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).

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 

Affinity Welcomes 3 New Interns

Hannah Noorman

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

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

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.

If you or your employer are interested in learning more about our internship programs please contact

Cuentos y Comida Event

Cuentos y Comida (Stories and Sustenance)

Disponible en español abajo

A traditional table hosted event would involve Affinity Mentoring partners participating as table hosts by inviting friends, coworkers and other acquaintances to come to the event, share a meal and listen to stories with them. This year, however, is anything but traditional. Due to COVID-19 precautions we will be holding a virtual event. Hosts will invite friends and colleagues to join them at a location of their choice to stream Affinity’s video that shares the impact of mentoring, community partnerships, and the power of relationships. Video will be available in English and Spanish.

Become an event sponsor!


As adults during this time we are experiencing heightened levels of stress, anxiety, fear, and lack of support systems; now just imagine what it must feel like to be 10 years old. During uncertain times with a lack of routine, supports, and social contacts mentoring is more important than ever for young people.

We recognize that pushing forward our traditional mentoring style creates barriers for some families, and we are deeply committed to providing equitable mentoring services at no cost to families, students, or our school partners. Therefore, this year we are adapting our mentoring program to a virtual platform for which there is a significant start-up cost (approximately 431% increase). In addition to increased operating costs, we are anticipating a shortfall of at least $30,000 due to our partnerships that are being financially affected by COVID-19.

Your participation in this event helps ensure that we are able to continue to provide high-quality mentoring and family support to students in Grand Rapids and Wyoming.

Goodie Bags

Each participant that attends a watch party in-person will receive a gift bag with treats and swag from local BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) owned businesses. The more people who attend your watch party, the more goodies everyone receives!
  • Tier 1 [2-4 people]: Affinity Mentoring pen; imentor sticker; Mosby’s Popcorn bags
  • Tier 2 [5-8 people]: Tier 1 goodies; Malamiah Juice Bar (1 bottle per person); Daddy’s Dough Cookies (2 cookies per person)
  • Tier 3 [8-10 people]: Tier 1 and tier 2 goodies; Handmade face mask from Guelaguetza Designs; Affinity Mentoring t-shirt

Join Us Live!

Date: Thursday, October 22, 2020
Tune In: [Facebook Livestream] begins at 6pm [Facebook account is not required]
Location: Your host’s location, home computer or cell phone
Cost: No registration fee[we are accepting sponsorships and donations]


If you’d like to be host please contact Rachel Humphreys at

Thank you to our sponsors | Gracias a nuestros patrocinadores


Cuentos y Comida (Stories and Sustenance en inglés)

Un evento tradicional organizado con invitados a un almuerzo involucraría a los socios de Affinity Mentoring que participan como anfitriones de la mesa al invitar a amigos, compañeros de trabajo y otros conocidos a asistir al evento, compartir una comida y escuchar historias con ellos. Este año, sin embargo, nada es tradicional. Debido a las precauciones de COVID-19, realizaremos un evento virtual. Los anfitriones invitarán a amigos y colegas a unirse con ellos en el lugar que elijan para transmitir el video de Affinity que comparte el impacto de la mentoría, las asociaciones comunitarias y el poder de las relaciones. El video estará disponible en inglés y español.

¡Conviértase en patrocinador del evento!


Como adultos, durante este tiempo nos sentimos niveles elevados de estrés, ansiedad, miedo y falta de sistemas de apoyo; ahora imagina lo que se debe sentir al tener 10 años. En tiempos de incertidumbre con falta de rutina, apoyos y contactos sociales, la mentoría es más importante que nunca para los jóvenes.

Reconocemos que seguir con nuestro estilo tradicional de mentoría crea barreras para algunas familias, y estamos profundamente comprometidos a brindar servicios de mentoría equitativos sin costo para las familias, los estudiantes y nuestros socios escolares. Por ello, este año estamos adaptando nuestro programa de mentoría a una plataforma virtual para la que existe un coste de empieza significativo (aumento de aproximadamente un 431%). Además del aumento de los costos operativos, anticipamos un déficit de al menos $30,000 debido a nuestros socios que se ven afectados financieramente por COVID-19.

Su participación en este evento ayuda a garantizar que podamos continuar brindando mentoría y apoyo familiar de alta calidad a los estudiantes en Grand Rapids y Wyoming.

