We’re pleased to announce that our two longest standing team members, Angela Reyna and Rocio Moreno, have been promoted to new positions starting July 1!
Angela has served as the Mentoring Program Assistant the past 3 years and she will now be the new Godfrey-Lee Middle School Site Coordinator.
Rocio has been with Affinity for more than 4 years, her most recent position being Burton Elementary and Middle School Site Coordinator. This year she is transitioning into the newly developed Program Director role!
We’re pleased to be building opportunities for upward mobility and career pathways for our amazing team members. Please congratulate them and be patient as they transition into their new roles!
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:
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
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)
My name is Lauren and I am currently an MSW student at Grand Valley State University. I have my Bachelors degree in Psychology from Wagner College, in NYC. Although I have worked with adults with developmental disabilities since 2007, I have seen the impact of mentorship within the disability field.
What attracted me to Affinity Mentoring is the personal impact mentoring has had on me. I have always wanted to work in a program that helped young students to develop their sense of identity, through mentorship and support from those around them. I believe Affinity’s mission and goals can have an important impact not only on the students, but on the mentors as well. I am excited to learn alongside the team and develop my social work skills.
Hannah is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s of Social Work at Grand Valley State University and plans to continue her education to earn a Master’s of Social Work. She works as the Director of Operations for a local marketing agency and is excited to learn more about community building and program development while interning with Affinity. Hannah understands the importance of mentoring as she had two adults from her church mentor her throughout her childhood and teen years. In her free time, she enjoys painting, baking, playing volleyball, and spending time with her twin niece and nephew.
Hannah will be working alongside Affinity’s Director of Development, Rachel Humphreys, and Burton Site Coordinator, Rocio Moreno.
Hallie Miller is pursuing her Bachelor’s of Social Work a minor in Psychology at Calvin University. Born and raised in Oceanside, California, she moved to Michigan for college in the hopes of experiencing four seasons. After Calvin, she plans to pursue a Master’s of Social Work focusing on Community Organizing and working with non-profits in the future. She is excited about interning with Affinity because she believes education is so important and has the potential change lives.
Hallie will be working with Rocio Moreno, Site Coordinator at Burton Elementary.
Zach Yokom is a MSW/MPA graduate student studying Nonprofit Management. He has lived in the Grand Rapids area since 2011, but is originally from Canton, MI. Zach has been working in the GRPS school system for 3 years and brings a variety of different perspectives from a collection of roles and positions, including IKUS: Life Enrichment Services and Ottawa Hills High School. He has a passion for working with youth and supporting them along their journey towards adulthood. He notes that he has had great leaders in his life, personally and professionally, that have helped him grow immensely and he hopes to enrich others in the same way.
Zach will be working with Affinity’s Executive Director, Cassandra Kiger on fund development and sustainability.
Meet Burton Site Coordinator, Rocio Moreno, or better known to kindergarteners as “Mentor Boss Lady.”
Rocio joined Affinity in 2017 as the Mentor Center Manager and was promoted to Site Coordinator in 2018. Prior to her role at Affinity she served as a Trauma Counselor at Safe Harbor using Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Rocio earned her Master’s of Social Work from Grand Valley State University and her Bachelor’s of Social Work from Hope College. She always knew she wanted to work with children and her goal was to find an organization where she was supported, had the opportunity to grow, and felt a sense of belonging.
“I love the fact that this organization is family-oriented. Affinity always puts the best interest of the family first. I am able to speak in Spanish and not feel out of place or looked down upon. From the first time that I walked into the Burton Site for my interview, I could hear families and staff speaking in Spanish and I couldn’t help but feel like this was home.”
Rocio feels a close connection to many of the students and families in the Burton community. Fleeing a dangerous situation, Rocio came to the U.S. from Mexico with her mom and brother at the age of three. Moving to a new country with a different language and culture she explains, “I can relate to a lot of the kids and families. I only spoke Spanish and didn’t start learning English until Kindergarten. I hated reading, I was often embarrassed.”
