The Woman by the Well

By Mayra Rodriguez

A woman unworthy to have her name recorded in history but powerful enough to have her story recorded in one of the most powerful and influential books of all times, The Bible. She is known as, “The Woman by the Well”. 

A Samaritan woman, who was labeled and rejected by society simply because of her past and current status; an isolated, unseen, broken, and neglected yet, an unexpected opportunity arose and she seized the moment to change her trajectory, and ultimately, history. This woman is one of my heroes. Why? Well, because she represents many of us. 

It is said that this woman would go alone to the well at the worst time of the day, 12 noon. Although typically this practice was done in unity with the other women in the village, she was excluded from doing so due to the shame she represented as a five-times divorced woman and because her current partner was not her husband. 

One day at the well, she was greeted by Jesus, who was a Jew. Although Samaritans and Jews were known enemies, Jesus was no enemy to her. He acknowledged her as a woman, spoke to her respectfully and saw the real her. This encounter deeply validated her and made such an impact within her that something completely unlocked inside her. She ran back to the village with a different mindset—one full of confidence and purpose. She spoke with everyone she encountered and told them they needed to meet this man named Jesus. 

This Samaritan woman led a group of people back to the well where Jesus was waiting, becoming the bridge that connected these Samaritans to Jesus at this village. Underneath the shame, pain, and unworthiness felt by this woman,  there was an amazing leader–one full of passion, fearlessness and the capacity to approach her adversaries and speak with newfound authority. 

The Woman by the Well is a hero, whose name will never be known,  and whose story has proliferated across generations reminding others of her bravery; her redemption. She is a true reminder that no matter our status, our shameful past, or our pain, we all have powerful capabilities, gifts, and a hero within us, strong enough to move mountains, impact others, and leave a legacy. 

The Woman by the Well might not have a name, but she had a voice that transcended time, and has spoken into my soul.  

Jordan & Henry

Mentee Henry, mentor Jordan and I sat down to get to know each other a few weeks ago so I could learn more about each of them. I had heard inspiring things about their mentoring relationship, now in its fifth year, and I was curious, what made it so successful?

First of all, Jordan is the lucky one. Henry is funny, smart, focused, driven and genuinely curious about experiencing new things, even things that might be outside his comfort zone. He wants to learn and he has dreams he’s well on his way toward achieving with his hyperfocus and self-propelled ambitions. He shared that his favorite car was a Maybach – did anyone else know that was a car when they were in fifth grade?? I learned of Henry’s discernment and logic when we talked about his favorite sports teams, which he selects because of the players, not necessarily because they play in his home state of Michigan. Hence why he’s chosen the Golden State Warriors and the Boston Red Sox as a few of his favorite teams. 

He also knows what he likes and what he doesn’t. He’s not timid about stating the things he enjoys, and why or who he wants to be when he grows up–an athlete in either basketball (“depending on how tall he gets”) or baseball, or perhaps boxing. He started pursuing boxing a while ago and goes a few times a week, on his own initiative, to learn techniques and also get stronger. 

Affinity mentor Jordan is a fantastic example of what an effective, caring and engaged mentor looks like: he expresses care and successfully treads the fine-line of challenging growth; he provides support and shares his power–he asks Henry how he’d like to respond to certain situations that directly pertain to Henry. 

From our short meeting, Jordan showcased how seriously he takes Henry’s goals and dreams in how he was able to recite every detail of their past interactions. He listens intently and tailors his approach with Henry based on what Henry says he needs. There was also an energy behind Jordan’s support. He gave Henry the opportunity to lead and express what he feels like doing during their time together, while also keeping Henry’s academic success within view. He diligently worked alongside Henry on an English (not Henry’s favorite) assignment to not only ensure Henry got the best grade, but that he understood how he got the grade. 

We could all use a Henry in our lives, but most importantly, youth like Henry deserve a mentor like Jordan in their lives. Students need five to seven caring adults outside their families to affirm and invest in them, leading to positive and life-altering results that set the course of their lives. 

Please, join us! There are so many ways to invest in these young lives. Reach out at any time and we will find a place that best fits your skills and potential. 

August is Black Business Month

Hi there–Sharalle here–the newbie at Affinity Mentoring. I am thrilled to come alongside the team as Executive Director; with a goal to engage the community in a way that impacts lives, plants legacy, and develops leaders. Affinity’s mission is that it’s alive and moving. The piece that jumps out to me this month is the “equitable growth.”