Bolsas de Regalo Con Gradas

Cada participante preregistrado recibirá una bolsa de regalo con sopresas y botines de negocios locales propiedados por personas BIPOC (negros, indígenas, gente de color) (por sus siglas en inglés). ¡Cuantas más personas asistan a su fiesta, más regalos recibirán todos!
  • Grada 1 [2-4 personas]: Bolígrafo de Affinity Mentoring; Pegatina imentor ; Bolsitas de palomitas Mosby’s 
  • Grada 2 [5-8 personas]: Las sopresas de Grada 1; Jugo de Malamiah  (1 botella por persona); Galletas de Daddy’s Dough (2 galletas por persona)
  • Grada 3 [8-10 personas]: Las sopresas de Grada 1 y Grada 2; Mascarilla de Guelaguetza Designs; Camiseta de Affinity Mentoring 

¡Únete a nosotros en vivo!

Fecha: Jueves, 22 de Octobre 22
Ver en directo: [Facebook Livestream] comienza a las 6:30pm [No se require una cuenta de Facebook ]
Location: Ubicacion de los anfitriones, su computadora o teléfono móvil
Costo: sin tarifa de registro [estamos aceptando patrocinios y donaciones]


Si quiere ser un anfitrione por favor contacte Rachel Humphreys al

Mentor Boss Lady

By Rachel Humphreys

Meet Burton Site Coordinator, Rocio Moreno, or better known to kindergarteners as “Mentor Boss Lady.” 

2019 EPIC Awards Celebration

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.”

Meet the rest of the team and read their bios.

COVID-19 Relief and Technology Needs

[Disponible en Español abajo]

As adults during this time we are experiencing heightened levels of stress, anxiety, fear, and lack of support systems; now just imagine what it must feel like to be 10 years old. During uncertain times with a lack of routine, supports, and social contacts mentoring is more important than ever for young people. Students need as many safe adults as possible in their lives to help them navigate the emotions and struggles that this pandemic has additionally placed on them and their families. We urgently ask you to continue supporting Affinity Mentoring’s work as we walk alongside partners and families, and we promise to do everything in our power to make this work safe and healthy.

Our transition to a virtual platform helps ensure the health and safety of our program participants. We are currently working to ensure (with help from supporters) that Affinity Mentoring has all of its own technology needs supplied through our programming and students/families/schools do not have to provide their own. 

In a typical year, replenishing our Mentor Centers costs approximately $3,500 (new books, games, activities, etc.), however, we anticipate the transition to a virtual platform costing approximately $18,600 (a 431% increase). 

Estimated COVID-19 Programming Costs

  • iPads/laptops: $250 X 60 = $15,000
  • Headphones: $25 X 60 = $1,500
  • Disinfectant wipes: $60/mo X 10 months = $600
  • Hand sanitizer: $150 X 10 months= $1,500

TOTAL COST: $18,600

In addition to increased operating costs, we are anticipating a shortfall of at least $30,000 due to our partnerships that are being financially affected by COVID-19.

During this uncertain time, we ask that you continue to support the work of Affinity Mentoring and other nonprofits in our community.* Your support is more important than ever. 

*At this time we are not accepting personal device donations, however, please consider donating to our general fund to directly support these needs.

Questions or Concerns? Please direct your questions to the following people:

Thank you for your continued support and understanding during these challenging times. 



Apoyo para COVID-19 Necesidades de Tecnología

Como adultos durante este tiempo sentimos niveles elevados de estrés, ansiedad, miedo y falta de sistemas de apoyo; ahora imagínense cómo se sentiría si tuviera 10 años de edad. En tiempos de incertidumbre con falta de rutina, apoyo y contactos sociales, la mentoría es más importante que nunca para los jóvenes. Los estudiantes necesitan tantos adultos seguros como sea posible en sus vidas para ayudarlos a navegar las emociones y las luchas que esta pandemia también ha puesto encima de ellos y sus familias. Le pedimos urgentemente que continúe apoyando el trabajo de Affinity Mentoring mientras caminamos junto con socios y familias, y prometemos hacer todo lo que esté a nuestro alcance para que este trabajo sea seguro y saludable.

Nuestra transición a una plataforma virtual ayuda a garantizar la salud y la seguridad de los participantes de nuestro programa. Actualmente estamos trabajando para asegurar (con la ayuda de apoyantes y socios) que Affinity Mentoring tiene toda la tecnología necesaria a través de nuestra programación y que los estudiantes/familias/escuelas no tienen que proporcionarla.

