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. 

Affinity Intern Spotlight: Hannah

March 9, 2022

Hannah VanHoorne, BSW Intern

“My name is Hannah VanHoorne and I am a social work student at Grand Valley State University. I am a motivated, self-driven, and compassionate person with experience in behavioral analysis and mentoring skills. I have found personal benefit in working in schools, hospitals, and therapy centers.”

Hannah spends more of her time in the Burton Mentor Center supporting students and mentors.

Thank you for your service and commitment to Affinity!

Meet our other 2021-2022 intern, Lauren Enos!

Lee Middle School Ribbon Cutting

February 2022

Affinity launches new mentoring programs at two new sites in Godfrey-Lee Public Schools, Godfrey Elementary and Lee Middle School (LMS). In December 2021, we celebrated the opening of LMS with our school partners, mentors, board members, and local chamber representatives (Grand Rapids Chamber and Hispanic Chamber of Commerce). Angela Reyna, former Program Assistant, is now the Lee Middle School Site Coordinator. Keyla Araujo leads both the Early Childhood Center and Elementary mentoring sites.

We are grateful for the support of individual donors, local businesses, and foundations. In 2021, Affinity launched the Middle School Mentoring Steering Committee. The committee gathers input and feedback from middle school students, teachers, parents, and school partners. This information is integral to building the newest middle school mentoring program. One key element is the ability for mentees to CHOOSE their OWN mentor!

Lee Middle School Ribbon Cutting

2022 Community Listening Project

January 3, 2022

Affinity Mentoring is accepting responses for its 2nd Annual Community Listening Project. Responses will be accepted in English and Spanish until January 28, 2022.

The purpose of this survey is to collect feedback, critique, and ideas from mentors, partners, families, and community members. The data will be used to help our team direct our resources and prioritization of projects.

The survey will take approximately 4 minutes. TAKE THE SURVEY

View last year’s responses here.

Affinity Leadership Resignation

January 3, 2022

Affinity Mentoring announces the resignation of Cassandra Kiger as Executive Director. She will transition out of her role in May, 2022. 

“I am choosing to view it as an incredible joy that leaving this position, this team, and this organization is so hard. I can say, without question, that this has been the greatest opportunity for personal and professional learning and growth that I have ever been offered, and that this is the best team that I have been privileged to work beside and learn from. It is with sadness and regret that I prepare to leave, but exciting things are coming as my spouse and I will be moving to Israel where I will be studying at Hebrew University of Jerusalem to obtain an MA in Human Rights and Transitional Justice.”

Affinity’s Board of Directors is conducting a search to find the new executive director [see Job Posting].

Cassandra stepped into the role of Executive Director in the height of the pandemic in May of 2020. Under her leadership, the organization launched a new Mission and Vision, developed and implemented a new 3 Year Strategic Plan, received accreditation as a BBB Charity, opened two new mentoring sites, and strengthened the infrastructure and sustainability of the organization (read more in the 2020-2021 Annual Report).

“Most importantly, I want to make abundantly clear that no single individual leads an organization. Affinity Mentoring is made up of a team of skilled, intelligent, creative, innovative humans whose time and effort each day make our work amazing, and provide desired and needed support in our community. I want to personally thank Rocio, Angela, Keyla, Monica, Holly, and Rachel, as well as our entire board of directors, for putting your trust in me, for not saying no to every crazy new idea, and for putting students, families, and their needs first and foremost in everything we do,” says Cassandra.

“The board of directors are very grateful to Cassandra for her leadership and vision to help bring Affinity Mentoring to new heights, and we wish her well in her next chapter. We will miss her work and what she has brought to Affinity. At the same time, we are confident in the ability of the staff, board members, partners, and volunteers to build upon the great successes Cassandra has helped build and we look forward to what we will accomplish next,” says John Robinson, president of Affinity’s Board of Directors.

Download the Press Release.

View the Executive Director Job Posting and Application.