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