En un año típico, rellenar nuestros Centros de Mentoría cuesta aproximadamente $3,500 (para libros nuevos, juegos, actividades, etc.), sin embargo, anticipamos que la transición a una plataforma virtual costará aproximadamente $18,600 (un aumento de 431%).


  • iPads: $250 X 60 = $15,000
  • Auriculares: $25 X 60 = $1,500
  • Toallitas Desinfectantes: $60/m X 10 meses = $600
  • Desinfectante para Manos: $150/m X 10 meses= $1,500

COSTO TOTAL: $18,600

Además del aumento de los costos operativos, anticipamos un déficit de al menos $30,000 porque algunos de nuestros socios han sido afectados financieramente por COVID-19.

Durante este tiempo incierto, le pedimos que continúe apoyando el trabajo de Affinity Mentoring y otras organizaciones sin fines de lucro en nuestra comunidad.* Su apoyo es más importante que nunca.

* En este momento no estamos aceptando donaciones de dispositivos personales, sin embargo, considere donar a nuestro fondo general para apoyar directamente estas necesidades.

¿Preguntas o preocupaciones? Dirija sus preguntas a las siguientes personas:

  • Mentores, mentorizados o miembro de la familia que regresan: póngase en contacto directamente con la coordinadora de su sitio
  • Preguntas de los nuevos mentores: Rocio Moreno
  • Socios de la comunidad (donaciones en especie, apoyo financiero, etc.): Rachel Humphreys 
  • Preguntas generales sobre protocolos de COVID-19 y seguridad: Cassandra Kiger 

Gracias por su continuo apoyo y comprensión durante estos tiempos difíciles.

-Equipo de Affinity Mentoring


Updated: July 8, 2020

Meet Our Better Together Panelists!

Get a sneak peek of the mentors and students that will be sharing their experiences, stories, and favorite memories for Better Together Virtual! Watch our livestream video on Facebook [no account necessary] on April 29th at 6pm to experience Affinity and hear their full stories! For more information about the event visit:

Kortlyn Shoemaker is the Early Childhood Pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church where she oversees programming for all children 6 years old and under. Kortlyn and her dog Sir Winston moved to Grand Rapids 3 years ago from New York City. In addition to overseeing programs for young children, she also volunteers her time leading the Student Leadership Team for Mars Hill’s high school students, is a Bible study leader and a student at Mars Hill’s Formation School. In her free time, Kortlyn enjoys painting landscapes and abstract art, learning Italian, reading, frequenting many of Grand Rapids restaurants and cafes and traveling abroad. 

Yoselyn is 10 years old and in the 4th grade. Her favorite subject at school is Art. When she is not at school Yoselyn enjoys reading Junie B. Jones books, drawing and coloring, playing with her baby cousin and doing her dolls’ hair. Yoselyn lives in Grand Rapids with her mom, Suzy, and brother, Saul, who is also in the mentoring program. When Yoselyn grows up she wants to be a teacher.

Kortlyn and Yoselyn have been a match for three years and absolutely love spending time together. They have many things in common including their creativity, love of glitter, reading, laughing and their silly sense of humor.

Mitch Shooks is self-employed. He founded the GRIP Center, a private personal training gym in cascade in 2014, and has a team of 4 trainers. Mitch earned a degree in Exercise Science from Dordt College and he enjoys outdoor activities like biking, hiking and hunting. Mitch is a self-proclaimed “barely sane father” of 4 girls. He adds that his wife of 20 years is his anchor when dealing with his daughters

Saul is an energetic guy with a love for all things sports and fast cars. He loves jokes and finding humor in all places. He’s a very thoughtful young man and often brings Mitch small crafts he has made for him. They have been a match for 3 years.

Karina Zarate is an engineer for C2AE, she works in an integrated team to design various systems for public infrastructure, health care, education and manufacturing facilities. One of her projects is the new high school for Southwest Community Campus [SWCC]. Karina studied Architectural engineering, with an emphasis on electrical systems, in her hometown at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. She was recruited to Grand Rapids in 2013 and have become very connected since. Karina has a passion for her community, and often volunteers for opportunities to promote STEM to youth through the lens of interaction with the built environment. Because of the intersection of community and the built environment, she serves on the board of Family Promise, which helps families with children who are in housing crises. She is a member of the Latina Network, a coordinator of the Grand Rapids’ Project Pipeline Architecture Camp and serves as the Treasurer for EquityPAC. She became a mentor for Affinity this school year.

