Hispanic Heritage Month

October 2021

September 15 – October 15 is officially Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States and in Michigan, and there are so many things to celebrate in so many different ways. Check out how Affinity board and staff celebrate, and follow our Facebook Page for more opportunities to learn about the complexities and intersectionalities of the Hispanic/Latinx experience. 

"As a White woman who grew up in a predominately White, middle class community, I’m constantly deepening my understanding of my biases and working to critically examine my own participation in cultures of dominance. Raising biracial children adds an extra layer of intentionality behind the choices I make as an adult because I know I have two little sponges who are watching my every move. I want my kids to value lifelong learning, speaking two languages, and embracing all of their identities even if the rest of the world is telling them not to. My children are lighter skinned and often unknowingly “pass” as White. We talk openly about their multiple heritages, ethnicities, skin colors and cultures. They’re proud of their light brown skin and know it comes from their Papa, that their beautiful dark brown eyes are from their Abuelita, and of course their freckles are from me. I want to make sure they are able to fully embrace their often complex and beautiful identities. We stock our home with books that are written by Latinos and feature Latinx characters; we support local Latinx restaurants (they can’t get enough of the arroz from Lindo Mexico and tacos from El Cunado), and of course attend the annual Hispanic Festival that kicks off the month. While as a family we celebrate their Latinx culture and heritage every day, Hispanic Heritage Month is a small window of time each year where the entire nation celebrates the rich beauty, contributions, and cultures of the Latinx communities. Our hope is that one day we won’t need a designated month because the contributions of Latinx communities will be celebrated, honored, and remembered every day."


Rachel Humphreys
Development and Communications Director of Affinity Mentoring

"To me, Hispanic Heritage Month is a celebration and honor to immigrants from Latin America. This month I want to celebrate my parents who had the courage to leave their lives in Mexico City to come to the United States in 1992. As a first generation daughter, I have seen the sacrifices that my parents made as they worked for a better future for me and my sisters. This meant having multiple jobs as a cook, a cleaner, a migrant worker, a factory worker, and selling at flea markets. My parents have made the impossible possible as they learned how to navigate in a country with oppressive systems as native Spanish speakers all while raising their daughters in a new country. Para mis padres, llegaron sin nada y me lo dieron todo.

During this month I am extra grateful for being a daughter of hard working immigrant parents. My brown skin, dark eyes, and Mexican features that I was once ashamed of, I have learned as an adult to embrace it even more. I am proud of all that I am as it’s a representation of my roots, culture, and parents. Without the sacrifices that my parents made I wouldn't have the opportunities that are available to me today as a US citizen."


Angela Reyna
Lee MS Site Coordinator

"Being part of Affinity has been an incredibly fulfilling experience. I have learned that when I speak about justice, equality, and inclusion, I must also continuously question my personal and professional decisions made to ensure I am putting my money where my mouth is. That is not always easy to do. How can I work towards equity for all if I am not also ensuring I am spending money at BIPOC businesses? So often it is easy, cost effective and convenient to utilize the businesses that have the largest reach and the most convenient options. When planning my daughter’s 4th birthday, I asked her what she wanted for food. She immediately shouted “tacos!” I decided to reach out to a local Latinx restaurant. Although it took more effort than say, opening my phone and ordering catering on Chipotle’s website, I kept reminding myself that I needed to practice conscious shopping and reinvest in my community.

It took some back and forth on my part. Since over the phone wasn’t working, I drove out there and put my order in, thankful that they recognized me from my days in the past of going there every week when I worked near them (that community connection always feels nice when you support local, small places). Not only did it cost less than the chain, but we also received so much extra food, and I walked away with the knowledge that the money I had spent was helping my community by going back into the community.

So, this Hispanic Heritage month, I am going to continue to reflect and work to ensure that my intentions, my actions, my dollars spent, match my values and beliefs. Because it is easy to espouse equity, but until we begin to put words to actions, we won’t see the change we so desperately need.""


