Mentor and Donor: Alicia’s Story
By Rachel Lopez
Born and raised in Grand Rapids, Alicia went to Kenowa Hills and a private Catholic school. However, she didn’t feel like she fit into any standard box.
Her father is Mexican and her mother is Irish. There was often a cross-over between her two cultures, both emphasizing the community as an extension of the family. She loves her family’s legacy and rich cultural history, but being bicultural wasn’t always easy for her. With fair-skin, freckles, and curly red hair she often didn’t feel Mexican enough. Other times, she didn’t feel Irish enough.
Her parents instilled a sense of resourcefulness, hospitality, and kindness in her, “We didn’t have a lot growing up, but they always gave others what they could, whether it was hand-me-down clothes or a warm meal.” It wasn’t unusual for friends and neighbors to feel at home at her house and share big meals.
Her family left a legacy of service in the Grand Rapids’ community. Her grandmother, Maurilla Ortiz Blakely, was an educator, mother, and community activist. Orphaned at age 6, she married at age 16 and had 5 kids by age 30. At age 47 she earned her bachelor’s and went on to have a 20 year career in social work (Have you heard of the Grand Rapids’ Mexican Festival? Yeah, that was Maurilla’s brainchild in 1970).
Although her community work was important, she remembers her most as a warm and loving grandmother who took her grandkids to Meijer in the evening to burn more energy and taught the entire family how to make tamales .
Alicia’s mother was a teacher, earned a master’s in education, and is also a mentor at Affinity. She credits her mother and grandmother for instilling her desire to serve, support, and advocate for children. Alicia was a nurse for a local summer camp for three years and taught weekend cooking and crafting classes to kids when she was younger.
As members of Mars Hill Bible Church, Alicia and her husband began financially supporting Affinity Mentoring, “We saw the benefit of putting resources into kids. We come from families where children are valued and celebrated.”
Three years ago she decided to become a mentor too. Alicia loves being in the Burton school and feels the sense of community she has longed for. Alicia was matched with Leidy, a shy, quiet, and smiley first grader. “She was hard to get out of her shell but we bonded over both wearing glasses.” After meeting weekly for three years Leidy has become more confident, giggly, and “happy-go-lucky.”
“She’s highly competitive and plays until she wins. Our last Uno game lasted 40 minutes. We went through the deck twice. Alicia loves being a mentor, “It makes me really happy. This is what I look forward to every week. Everything is scheduled around it. I truly love it.”
She enjoys the flexibility of the program to meet students where they are at. During times when Leidy was struggling with reading they started checking out books. They tried many popular children’s series, but neither of them were convinced, “I don’t know if you’ve ever read Diary of a Wimpy Kid, it’s not that good.” Finally they found it, “Leidy loves Penny Dreadful (Penelope Jones). It’s a mix of stories and pictures, it’s perfect for her level and keeps her attention.”
Alicia appreciates the resources and support from Affinity staff, “It’s more than just mentoring. There’s a social work aspect. They put [students] in touch with resources, bedding and household needs, and make sure [mentors] get resources. It’s encompassing the whole family, not just the child.”
Alicia and Leidy will be meeting over the summer. They already went shopping and out to lunch. Leidy got to choose. Her favorite restaurant is McDonald’s but decided to give Red Robin a try. Later in July Alicia is taking her to the zoo.
Alicia hopes to teach Leidy that, “She can do absolutely anything she wants to, regardless of where she comes from. We all know life is hard and teaches you tough lessons.”
Alicia encourages anyone thinking about becoming a mentor to “just do it” and shares 3 tips
- If you don’t know if you’ll be any good at it, you’ll be amazed what just being there once a week will do for both you and your mentee.
- It’s not parenting, you’re their friend.
- If you think you don’t have time, you do. You might not realize what you get out of it until you’re in it.