Liliana is formerly a student at Cesar Chavez Elementary, she is now a 4th grader in her first year at SWCC. The pair recently celebrated her 10th birthday over one of their weekly lunches. As a middle child, she plays the role of little sister and of a caring older sister. She is sweet, imaginative, and energetic. When they meet, Liliana enjoys sharing snacks, drawing, basketball, playing board games, practicing her English, and sharpening her math skills. There is never a dull moment with Liliana, because she can easily sneak in a game of rock paper scissors and hide and seek on the way to the lunch room or while waiting in the lunch line.

Angel Barreto-Cruz is a Membership Specialist at the YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids, Co-Founder of Loop Coding Center, and a student at Grand Valley State University. Angel is a proud GRPS graduate, in fact he attended Southwest Community Campus as a child! Angel is very active in the community – he is a member of the West Michigan Latino Network, board member for the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of Grand Rapids, and  participant in the LEADERES leadership lab for Latinx professionals by Ferris State University.

Dylan is a very outgoing and thoughtful 4th grader. He loves to play board games and play outside. Together, he and Angel play battleship, read together, and practice English.

Maura + Analia

Maura Lamoreaux is thrilled to be in her fifth year of mentoring with Affinity! Currently the communications manager for the Kent County Road Commission, Maura previously served as communications officer for the Yonkers Public Schools, the fourth largest school district in the State of New York. Maura received a bachelor’s degree in Communications from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s degree in Corporate Communication from Baruch College of the City University of New York. She also attended the American Musical and Dramatic Academy and currently sings with the rock band, Signal Trip. Maura and her husband, Jason, are the proud parents of daughter, Shea.

Analia is an outgoing 4th grader at Southwest Community Campus. This is her first year in the mentoring program and likes learning new games with Maura. Analia is working on building her confidence and practicing her English.

Teri is self-employed and works with the Red Cross. In addition, she is a wellness consultant, disability advocate, and diversity and inclusion presenter. She loves to be active and get outdoors, especially hiking and paddle-boarding. She and her husband have two children. Eleven years ago she became Lizbeth’s mentor – Lizbeth was just five years old and in the first grade!

Lizbeth is the oldest child in her family and has two younger sisters. Perhaps this is the reason for her maturity and helpful nature. She is very giving and loves to see those around her smiling. She has a very artistic side and is a very gifted musician and has a beautiful voice! Liz is a great dancer and has done performances with her friends. She also has a fun and sweet personality and a wonderful sense of maturity. Navigating through high school can be daunting, but Liz is persevering and her teachers all adore her. Her faith is vital in her life and she leans of God for direction and purpose when she’s feeling down. Liz has a good head on her shoulders and lots of love in her heart. She makes the world a better place for those that love and know her! 

Lizbeth and I met at Burton elementary on our first day of mentoring. She was a bright eyed five year old first grader and although my Spanish was non-existent, we did a lot of smiling and pointing at pictures to communicate that day. Fast forward 11 years and it’s like we’ve always known one another. Our families bonded and so have our hearts. We’ve done a lot of life together like holidays, birthday’s, special outings, cookie baking and beach hikes. I appreciate her more than words can say. Life isn’t always easy and sometimes busyness gets in the way, but at the end of the day I am very thankful for our special connection that can never be broken.” – Teri

Join Us Live!

Date: Wednesday, April 29, 2020
Tune In: [Facebook Livestream] begins at 6pm [Facebook account is not required]
Location: Your home computer or cell phone
Cost: Free to participate [we are accepting sponsorships and donations]


Every year, Better Together raises over $40,000 in vital support for our students. Please join us for Better Together Virtual to hear how your support is helping us serve students and their families during this crisis and throughout the year. 

Ready to make your commitment now? Donate now.

Affinity Leadership Resignation

March 18, 2020

Affinity Mentoring today announces the resignation of Laura Ward as executive director. Laura’s last day will be May 22, 2020. 

“It is with both gratitude and sadness that I share this news. I have decided to step back from my work because my family commands my full attention at this time. This has been a very difficult decision but is necessary in order to best care for my family,” Laura said.

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

Laura joined Affinity Mentoring as program director in 2011 and was promoted to executive director in 2016. Under her leadership, the organization increased student-mentor-matches from 120 to nearly 300. The organization also expanded the number of schools served from one to four. The Grand Rapids Chamber named Affinity Mentoring the 2019 Non-profit of the Year at its 10th annual EPIC Awards.