Lauren Enos
MSW Intern

"Mi nombre es Mónica soy mexicana nací en el pueblo de Yuriria Guanajuato, para mí y mi familia es muy importante celebrar nuestra cultura y preservar nuestras tradiciones. En mi casa celebramos todos los días nuestra herencia hispana, es algo que es parte de nuestra identidad. Es muy común comer platillos tradicionales, escuchar música mexicana y celebrar nuestro día festivo. Con orgullo y respeto a nuestros antepasados vestimos nuestra ropa típica. También nos gusta participar en eventos en los cuales se celebra nuestra cultura por ejemplo el Festival Hispano que se celebra en el downtown de Grand Rapids. El festival mexicana y el más reciente el festival de cambio. En estas semanas nos gusta participar en el Arte Prize y apoyar a artistas locales hispanos. En mi familia es un orgullo ser hispanos y nos gusta compartir las bellezas de nuestra cultura con los demás y a la misma vez aprender de otras culturas."

"My name is Monica; I am Mexican; I was born in Yuriria Guanajuato, Mexico. For my family and me, it is essential to celebrate our culture and preserve our traditions. In my house, we celebrate every day our Hispanic heritage is something that is part of our identity. It is common to eat traditional dishes, listen to Mexican music and celebrate our holiday. With pride and respect for our ancestors, we wear our typical clothes. We also like to participate in events in which our culture is celebrated, for example, the Hispanic Festival held in downtown Grand Rapids. The Mexican festival and the most recent celebration of change. These weeks we like to participate in the Arte Prize and support local Hispanic artists. In my family, it is a pride to be Hispanic, and we like to share the beauties of our culture with others and at the same time learn from other cultures."


Monica Zavala
SWCC Site Coordinator

"My first true experiences understanding Latinx/Hispanic heritage began as I worked in the Youth Services and Language Services departments of the Hispanic Center of West Michigan. Though I had previously lived for extended periods of time in both Spain and El Salvador, through the HCWM I experienced being immersed in a beautiful subculture of Grand Rapids that I hadn't fully appreciated or paid attention to previously, to my own chagrin. These were the first times I began to truly see my own culture and life experience within its greater context in the US, and to begin appreciating our complexities and variations, as well as my own privilege as a white person. I will forever be grateful for the times Latinx/Hispanic individuals have unnecessarily but openly invited me into their lives, called me out when I caused pain or ignored my privilege, taught me, gave me space to explore and learn, and at times even allow me space into gorgeous celebrations of Latinx/Hispanic culture. Even as an interpreter and translator, as someone who has spent most of their career working in primarily Latinx/Hispanic settings and organizations, I work to never take these invitations for granted, but to cherish them and recognize the vulnerability that someone is offering me. September 15 to October 15 each year is a reminder to myself to check in; how am I using my privilege to make space for others and to advance equity? Where do I still have blind spots that I need to pay attention to? How can I celebrate and cherish such complex and varied and rich cultures without appropriating them? How can I do my job(s) in a way that celebrates the Hispanic/Latinx individuals around me this month, and every month?"


Cassandra Kiger
Executive Director

"I come from a family who is very proud of being Hispanic as a child we did not openly celebrate Hispanic/Latinx month because we felt very honored to be Hispanic every day. In my family, we celebrate anything from the smallest accomplishments to the big ones. The number one thing that we are most proud of is family, we treasure the moments spent together more than anything which is why we have a rule in my home that Sunday is set aside for church and family dinner gatherings. This is the number one thing that as a mother I want to pass down to my own boys as Hispanic men, you care for your family and treasure, the time spent together. Lastly, you always celebrate with amazing FOOD!"


Rocio Moreno
Program Director and Burton Site Coordinator

"This month is important because my family is Dominican and well that is our culture and we love to embrace it and celebrate it. My son was born here and I love to read books with him about DR and Latino heritage overall. Our favorite book to read is called Islandborn by Junot Diaz. Hispanic Heritage celebration is pretty much everyday for us, because it is who we are. We eat Dominican food 80% of the time at home or from a local restaurants such as Carniceria Latina, Rincon Criollo or Sabor Latino. I am very proud of my roots and the fact that I am able to speak two languages very fluently. Also, that I have a home away from home in the Dominican Republic."


Jatnna Abreu
Board Member and SWCC Mentor

Why is Social Emotional Learning Important?

