week of September 16!

Affinity is working with teachers, families, and KSSN staff to refer and match up to 40 Kindergarten and 1st graders this year. To refer a student, click here.

VIEW MORE PHOTOS

Questions?

Contact: Keyla Araujo, Site Coordinator at Godfrey-Lee ECC at karaujo@affinitymentoring.org

Ribbon Cutting at New Site

Affinity Mentoring is pleased to announce that it will be opening its fourth mentoring site at Godfrey-Lee Early Childhood Center, this fall. To help celebrate this milestone, there will be a ribbon cutting event at Godfrey-Lee ECC, located at 961 Joosten Street, S.W. Wyoming, MI 49509, on August 14, at 3:30pm. Attendees of this event are encouraged to bring one mentoring item to stock the new site such as, books, games or craft supplies. Representatives of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce will also participate in the event.

Kevin Polston, Superintendent of Godfrey-Lee Public Schools says, “Godfrey-Lee Public Schools believes in the impact mentoring can have on a child’s education and their overall wellbeing. One of our core values is community, the belief that it takes a village to raise a child. We are honored to begin a partnership with Affinity Mentoring to provide mentoring services at the Godfrey-Lee Early Childhood Center to bring out the brilliance in each child.”

“Schools, teachers, parents, and students from all over our community have been asking for Affinity Mentoring to be available in other schools,” says Laura Ward, Executive Director of Affinity Mentoring. “We’ve been working hard to build the capacity needed to expand the program. We’re thrilled to be able to add another site where students can receive additional academic, social and emotional support and encouragement to reach their full potential.”

Since 2001 the GRPS based mentoring program has matched over 1,800 students. The new site will provide up to 40 more students with a mentor to help them succeed. However, there is still a need for more.

Julie Ridenour, President of the Steelcase Foundation says, “The Steelcase Foundation is honored to support Affinity Mentoring in its measured response to its program expansion. The growing number of requests from families for the mentoring services of Affinity is evidence of the quality of the work done by Affinity’s leadership and volunteers in three of the highest needs Kent County schools. The Steelcase Foundation is appreciative of Affinity’s willingness to base its work on the best available research, rigorous analysis, and growing dedication to improving student literacy achievement.”

The team is in the process of developing a robust fund development plan that includes grants, individual donations, corporate sponsorships, special events, and in-kind donations to ensure sustainability.

Contact: Rachel Lopez, Development Director | 616.406.3967 | rlopez@affinitymentoring.org


Affinity Welcomes Newest Partner, Chemical Bank

We’d like to welcome our newest community partner and sustainer, Chemical Bank! Chemical Bank recently donated $1,000 to Affinity Mentoring to support our mentor matches with the resources needed to be successful!

Our community partnerships are essential to our success! This year we aim to serve 280 students across our 3 sites. Supporting one mentor and their student costs $1,200 each year (includes recruitment, screening, training, and onsite support from highly qualified staff).

We know that high quality mentoring works and we are committed to providing every student with a caring adult mentor that we can. Support our work, like Chemical Bank, and become a Community Partner > 

Questions? Contact Rachel Lopez at rlopez@affinitymentoring.org or 616-406-3967