“I’m extremely proud of all that we have accomplished together. Affinity’s team of board members, staff, mentors, students, school staff and community partners have all had a significant impact in the community and on my life and career,” Laura said. “Without you, Affinity Mentoring would not be as strong and vibrant as it is.” 

“The board of directors are very grateful to Laura for her leadership and vision that helped shape Affinity Mentoring to what it is today, and we wish her well in her next chapter. We will miss the depth of her present involvement. At the same time, we are confident in the ability of the staff, board members, partners, and volunteers to build upon the strong foundation that has been laid 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.

Mentor Story: Cindy + Nicole

By Rachel Humphreys

“When I think of Cindy, I think of a second mom. Mentoring had a huge impact on my life.” 

Nicole was a shy and quiet 3rd grader at Burton Elementary, waiting for a mentor. Cindy was a member of Mars Hill Bible Church, involved in children’s ministry, and her oldest had just graduated high school when she heard about the need for mentors. Although she had never been a formal mentor before, she thought “That’s something I can do.” 

Nicole and Cindy began meeting over the lunch hour. Nicole fondly remembers, “I’d be so excited every week. I’d get to miss class, meet with Cindy, play basketball, and eat McDonalds. I loved it.”

13 years later, Nicole and Cindy are back at Burton Elementary. Nicole smiles as they walk the halls, remembering various classrooms and teachers. Cindy looks up to Nicole, “I don’t remember you being this tall,” she teases. Cindy has journeyed alongside Nicole long past their formal mentoring days and has had the opportunity to see her grow into a strong, adventurous, and brave young woman. Even after Nicole transferred to another school district they remained close. “We committed to each other and built a good relationship,” explains Cindy. More than a decade later they still text, meet to catch up, and connect via social media.

Leaning over a table in the library, the pair laugh like old friends swapping photos – remembering squinty graduation poses, Steak ‘ Shake dates, prom dresses, and their first year of mentoring. “It was really nice to have her there. She was always there for me for a lot of milestones – basketball, graduation, birthdays, prom – just like another family member celebrating with me,” says Nicole.

Every birthday Cindy would take Nicole to Chuck E Cheese to celebrate and she attended as many of Nicole’s basketball and softball games as possible. Nicole was included in many of Cindy’s family events too, like school plays, church, and sport outings. 

“Mentoring is not hard when you have someone like Nicole. However, you don’t necessarily see the effect of it and are unsure if you’re making any difference,” explains Cindy. Although she didn’t know it, Cindy helped shape Nicole’s future path.

“Cindy being my mentor definitely had a huge impact on me. She helped me get out of my shy phase and she helped me find my passion for aviation. I used to want to be a veterinarian, but one summer Cindy helped me get into Grand Valley State University’s STEPS (Science, Technology, Engineering, Preview Summer) Camp.” 

“I love getting my hands dirty, using wrenches, and ratchets. After that STEPS Camp I fell in love with aviation and knew that’s what I wanted to do. I love to just put on my safety glasses and do my thing. It brings me so much joy. Some people my age are still trying to figure out what they want to do; I figured it out in 6th grade thanks to Cindy.”

Once she locked onto her dream, Nicole pursued it with a passion. She took two years of aviation maintenance at Kent County Technical Center (KCTC), earned her Associates Degree in Applied Science at Lansing Community College, and received additional certifications in specialty areas including: general, airframe and powerplant aviation. Listening to Nicole describe her school and excitement for her new job Cindy beams, “I am so proud of her. She’s increased her confidence and I won’t take credit for that. Her mom is so involved, works really hard, and sets a great example.”

Over the past decade Nicole has discovered her passion and strength. Choosing to work in a male-dominated field, she has found herself being the only female in the majority of her aviation classes. “I’m used to it. I’m not worried about handling them,” she laughs confidently. Keeping in line with her adventurous side, Nicole recently relocated to Illinois for a new job. “As an aircraft structural mechanic I’ll be working on commercial aircrafts for Boeing. I’m anxious, but ready to work and I know I’m going to love it,” she beams. 

“Mentoring is such a great opportunity. Not all 3rd graders might think of it like that, but it’s definitely worth it for every student that has the opportunity to try,” says Nicole.


If you’d like to make an impact like Cindy, sign up to mentor here OR if you would like to make a small monthly donation to support students like Nicole, give here.

Meet Affinity’s New Board President: John Robinson

Past Board President, Susan Lukaart, and her husband Steve Eckert.

By Rachel Humphreys

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.”

Affinity’s new Board President, John Robinson

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.