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.
We believe that Black Lives Matter. Therefore, yesterday’s verdict provided a level of accountability that the family and friends of George Floyd deserved. However, we must continue to seek change so that no family must ever survive what they have faced, and that black and brown people in the United States can feel safe and valued. To our community members of color; we see you, we grieve with you, we celebrate with you. Your exhaustion and anger and joy are all valid and there is room for them all, and we respect whatever your response may be these events. Additionally, we hold firm in our commitment to continuously review ourselves as individuals and an organization to ensure that we perpetuate in our words and actions the value that your life holds and how much you do, in fact, matter. We understand that some may not agree with how we make these decisions; we simply ask for individuals to listen, choose empathy, and choose to imagine a world where we never have to ask whether or not a human life has worth and value.
To our partners and mentors, we ask you to consider our mentees, over 90% who identify as people of color, who will grow up to look more like George Floyd than our white community members. What must it feel like to be a student, a child, and live through these events? If we truly believe in the worth, potential, leadership skills and value of our students, what do they need to see from us today? We know that children are intelligent, perceptive, and are always listening and learning from us; what will we teach them today about their own worth and place in this community?
We understand and validate that these conversations can be hard, or even frightening; please step into them. We know that the best thing we can do to support students increasing their Social Emotional Learning is by modeling if for them, so here are some ideas to engage and openly communicate with the students around you today:
Remember that you do not have to have an answer; use your OARS (O = Open Questions, A = Affirmations, R = Reflective Listening, S = Summarizing) to simply sit in this hard space with them and let them know you hear them.
Let’s remind ourselves that ignoring these difficult truths is not a service to children; engaging with them gives them a sense of safety, empowerment, worth, and helps them know they are free to ask questions and feel a full range of emotions.
We validate that it can be awkward to stay with the pain and confusion; please stay with it anyway.
We have included two resources shared by Grand Rapids Public Schools to help learn methods to hold open conversations and healthy discourse with students; take time today to ponder how you can use these skills and practices to support the growth and healing of students around you.
Never hesitate to reach out to Affinity staff members with questions, for support, or for additional resources. We are here for you. We do, however, want to make clear that we will not tolerate any communication or comments to or about students that puts their worth, or the worth of individuals who look like them, into question.
May we each take time today to rest, reflect, breathe, and heal before we return to our work of pushing and striving, because “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” (Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)
Cassandra L. Kiger, Executive Director of Affinity Mentoring
“It is critically important for everyone to remember that the arrival of coronavirus variants and prematurely relaxed attitudes about COVID-19, put our community in grave danger of a resurgence in cases and deaths,” said Kent County Health Department Administrative Health Officer, Dr. Adam London. “Our county has already lost at least 656 residents to this pandemic. We do not want to see anyone else lose their life, especially when we are so near to the end of this pandemic.”
The KCHD is also encouraging residents to be prepared to get vaccinated as soon as an opportunity is available. Links for pre-registration at various clinics can be found here.
At this time, we want to encourage all mentors, volunteers, donors, and community members to refer back to our original COVID-19 guidelines for a refresher into the steps we are taking to keep students and families safe.
In addition to these guidelines, we want to address two sets of questions we have been receiving:
We are so grateful for and completely understand that we have mentors who want to be able to meet with their mentees in-person after an entire year apart! We never prohibit any interactions that parents/guardians initiate and supervise between mentors and mentees, but, we encourage mentors to allow parents to make these decisions based on the safety of themselves and their families, and we will intervene if any family is feeling pressured to approve or facilitate these meetings. However, we are still not approving Affinity sponsored Independent Outings. We feel this is supported by CDC guidelines stating that it is still recommended that individuals who are not from the same household should only be spending time together not socially distanced if both individuals are fully vaccinated. If a mentor/mentee match finds themselves in this situation and want to inquire further about Independent Outings, please reach out to your Site Coordinator. We understand that there are additional guidelines for socially distanced outings outdoors, and we are going to continue asking that this be initiated by families and supervised by parents/guardians if they take place.