Living in West Michigan doesn’t always present opportunities for equity. Individuals face nepotism, minority-populated communities are under-resourced and underexposed, and families often face being overlooked. Imagine being an independent, Black-owned business in a sea of familiar and familial supported brands. It is said that there are 600 millionaires in Kent County–many having family names or family businesses. Wealth is distributed amongst the majority; while minorities continue to be the wealthy’s biggest consumers. Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing wrong with being wealthy—stay with me while I make a point. Black and minority-owned businesses make up less than 1% of Grand Rapids economic make up (with 184 minority-owned businesses in Grand Rapids). These businesses compete against brands that are family names, favored brands, and companies that are accessible through store-fronts, word-of-mouth, or costly advertisements. There is limited wealth, knowledge, acknowledgement, and even patrons as it relates to Black/minority owned businesses.

August being Black Business Month means an opportunity for Black-owned businesses to end/start their fiscal year in the black. With not just minorities purchasing from Black businesses, but people with influence, affluence, and status patronizing these companies. 

I started out Black Business Month by visiting the market at A Glimpse of Africa. A Glimpse of Africa highlights the many, beautiful cultures of the African continent. This includes, but is not limited to traditional garments, dances, foods, practices, and businesses. A Glimpse of Africa supported and promoted many black businesses offering a range of products from clothes, sustenance, and accessories. It was an honor to be able to support Grand Rapids’ 1% that otherwise might not have been patronized or noticed.  A full recap of my experience at A Glimpse of Africa can be found here. 

Kicking Black Business Month at A Glimpse of Africa is just the start for me. A full list of my favorite local Black-owned businesses can be found here. A somewhat comprehensive list of Black and minority owned businesses can be found at I challenge you to check out a few of the businesses  and support (at least) four of them. You will find high quality products, an attention to detail, and personal customer support provided with a home-style flare. If you’re new to supporting Black-owned and/or minority-owned businesses feel free to contact me for resources or connections. I can be reached via email at

Happy shopping and supporting!

Pride Month

June 2, 2022 | By Rachel Humphreys

June is Pride Month which commemorates years of struggle for civil rights and the ongoing pursuit of equal justice under the law for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community, as well as the accomplishments of LGBTQIA+ individuals.

At Affinity we want to ensure that students can be their true authentic selves without fear. In a recent survey, 13% of Affinity’s student respondents identified as LGBTQIA+. We want all students to feel valued, valuable, and safe. It is a top priority for our team to ensure mentoring is affirming of a student and family’s identity.

Our work is data driven, each programmatic decision is based on research and centers students’ wellness, both mentally and physically. Many students report that they do not feel like they “fit” in their school, as they might not feel a sense of belonging, purpose, and empowerment in the educational system. As noted in an earlier blog “DEI is it a Mission Drift” we highlight the importance of affirming student identities as an essential component of youth development and academic success.

Though some pieces of mentoring include things like supporting students in their reading and with homework, the critical difference between mentoring and tutoring is a relationship that focuses on building belonging, safety, and acceptance. Research consistently shows us that when students feel that they are fully accepted for who they are, that they have safe adults around them that care for them, accept them wholly, and they can go to for support and help, they succeed in many other areas of life, including academics.

These are not political ideas or opinions for us, we are simply using data to help drive our programming to have the best possible outcomes for students and families, exactly as we always have. For example:

  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24.
  • LGB youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth.
  • LGB youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth.
  • Of all the suicide attempts made by youth, LGB youth suicide attempts were almost five times as likely to require medical treatment than those of heterosexual youth.
  • Suicide attempts by LGB youth and questioning youth are 4 to 6 times more likely to result in injury, poisoning, or overdose that requires treatment from a doctor or nurse, compared to their straight peers.
  • In a national study, 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. 92% of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25.
  • LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.
  • 1 out of 6 students nationwide (grades 9–12) seriously considered suicide in the past year.
  • Each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average.”
  • More at:

We can impact these realities through ensuring mentoring is a space of belonging, safety, and acceptance; putting student voice and input at the forefront of our work and decisions; and focusing our efforts on supporting student growth in Social Emotional Learning, Leadership Skills, and Self-Esteem.

We invite you to learn, celebrate, and partner with us as we continue to grow. In addition, you can support LGBTQIA+ folx in our community by donating and patronizing local LGBTQIA nonprofits and businesses.

Support these nonprofit organizations that focus on supporting, celebrating, and advocating for the LGBTQIA community!

  1. AYA Youth Collective: Serving at-risk and homeless youth ages 14-24 in Kent County. We create communities, rooted in belonging, for youth to own their future.
  2. GR Pride Center: The Grand Rapids Pride Center offers multiple social & support groups, creating safe and affirming spaces for LGBTQ+ community members.
  3. GR Trans Foundation: a local nonprofit dedicated to helping the Grand Rapids Trans community transcend barriers and build equity. 
  4. GR Pride Festival (June 18): Grand Rapids Pride Festival is an event that brings LGBTQ community members, LGBTQ businesses, allies, and organizations together to celebrate diversity, inclusion, and celebrating who you are Proud To Be!
  5. Pride NIght Pop Up Concert (June 20)

Also stop in and support these local LGBTQIA owned businesses!