Rocio was a good student and “good girl.” However, at the age of 11 she joined a gang for protection and belonging. “My mom worked more than two jobs to be able to provide for us. I started to get into a lot of trouble. I was the kid who got sent to the principal’s office and would get into fights.”
At age 16 she became pregnant with her first son, Luis. “I wanted to fill the void I felt and to feel loved.” Having Luis changed her life and perspective. When Luis was 3 months old she decided to get out of the gang. The only way to do this was to be “jumped out.” She spent the next two weeks in the hospital, but she knew it was the right decision.
Her next step was college, “I knew I had to go to school and complete it.” She dedicated herself to studying; going so far as taking Luis with her to class and walking across the stage together for her graduation. “I had no life. I only slept about two hours a night for four years, setting alarms throughout the night to study or finish homework. It was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do,” she recalls. After earning her Bachelors she went on to complete her Masters in an accelerated one year program.
Reflecting on where she’s been and where she wants to be, she smiles, “I have everything I ever wanted by 26; my Master’s Degree, two kids, and working in a job I want to be in – I leave each day wanting to come back the next. This is what I wanted for my life and what I wanted for my kids.”
“Working with Affinity has had a great impact on my career. I am not from the Grand Rapids area. But I have been able to make many different connections with many different people and organizations.” Affinity’s network includes over 30 local nonprofits and corporate partners, two school districts, and more than 300 mentors and families each year.
She sees herself as an advocate, “I am always trying to make sure that the family’s basic needs are met and that they are receiving the support that they need. I am always trying to connect with mentors to find out in what ways I am able to help support them so that the role of a mentor can be fun and exciting for them.”
Rocio approaches mentor matching with a unique perspective, “I always say that matching is a little bit of art, science, and a whole lot of gut because even though a mentor and student might have a lot of similarities that does not mean that they would be a good fit for each other. Which is why I always trust what my gut tells me.”
She starts by looking at the students who have been waiting the longest for a mentor, “After talking to the student, teacher, and parents I sit down and look at all of my mentors. I begin to look for similarities between the student and potential mentor as well as what the biggest need of the student is and which one of my mentors who help fill that need. Lastly, I trust what my gut tells me regarding a potential match.”
“I sit down with the mentor for an hour-long interview where I ask them multiple questions about their family, support system, and elementary experiences. Why they want to become a mentor and how they might go about handling certain situations. I also get an understanding of their interests and hobbies.”
“The hardest part of my job is telling a student that I was unable to find a mentor for them. However, it is even more difficult when I have to tell a 5th grader this because I am unable to match them in middle school. So in a sense, they missed out on the opportunity to receive a mentor. This is the hardest part because every student knows me as the “mentor boss lady.” They are very aware of the color papers that I distribute to different students. They know that green is the intake form, blue is the permission slip to receive a mentor, orange is an absent or day change notice, and white can mean anything from you having been matched to a letter informing their parents that I was not able to match them this year.”
When she’s not at work she loves to exercise, “I wake up at 4 am every day to go to the gym.” She has two sons, Luis and Rolando, “I love to be with my two wonderful boys playing games, being outside, reading, and dancing.” She also has a love for baking, especially sugar cookies. In the future Rocio hopes to one day become a probation officer for juveniles. This year she is focusing on studying to pass her Clinical Social Work State Exam.
Reflecting on her journey she explains, “The biggest thing that motivates me is knowing that throughout all of my tribulations I have learned so much and my boys will one day be able to look back and see that if mom was able to accomplish so much in her life they will have no excuse but to give it their all as well. Because I’m raising warriors who will help make this world a better place for us all.”
“Right now I am looking forward to seeing all of my kiddos’ faces once again. Seeing their smiles and making them feel important and valued when they come into my office is one of the greatest things when I’m in the office. I know firsthand how much feeling valued, loved, and understood can mean to a child and the lengths that they might go to feel the sense of belonging.”
We’re excited to share that we’ve added a new team member, Holly Hetherington! Holly will be filling Affinity’s newly developed role of Office Coordinator. She will assist the Executive Director and Development Director in their new headquarters in the Goei Center. This new role will help increase the teams’ capacity to serve more students in more schools.