VIRTUAL MENTORING VS IN-PERSON MENTORING NEXT YEAR:
Individuals would validly like to know what mentoring will look like next year; unfortunately, we do not have answers yet. We are grateful that our schools are waiting to make decisions until they have the most up to date and accurate information. We do not expect to have firm and final answers about what kind of mentoring we will do next year until we are much closer to the school year beginning, but we will be prepared for all options, and we will communicate with you regularly with any information or updates that we receive. No matter what, we are prepared and have the experience under our belts to ensure that these crucial relationships continue growing.
Thank you so much for your commitment to students and families, to keeping our community safe and healthy, and to Affinity Mentoring. We are continuously grateful for you and inspired by your enthusiasm, care, and dedication. For any questions or concerns, please contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 616-209-8435.
“Es de vital importancia que todos recuerden que la llegada de variantes del coronavirus y las actitudes relajadas prematuramente sobre COVID-19, ponen a nuestra comunidad en grave peligro de un resurgimiento de casos y muertes”, dijo el Dr. Adam London. “Nuestro condado ya ha perdido al menos 656 residentes a causa de esta pandemia. No queremos que nadie más pierda la vida, especialmente cuando estamos tan cerca del final de esta pandemia “.
El DSCK también anima a los residentes a estar preparados para vacunarse tan pronto como se presente la oportunidad. Los enlaces para la preinscripción en varias clínicas se pueden encontrar aquí.
En este momento, queremos animar a todos los mentores, voluntarios, donantes y miembros de la comunidad a que consulten nuestras reglas originales de COVID-19 para recordar los pasos que estamos tomando para mantener seguros a los estudiantes y las familias.
Además de estas reglas, queremos abordar dos conjuntos de preguntas que hemos recibido:
Estamos muy agradecidos y entendemos completamente que tenemos mentores que quieren poder reunirse con sus mentoreados en persona después de un año entero separados. Nunca prohibimos las interacciones que los padres/mentores inicien y supervisen entre mentores y aprendices, pero animamos a los mentores a permitir que los padres tomen estas decisiones basándose en la seguridad de ellos mismos y de sus familias, e intervenimos si alguna familia se siente presionada a aprobar o facilitar estas reuniones. Sin embargo, todavía no estamos aprobando las Salidas Independientes patrocinadas por Affinity. Creemos que esto está respaldado por las reglas del CCI que establecen que aún se recomienda que las personas que no pertenecen al mismo hogar solo pasen tiempo juntas sin distanciarse socialmente si ambas personas están completamente vacunadas. Si una pareja de mentor/mentoreado se encuentra en esta situación y desea obtener más información sobre las salidas independientes, comuníquese con la coordinadora de su sitio. Entendemos que existen reglas adicionales para las salidas al aire libre socialmente distanciadas, y vamos a seguir pidiendo que esto sea iniciado por las familias y supervisado por los padres/tutores si se llevan a cabo.
MENTORÍA VIRTUAL O MENTORÍA EN PERSONA EL PRÓXIMO AÑO
A las personas les gustaría saber cómo será la mentoría el próximo año; lamentablemente, todavía no tenemos respuestas. Estamos agradecidos de que nuestras escuelas estén esperando para tomar decisiones hasta que tengan la información más actualizada y precisa. No esperamos tener respuestas firmes y finales sobre el tipo de mentoría que haremos el próximo año hasta que estemos mucho más cerca del comienzo del año escolar, pero estaremos preparados para todas las opciones y nos comunicaremos con usted regularmente con cualquier información o actualizaciones que recibamos. Pase lo que pase, estamos preparados y tenemos la experiencia para garantizar que estas relaciones cruciales sigan creciendo.
Muchas gracias por su compromiso con los estudiantes y las familias, para mantener nuestra comunidad segura y saludable, y por su compromiso con Affinity Mentoring. Estamos continuamente agradecidos por usted e inspirados por su entusiasmo, cuidado y dedicación. Para cualquier pregunta o inquietud, comuníquese conmigo directamente a email@example.com, o al 616-209-8435.