DEI 301 Training: Meet the Panelists

April 2022

DEI 301 Training | Wednesday, April 27 6-8pm

This is a hyper-local panel focused on anti-racism in education and mentoring. This is a brave, healthy, inquisitive space for us to dive deeper into how race impacts education in our community, and the individual and community level steps that we can take to support all students succeeding. We will have specific tools and ideas for how mentors can support their mentees. Before and during the event attendees will be able to submit questions for the panel members to answer.


We are grateful for the Steelcase Foundation whose grant has made it possible for this training to be free and widely available for AM partners.

Meet the Panelists

Rafael Castanon (he/him)

Rafael Castanon is the partner engagement manager at Health Net since December 2019, working with Health Net partners to meet patients SDOH needs through navigation assistance. He graduated from GVSU in 2009 with a degree in Sociology. Rafael has worked in project management at Kimberly-Clark Professional focused on safety and continuous improvement. Rafael transitioned to Legal Specialist at Spectrum Health in 2014. Rafael worked in the legal department and the development of Spectrum Health policies, procedures and board governance. 

Rafael has also been an active member of the local community serving on the board for the Creston Neighborhood Association in 2013, Grand Rapids Board of Zoning appeals in 2015 and one of the co-founders of the West Michigan Latino Network. 

Alex Kuiper (he/him)

Alex Kuiper and English Language Learner Specialist for grades 3 through 5 at Godfrey-Lee Public Schools. In addition to his work as an ELL Specialist, Alex is the founding co-chair of the Godfrey-Lee Equity Steering Committee. Through this committee, Alex has worked with staff, students, parents and community stakeholders to both assess the current status of GLPS, as well as to create opportunities for growth in the areas of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Alex is a certified Equity Literacy trainer through the Equity Literacy Institute out of Virginia, and also has worked with Learning for Justice (formally Teaching Tolerance) on creating safe spaces for dialogue in both the classroom and workplace, as well as training on embedding social justice standards into the core curriculum. 

Kyle Lim (he/him)

Kyle is deeply passionate about supporting communities of color organizing for social change. He has experience in building organizational coalitions to support grassroots
movements against gentrification, police violence and education justice. He strongly believes in the power of radical imaginations that allow communities and organizations to find solutions to problems outside of dominant ways of thinking and doing.

Dr. Brandy Lovelady Mitchell

Dr. Brandy Lovelady Mitchell is the progeny of the greater Grand Rapids Area. Grounded in her lived experiences and her community-focused parents’ love and human- centered values, Dr. Brandy Lovelady Mitchell has become a formidable lifetime advocate, leader, and educator; she has worked feverishly on initiatives, structures and policies that yield more inclusive growth, strong communities, quality public education, and equitable systems that honor and maximize human potential.

She began her career at what is now Kent County’s Network 180, connecting children and families to mental health and substance abuse services. From there she took her love of children to the most logical place – our public schools, as a School Counselor, Guidance Classroom Teacher, Consultant and Principal. Dr. Lovelady-Mitchell made innovative and inclusive strides as a regional leader at Kent Intermediate School District. She is now serving as Michigan Education Association’s founding Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. In these positions, Brandy created and facilitated engaging and restorative programs like Butterflies, Nurtured Seeds, Boys-to-Men and Educators of the Yam.

Dr. Mitchell recently became elected to the Grand Rapids Community College Board of Trustees. She enjoys spending her free time with her family, reading, and attempting to learn golf, which comes at the expense, unfortunately, of her husband’s bent and battered golf clubs.

Erika VanDyke (she/ella) 

Erika was born in Bogotá, Colombia and has lived in Grand Rapids for most of her life. She has been an Affinity mentor at the Godfrey Lee Early Childhood Center since January 2021, regularly participates in the Latina Network of West Michigan, and serves as the communications coordinator for the Latino Community Coalition.  Erika works as program officer at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation facilitating community committees of high school, Latinx, Black, and LGBTQ grantmakers, and supports the advocacy arm of the Foundation’s equitable education strategy.  She is also part of the Urban Core Collective team, working as project manager for their Transformational Leadership Program.  Erika holds bachelor’s degrees in Psychology and Women and Gender Studies from Grand Valley State University, and a master’s degree in Community Psychology from Michigan State University.