Local Mothers Group Donates 100+ Diverse Books

By: Rachel Lopez

March is #ReadingMonth! We know that reading is powerful. Books allow students to step into another world, reflect on their own life, and be inspired for the future.

However, 85% of books feature White Americans [1].

The majority of students we serve are children of color which is why we are intentional about purchasing books that reflect and celebrate diverse communities.

Diverse stories encourages self-reflection among readers and creates a sense of comfort. People like to see themselves and identify with the stories they read [2]. As you can see from the infographic below, there is a large gap in the number of diverse books [3]. It’s up to us as a community to ensure our students are being represented, uplifted, and inspired by the books in our libraries.

Last fall Natalie Hall, from the Greater Grand Rapids Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, Inc (GGRJJOA), toured our Mentor Center. Natalie explains, “GGRJJOA seeks to be an integral part of cultivating positive change and growth within our local communities. Our National and local level organization focuses on initiatives that equips our members and youth with the power to make a difference in our chapters, communities and in the lives of children around the country! We connected with Affinity Mentoring due to the commonality in your mission in ways that positively affect change and growth in our communities.”

During the tour we discussed the disparity in children’s literature featuring characters of color. Natalie decided that she and the mothers of GGRJJOA would help us tackle that challenge by pledging to donate 100 books featuring students of color by March (Reading Month).

(L-R) – Natalie Hall, Tracey Brame, La’Leatha Spillers, Veronica Bradford, and Lisa Oliver-King

For the past few months Natalie, along with 20 mothers of her local chapter, have been actively collecting and purchasing books filled with diverse characters to reflect, inspire, and celebrate our students! Together, they collected over 100 books featuring characters of color for Affinity Mentoring!

The books vary by reading level (K-8th) and include fiction, non-fiction, and Spanish language books!

We know that it’s up to us as a community to ensure our students are being represented, uplifted, and inspired by the books in our libraries. Thank you GGRJJOA for stepping up as community leaders to ensure our students can see themselves reflected in our libraries!

Jack and Jill of America, Incorporated is a membership organization of mothers with children ages 2-19, dedicated to nurturing future African-American leaders by strengthening children through leadership development, volunteer service, philanthropic giving and civic duty.

If you’d like to donate diverse books or create a service project that supports Affinity please contact info@affinitymentoring.org.

[1] Thomas, Ebony Elizabeth (2016). “Stories Still Matter: Rethinking the Role of Diverse Children’s Literature Today”. Journal of Language Arts94 (2): 112–120.

[2] Wopperer, Emily (2011). “Inclusive Literature in the Library and the Classroom”(PDF). Knowledge Quest39 (3): 26–34. Retrieved 7 November 2018.

[3] Reflection Press (2017). “Children’s Books as a Radical Act.” http://www.reflectionpress.com/childrens-books-radicalact/

Eliano + Rafael’s Story

What do a Legal Specialist and a 2nd grader have in common? Surprisingly, quite a bit.

Once a week, Rafael and Eliano stroll through the Mentor Center and Media Center, scoping out a good spot to eat their lunch. They giggle to each other and finish each other’s sentences as they recall past mentoring sessions.

Today, they found an open table in the Media Center. As Eliano bites into his fried chicken Rafael pulls out a bag of chips. “Oh! Is that the same kind we had last week?!” exclaims Eliano.

Eliano + Rafael

They started meeting this past fall and it’s become their weekly tradition to share their lunches. For Rafael, mentoring is a fun way to spend his lunch hour, “I have to eat anyways so it’s a nice break from my norm. The hardest part is getting there, once I’m there it’s easy.”

Eliano explains, “I wanted a mentor because it seemed fun. My brother, Henry, has a mentor and he said we can do anything!” Right now his favorite mentoring activity is playing money games with Rafael. “[Eliano] does the scoring, so he wins a lot,” laughs Rafael. They’re looking forward to more sunshine and being able to play soccer outside.

Rafael describes Eliano as an energetic, smiley, and happy kid, “Whenever I see him, he’s so full of energy. We read together. We talk about things like which superpowers we’d pick and we like to ask each other a lot of questions to get to know each other.”