October 4, 2021 | By Cassandra Kiger, Executive Director

Social Emotional Learning and Middle School In our last newsletter we introduced how critical Social Emotional Learning is to a healthy life, including in academics, and why we are putting so much focus into SEL skills during mentoring. As we work to ensure that our programming has successful short-term and long-term outcomes for students and families, and that we continue to use relevant research to guide our programming, we have spent significant time researching what different age groups might need in mentoring, including middle schoolers, like those at our Burton and Godfrey-Lee Middle School Sites


Does anyone look back at middle school and remember a time of certainty and ease?
These are foundational years that encompass social and emotional challenges, changes in self-esteem, changing relationships with peers and caregivers, and generally a lot of hormones. Academically, middle school shows some of the highest declines in student outcomes, especially students of color and those from low-income households, who face extra challenges. Some of these challenges are due to systemic issues that are embedded into our white, western view of school systems (this is not focused on a specific school system, but the overall school system). Many students report that they do not even feel like they “fit” in the schools they attend, as they might not feel a sense of belonging, purpose, and empowerment in the educational system. 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 do not take our research lightly.  We are making renewed efforts to do our own organizational and individual work to make sure that we do not perpetuate students feeling like they “don’t fit” when they come to mentoring, whether that be because of their race or ethnicity, their country of origin, their gender identity or sexual orientation, if they identify as differently-abled, or for any other reason they may feel “different”. 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.
Again, all of this we are pairing closely with data, which is why we are preparing to administer the Development Assets Profile survey to all of our mentees grades 4-8 (with guardian permission). This assessment is validated and reliable through the Search Institute, and grows out of years of research with millions of young people and is based on Search Institute’s framework of Developmental Assets. It will allow us to:

  • Discover the social-emotional strengths and supports that our mentees already have;
  • Listen to the perspectives of mentees;
  • See our work in the context of mentee’s own strengths as well as the supports they have (or don’t have) in their families, schools, organizations, and community; and
  • Gain a road map to guide us in proactive and focused planning to increase positive outcomes.

We will continue to make our work transparent and share data in appropriate ways so that you can see the “why” behind the “how” at Affinity Mentoring, and can partner alongside us in this important work. Look out in the coming year for opportunities for mentors and community members to learn alongside our team as we continue to grow. 

Bibliography:

Fite, P., Frazer, A., DiPierro, M., & Abel, M. (2019). Youth Perceptions of What Is Helpful during the Middle School Transition and Correlates of Transition Difficulty. Children & Schools, 41(1), 55–64. https://doi-org.ezproxy.gvsu.edu/10.1093/cs/cdy029

Hughes, J. N., Im, M., Kwok, O., Cham, H., & West, S. G. (2015). Latino Students’ Transition to Middle School: Role of Bilingual Education and School Ethnic Context. Journal of Research on Adolescence (Wiley-Blackwell), 25(3), 443–458. https://doi-org.ezproxy.gvsu.edu/10.1111/jora.12142

Youth-Nex, and Youth-Nex. “What Do You Know About Young Adolescent Development?” Youth, 15 Sept. 2020, youthnexblog.curry.virginia.edu/?p=1963.

YOUTH VOICE & SCHOOL CLIMATE & CULTURE IN THE MIDDLE GRADES. Remaking Middle School, education.virginia.edu/sites/default/files/files/Youth_Nex_files/4b.%20Climate%20&%20Culture_Rationale%20Statement.pdf.

Meet Affinity’s Newest MSW Intern

May 21, 2021

Lauren Enos, MSW Intern

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. 

Welcome Lauren!

Black Lives Matter: Update April 2021

April 21, 2021

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.)

Sincerely,

Cassandra L. Kiger, Executive Director of Affinity Mentoring 

Anonymous Donor Uplifts Staff

March 2021

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.”

Affinity Reveals Updated Mission + Vision

January 2021

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.

Download Image in Spanish.


Growth is a Process

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.

Virtual Mentoring Makes Giving Back Possible

By Juan Mascorro-Guerrero, Mentor at SWCC

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!

Decolonizing Thanksgiving

By Cassandra Kiger

City of GR Proclamation of Indigenous Peoples’ Day

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. 

Our community has slowly been working to more accurately tell the stories of Indigenous Peoples in Grand Rapids. Grand Rapids Public School now has a full Native American Education Program, and Mayor Rosalynn Bliss formally recognized October 12 at Indigenous People’s Day (instead of Columbus Day), a year after Governor Gretchen Whitmer did the same in the state of Michigan. 


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:

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