This week our team was surprised with a generous gift from an anonymous donor who recognizes the challenges, sweat equity, and care our team puts into programming and equity based barrier reduction work. We are extremely grateful for this gift and the letter brought our team to tears. Thank you <3
“Dear Affinity Staff: I am a community member acquainted with the work of Affinity and the work that you do is impressive. I have kept up with the updates from your organization over the years, and know how big of an impact you have made in the local community. I know that, in general, working for a nonprofit can be both extremely rewarding, yet challenging. I can’t imagine how much harder it would be to work at a nonprofit in the midst of a pandemic. I admire the way all of you at Affinity have not only been able to pivot, but also be successful as a nonprofit during this difficult time. It is more important now than ever that nonprofits doing the work that you do continue. With school being so different this year for students, we can never fully know the impact that having a constant caring adult will have on their future.
I know each of you are very dedicated and passionate about the work that you do, which can oftentimes be under appreciated. Communities often show what is most important to them by where they put their money; I value the work that you do every day and believe it is of utmost importance. I want to take this time to say thank you; thank you for your hard work. Thank you for always being willing to learn and grow. Thank you for teaching. Thank you for all of the paperwork and emails and phone calls that no one ever sees. Thank you for the home visits, porch drop offs, and reminders. Thank you for making an impact in the lives of students and families, even though you may never see the results of that impact. This is an incredibly fierce group of people and if you can make this much of an impact in the face of a pandemic, then I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Affinity Mentoring.”
January not only represents the start of a new year, but it is also National Mentoring Month! We couldn’t be more excited to start the year with exciting news! The Affinity team determined that there was a need to revise the current mission statement to more accurately reflect our work, and add a vision statement to help clearly forecast where we believe we are going as an organization.
New Mission + Vision
Our mission is to facilitate equitable growth in academics, social emotional skills, and self-esteem through mutually beneficial mentoring relationships. We believe in cultivating a brave space that amplifies the voices of young agents of change in a diverse and inclusive community.
Our vision is to be a leading nonprofit for fostering belonging alongside young people, families, and community.
We want to know who we are and be consistent enough to be recognizable, but also be open to change, listen well, and recognize when we are being moved into the next phase of ourselves as an organization. We know that Affinity, as well as our community, has been changing rapidly, and we are no longer the small, new, but beautiful organization that grew out of the missions department of Mars Hill Bible Church. We decided it was important to review our mission statement to ensure that it accurately represents what we are doing and the vision we have for Affinity in the future.
Next Steps: Community Listening Project
We recognize we cannot fulfill our mission and vision without listening to our community members. We launched a new Community Listening Survey as a step in creating a regular cycle of public feedback on our work, and giving power to the community to speak into where we will direct our resources and which projects we will prioritize. Read the Report.
This year I’ve gotten the opportunity to mentor Byron, a student at Southwest Community Campus. Growing up as a first generation immigrant, where both my parents worked hard to support our family, meant my parents did not have much time to help me navigate school or the workforce. Fortunately, along my journey I had mentors who helped guide me to where I am today.
One of those mentors was and continues to be Adriana Almanza, former Associate Director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs at Grand Valley State University. She connected me with financial aid and social resources while also challenging me to pursue a masters degree.
Fast forward to today, I am a young professional who graduated college debt free, holds a Masters Degree, and is working in a fulfilling role within Human Resources at the University of Chicago – all because I had mentors who motivated and guided me. I am now in a good place to give back to my community and thus when I heard of Affinity Mentoring I knew that through this organization I could finally support someone through mentorship just as I once was.
Although I now live in Chicago, IL I knew I still wanted to give back to the West Michigan community as this was where most of my mentors were from and holds a special place in my heart. I’ve now been meeting with my mentee Byron through Zoom for a few weeks and have gotten to provide him with some guidance while also learning from him.
One thing that I’ve slowly realized is that mentoring goes both ways, through every interaction with my mentee there is also an opportunity for me to learn: both my mentee and myself bring a wealth of knowledge that is super valuable. Every week we meet, I check in to see how he is doing, make it a priority to teach Byron a new word, spend time talking about career paths, and engage in discussions about fun outdoor activities.
I am thankful for Zoom as it has made mentoring from Chicago a possibility – I am easily able to share my screen and play games virtually. Although we aren’t together in person I feel like I am still able to successfully mentor Byron through Zoom. I appreciate Affinity Mentoring for adapting to these changing times, providing mentors with several resources to be successful virtually, and for making mentoring remotely a possibility!
