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. 

Advancing Equity through Innovative Partnerships

By Rachel Humphreys

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.”

This year we have worked extremely hard to rebuild and innovatively rethink our entire approach to mentoring in the most equitable way possible. As we reviewed community feedback and local data on health and safety, as well as personal fears surrounding COVID of various populations (Kent County Racial/Ethnic Data) (Kent Co. Latinos with COVID Die Younger and More Often) (African Americans Disproportionately Affected), we quickly realized that traditional mentoring would no longer be accessible to all students. 

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). 


Dave Veldink + Student Mentee

“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 Affinity we 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!

Laurie Vanderbroek + Student Mentee

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.

Mentoring Sites | More Info Here > 

  • Burton Elementary School and Burton Middle School
  • Southwest Community Campus Elementary 
  • Godfrey-Lee Early Childhood Center 

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.

A Tale of Two Mothers: Debbie + Victoria

By Rachel Humphreys

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.”



Ready to start your own journey? Become a Mentor or Sponsor a Mentor Match




*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.

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 Named Finalist for Nonprofit of the Year

The Grand Rapids Chamber announced earlier this week that Affinity Mentoring is a finalist for Nonprofit of Year for the 2019 EPIC Awards.

The EPIC Awards (Entrepreneurial, Progressive, Innovative and Collaborative) recognize businesses or individuals who are leading the way in growth and innovation, strengthening our business community, enabling collaboration and connections, and accomplishing incredible endeavors with their focus on the future.

Winners will be announced at the event on October 30, 2019. Get Tickets.

Date: Wednesday, October 30, 2019 5:30 PM – 8:00 PM
Location: 20 Monroe Live 11 Ottawa Ave NW Grand Rapids, MI 49503

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