Holly holds a Bachelor’s in English, Elementary Education from Grand Valley State University. With a desire to provide social emotional and hands-on learning opportunities for youth and children, she turned her efforts away from the traditional classroom and invested her career in out-of-school time programming. Her passion for equity is at the root of all her work. 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.
Affinity Mentoring’s Board of Directors has named Cassandra Kiger the new Executive Director. Cassandra will begin Wednesday, May 20, 2020.
Cassandra has dedicated her career to advocating for equitable opportunities for youth in settings with refugee and immigrant youth, in child sexual abuse prevention, and in education support. She has her Master of Social Work from Grand Valley State University and brings a decade of experience in program development and management; research and data utilization; development and sustainability work; and diversity, equity and inclusion training, programming and leadership to the team.
Cassandra leans into the quote from Lilla Watson, an Indigenous Australian artist and activist, “[i]f you have come to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up in mine, then let us work together.”
Cassandra believes, “Every person within our community brings valuable history, experience, knowledge and expertise to contribute to making our community great, from the youngest to the oldest. I want to work at Affinity to have a greater opportunity to work together with my neighbors, working towards our mutual liberation, and equitably contributing towards a bright and prosperous future.”
Cassandra is prepared to support Affinity in moving forward as an agent of equitable change, focused on the communities in our city that have systematically received less resources and support, and participate in a movement towards integrated diversity, equity and inclusion in our city. This includes a future oriented lens that supports quality, equitable education for the diverse student body that will one day become our local community members and workforce as they learn and grow today.
Cassandra strongly believes in uplifting youth in a supportive network, “the students that Affinity works with are not future leaders, they are leaders today, and I am excited to galvanize the community to support their growth and help them build a prosperous and healthy future for our city,” she explains.
Her past experience includes providing language access services to the community at Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, building system and policy level equity initiatives at the Children’s Advocacy Center in Ottawa County, and supporting refugee and immigrant youth as a Case Manager at Bethany Christian Services.
Cassandra is a homeowner and active participant in the 49507 Garfield Park neighborhood. She is excited to work alongside local residents and schools to support equitable growth and change through Affinity Mentoring. In her free time she enjoys playing soccer in the GR Champs League, reading, urban gardening, salsa dancing, and snuggling with her spouse and puppy.
Three years ago, community leader and lifelong educator, Susan Lukaart, stepped into Affinity Mentoring’s newly developed Board President role. Susan, a retired educator (teacher and principal), has led other nonprofits, both regional and international.
Executive Director, Laura Ward, explains, “Susan and I built the board together. We met after I presented one day at Mars Hill; she came up and introduced herself and wanted to learn more. It was quickly apparent that her love for children, experience as a teacher and principal and unique passion for governance, would be a huge asset to Affinity in laying our foundation.”
During her time as Board President,Susan has helped Affinity’s team to understand governance and shape the organizational structure and policies. She is incredibly intentional about building a foundation and organizational culture that has set up Affinity well for future growth and sustainability. “Susan is a mastermind when it comes to governance and policy. Her fingerprints are all over the foundations of Affinity. She also mentored me as I have grown into this Executive Director role,” explains Laura.
We are very grateful to Susan for sharing her expertise, insights, and of course, her leadership. She has been an integral member of the Affinity family. “It has been an honor and privilege to work with Laura to help create a solid foundation upon which others can continue to build. I am grateful to God for giving me this opportunity to serve,” remarks Susan. “
As Susan steps away from her President’s role, Affinity welcomes a new leader, John Robinson. Susan says, “Meeting monthly with fellow board members has been very inspiring and satisfying to me. I have enormous hope for the future as Affinity enters a new chapter with John and Laura together at the helm.”
John is an experienced education professional focused on the power of relationships, and currently the Parent, Family & Community Engagement (PFCE) Manager at Head Start for Kent County (HS4KC). Prior to HS4KC, John spent 20 years in K-12 education in various roles: teacher, teacher coach, curriculum specialist, athletic coach, assistant principal, assistant director, principal, executive director and superintendent. Outside of his work with Affinity Mentoring and HS4KC, John is a Life and Leadership Coach, a member of Pi Lambda Phi (a fraternity dedicated to Leading Courageously and the Elimination of Prejudice), an actor and musician, a husband, a step-dad and a grandfather.