Eliano thinks of Rafael as his friend, “I feel really happy when we hang out.” He thinks things would be very different without his weekly lunches with Rafael, “I would be sad, really sad. We’re friends.”

Affinity presenting to the West Michigan Latino Network | Fall 2018
Gregorio de Leon sharing his experiences being a mentor with the West Michigan Latino Network | Fall 2018

“We usually eat together, play a game, then we just hang out,” says Rafael. Rafael is involved in the local Latino community and is part of the West Michigan Latino Network’s (WMLN) leadership team. He decided to become a mentor after hearing a presentation from Affinity Mentoring at one of their meetings last fall, “I listened to members of the network, well-respected community members, and a mentor share his experience with the program. It inspired me to sign up.”

What Rafael and Eliano didn’t know at the time was that it was the Henry’s (Eliano’s brother) mentor, Gregorio, who shared his experience as a mentor with the WMLN and it was his excitement that inspired Rafael to become a mentor… So essentially Henry recruited his little brother to get a mentor and his mentor, Gregorio, recruited who would become Eliano’s mentor.

Gregorio + Henry (Eliano’s older brother)

“I would encourage folks to do it. I would stress how easy it is once you get it. Monica [SWCC Site Coordinator] makes it so easy [Eliano nods] and I get to hang out with Eliano for an hour,” explains Rafael.

What does Eliano think? “I would tell [students] to get one. I know they really want one.”

If you, or someone you know, would like to learn more about becoming a mentor contact info@affinitymentoring.org or click here >

We are always in need of more mentors, but especially male mentors!

Mentoring Appreciation Awards 2019

To celebrate #NationalMentoringMonth we recognized several mentors, supporters, and partners for their dedication, service, and impact. Thank you!

“2019 Ripple Effect Award”
Dave and Sue are a force to be reckoned with. Their contributions of time as mentors and match sponsors have had widespread effects to Affinity Mentoring and beyond, serving families of mentees, past and future.

“2019 Soaring High Award”
Maura has been a strong force for positive encouragement in her mentee’s life. She has helped empower her to be brave and confident.

2019 Push Through Award”
Vanessa has been a dedicated mentor for many years to the same mentee. She even followed her mentee to our program when she moved schools!

2019 Priceless Partner Award”
We couldn’t do our work without amazing partners like Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, who continue supporting Affinity as advocates, sustainers, and champions. Not only do 8 of their employees mentor each week (and have for several years) but they cover half the costs of the mentoring relationships that each of their employees are involved in!

“2019 Longevity Award”

Suzann and Jose have been paired together for 10 years! They were matched when Jose was in Kindergarten and next year, he’s moving on to high school.After 10 YEARS together – this was Jose and Suzann’s last year together in the Mentor Center at Burton Middle School. We’re so happy to see Jose move on to high school, but we’re sad to see his time with Affinity end. Thank you Suzann Van Klompenberg for your dedication, passion, and kindness. We’re so grateful we’ve been a part of your lives for the past 10 years!

To see the full album click here >

“Make and Take” Fundraising Event at the Knickerbocker

“Make and Take” Fundraising Event at Knickerbocker in Downtown GR
Life Expressions Decor, a local company, will be hosting a “Make and Take” sign event to benefit Affinity Mentoring!

Create a 4×24 finished wooden sign in your choice of paint color with one of 50+ provided sayings using quality vinyl lettering while enjoying great food and drinks from the Knickerbocker. Leave with it finished and ready to hang. Make a sign for yourself, or to give as a gift – no art expertise needed 🙂 

Date: Wednesday, January 30th | 6:30-8:30pm
Location: The Knickerbocker | New Holland Brewing
Cost: $27 per sign ($10 of every sign sold will be donated to Affinity)
More Information: Visit the Facebook Event Page

To RSVP or ask questions contact Shawna at slowther@lifeexpressionsdecor.com or 616-638-8245.

2017-2018 Annual Report

We are excited to share with you our first annual report! In this report you will find:

  • A letter from our executive director
  • Revenue and expenses
  • Growth and sustainability
  • Community impact
  • Mentor stories

Check it out now! Affinity’s 2017_2018 Annual Report