For many, November marks the beginning of the holiday season, and though this year will inevitably look different, we can still find unique and creative ways to celebrate Thanksgiving. Balancing thankfulness while also acknowledging our very complicated reality takes a lot of intentionality. May each of us take moments to be kind to ourselves and notice the good things that do exist around us, but also challenge ourselves to see things in a new light.
We encourage each person to consider how you and your family and friends can make steps alongside our community to “decolonize” our Thanksgiving traditions and take time to learn a more accurate narrative. Check out these resources for suggestions:
At Affinity, we work towards the mutual liberation of all of our community and believe that youth are already leaders and community members, but need equitable access and platforms to use their voice. Affinity’s mentoring model provides individual, one hour per week mentoring with trained, safe, supportive adults to support the growth of leadership and social-emotional skills, as well as math and literacy skills.
“We collaborate closely with school administration, community partners, and community members that share our values to build close relationships and are strategically involved in area schools in a manner that strives to advance equity. Our partners help recruit mentors, financially support our program, and advocate for our organization,” explains Cassandra Kiger, executive director of Affinity Mentoring. “We have nearly 30 local partners, including Gordon Food Service, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Steelcase Foundation, and Kent School Services Network.”
For the past eight weeks the Affinity team has worked tirelessly to develop accessible, equitable, and safe methods for all mentors and mentees to continue meeting weekly from the safety of their homes, and/or with students in clean, individual spaces in mentor centers. “The overall cost of this overhaul in staff time and material resources has been approximately $30,000 above and beyond regular programming costs, but we believe that it is worth all students safely having access to mentoring, and we recognize the long-term investment that we are making in accessibility and technology,” explains Cassandra.
We shared our need for COVID relief and virtual mentoring support and our partners at Gordon Food Service (GFS) immediately stepped up to help. Despite being financially affected themselves by the pandemic, GFS committed to supplying 60 devices for our Mentor Centers. (Though students receive devices through their school, each household has a different level of technological fluency. Devices will be provided to families who specifically site issues with technology navigation as a barrier to virtual mentoring, as these devices will be specifically preprogrammed with all technology necessary for mentoring.) This equates to roughly $12,000 in technology support, not including the countless hours their IT department spent to ensure the computers were ready for students and mentors. GFS has been one of Affinity’s community partners since 2015 and the number of employees that volunteer as mentors has grown exponentially (8 to 84).
“Our [company] culture is reflective of our values. The Gordons are an amazing family and [Affinity Mentoring] ties in closely with the values of GFS,” says Dave Veldink, NA Director of Marketing and Merchandising Operations at Gordon Food Service and longtime mentor at Affinity.
Not only are employees encouraged to volunteer, but leadership at GFS has done everything to remove obstacles from employees who would like to be mentors. This includes being flexible about scheduling accommodations for mentors and not requiring hourly employees to clock out during their mentoring hours.
“We are proud to support Affinity Mentoring as an organization, but it’s our caring volunteer mentors that are the heart of our effort,” explains Rich Wolowski, President and Chief Executive Officer of Gordon Food Service (GFS). “This recent donation of technology will help ensure kids continue to connect with and build relationships with their mentors, to the social and academic benefit of the students, their families, and our community.”
At Affinitywe are grateful for our partners, like Gordon Food Service, who find innovative ways to leverage their resources, social capital, and network to support mentoring. To find out more about becoming a community partner click here.
Affinity is accepting applications for new mentors for Fall 2020. Our goal is to recruit 100 new mentors by September 9 and we currently need 53 more!
Become a Mentor | Apply Now > No prior mentoring experience is needed and we match people based on their interests, personalities, and background! Last year we matched 286 students with a mentor, our goal this year is 300. The online application takes less than 10 minutes. Once you have applied you will be contacted by one of our program staff to schedule an in-person interview. For the health and safety of students and mentors, this year mentoring will be virtual (learn more).
Commitment One hour per week (during the school day 8am-4pm) for one school year (late September – late May). We cater to working professionals and can be flexible and reschedule sessions.
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.