He was introduced to Affinity Mentoring by Susan, and he joined the board in April 2018. He was appointed a Co-Vice President in June of that year, and has continued to serve as Vice President. Now stepping into the President role in January 2020, John is excited about helping the board and the organization continue to grow and blossom. “I’m so very grateful for the foundation Susan has built at Affinity, and for the mentorship she has provided all of us along the way. I am happy she introduced me to the great work being done. Moving forward, I very much look forward to working more closely with Laura. I am so appreciative of, and impressed by, her skill in her role, her care for the staff, and her passion for how Affinity Mentoring serves the community,” says John.
John really believes in Affinity Mentoring’s work to interrupt the cycle of poverty through mentoring relationships that improve students’ academic skills, social skills and self esteem. This past fall, John became a mentor for an elementary student at Burton Elementary. “I appreciate John’s passion for Affinity’s work, his ability to be a big picture thinker and also understand how to operationalize those big visions. He’s a compassionate and wise leader and I’m excited to have him leading the board,” says Laura.
Affinity invites mentors, supporters, and community partners to attend our upcoming Mentoring Appreciation Night on Tuesday, January 28 at 6:30pm at the Listening Room. You will have the opportunity to thank Susan for her leadership and welcome John to the helm.
Interested in joining Affinity’s Board of Directors? Learn More.
Affinity would like to introduce our two newest board members, Jatnna Abreu and Veronica Bradford.
JATNNA was born and raised in the Dominican Republic and moved to Grand Rapids at the age of 14. She has a Bachelors in Business Administration from Grand Valley State University and a Masters in Organizational Development from Western Michigan University. Jatnna currently works at Amway as a Senior Talent Management Specialist in Human Resources. She is the Vice Chair of Amway’s Multicultural Inclusion Network and will be the incoming 2020 Chair. Jatnna was recently recognized by the Grand Rapids Business Journal as a 2019 GRBJ 40 Under 40 Honoree. During her free time she mentors through Affinity Mentoring at Southwest Community Campus and serves on the board of a small international non-profit organization called Changing Thirsty Lives. Jatnna loves spending time with her husband and three year old son.
VERONICA is the Diversity & Inclusion Specialist at Gordon Food Service where she supports the delivery of the North American Diversity & Inclusion strategy. Veronica is active in her community, as evident in her work and commitment to organizations such as Jack and Jill of America Inc. where she is a member and serves as Program Director for the Greater Grand Rapids Chapter, and member of Women United – Heart of West Michigan United Way. Veronica has supported Affinity’s work as a partner through her work at Gordon Food Service as well as Jack and Jill of America Inc. She is a 2011 graduate of Heart of West Michigan United Way Project Blueprint as well as 2016 graduate of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce Leading Edge Program. Veronica and her husband, Derek, have two sons Grayson and Easton. In her spare time, she loves to enjoy time with her family and travel.
We’re thrilled to have these amazing and talented community leaders join our board of directors, welcome! If you’re interested in joining our board get more information here.
We are thrilled to welcome the newest member to the Affinity family, Keyla Araujo! Keyla recently accepted the position as Site Coordinator at Affinity’s newest school partner, Godfrey-Lee Early Childhood Center (ECC). She brings a broad experience of community engagement and volunteer coordination.
Keyla is bilingual in Spanish/English, has experience coordinating programs and volunteers through her church’s Family Leadership Initiative and other programs. She’s an active community member who has been connected at Godfrey-Lee ECC for some time. In her spare time, she likes to work on her garden, get involved in her church, and spend time with her husband and four children.
Please join us in welcoming Keyla and celebrating the opening of our 4th site by attending our upcoming Ribbon Cutting Ceremony!
Date: Wednesday, August 14 Time: 3:30pm Location: Godfrey-Lee ECC (961 Joosten St SW, Wyoming, MI 49509)