Jordan & Henry

Mentee Henry, mentor Jordan and I sat down to get to know each other a few weeks ago so I could learn more about each of them. I had heard inspiring things about their mentoring relationship, now in its fifth year, and I was curious, what made it so successful?

First of all, Jordan is the lucky one. Henry is funny, smart, focused, driven and genuinely curious about experiencing new things, even things that might be outside his comfort zone. He wants to learn and he has dreams he’s well on his way toward achieving with his hyperfocus and self-propelled ambitions. He shared that his favorite car was a Maybach – did anyone else know that was a car when they were in fifth grade?? I learned of Henry’s discernment and logic when we talked about his favorite sports teams, which he selects because of the players, not necessarily because they play in his home state of Michigan. Hence why he’s chosen the Golden State Warriors and the Boston Red Sox as a few of his favorite teams. 

He also knows what he likes and what he doesn’t. He’s not timid about stating the things he enjoys, and why or who he wants to be when he grows up–an athlete in either basketball (“depending on how tall he gets”) or baseball, or perhaps boxing. He started pursuing boxing a while ago and goes a few times a week, on his own initiative, to learn techniques and also get stronger. 

Affinity mentor Jordan is a fantastic example of what an effective, caring and engaged mentor looks like: he expresses care and successfully treads the fine-line of challenging growth; he provides support and shares his power–he asks Henry how he’d like to respond to certain situations that directly pertain to Henry. 

From our short meeting, Jordan showcased how seriously he takes Henry’s goals and dreams in how he was able to recite every detail of their past interactions. He listens intently and tailors his approach with Henry based on what Henry says he needs. There was also an energy behind Jordan’s support. He gave Henry the opportunity to lead and express what he feels like doing during their time together, while also keeping Henry’s academic success within view. He diligently worked alongside Henry on an English (not Henry’s favorite) assignment to not only ensure Henry got the best grade, but that he understood how he got the grade. 

We could all use a Henry in our lives, but most importantly, youth like Henry deserve a mentor like Jordan in their lives. Students need five to seven caring adults outside their families to affirm and invest in them, leading to positive and life-altering results that set the course of their lives. 

Please, join us! There are so many ways to invest in these young lives. Reach out at any time and we will find a place that best fits your skills and potential. 

Affinity Mentoring – Heroes Within Part I: Monica Zavala

As the New Year approaches and nature hibernates, space abounds for reflection. Ideally, what each of us will find are the true corners of our hearts that are the strongest and that shine the brightest.

Affinity Mentoring’s Site Coordinator, Monica, is an example of this light and we are so grateful for her!

As a new member of the Affinity Team, I’ve endeavored to get to know my coworkers in quest to truly know the heart of the organization, beginning with its staff. What inspires each individual to champion this work day after day? What life circumstances have they been through that connects them to the mission and vision of Affinity Mentoring? What current challenges do students, their families and surrounding communities face that breaks their hearts? What fuels them to fight for more?  

For Monica, Affinity’s Southwest Elementary School – Academia Bilingüe Site Coordinator, the opportunity to build relationships with the students and mentors propels her forward. With a background in family engagement, she approaches her work with the intelligence and wisdom of someone who knows the landscape well. 

You can tell the impact Monica’s experience has on the matches she brings together and oversees at her site. When students walk into her room for mentoring, their eyes light up with glee. The kind of joy that comes from feeling both safe and seen. 

Since joining the organization in 2018, Monica has nurtured matches that span across several years. She’s had the opportunity to witness how students come out of their protective shells and blossom into articulate, self-assured youth who aspire to be – and WILL be – next-generation leaders. 

The brilliance of Affinity Mentoring’s program is only as strong as its staff’s ability to overcome the changing dynamics both inside and outside the school system and Monica is no exception. 

She intimately knows the challenges families face, and the decisions that parents are torn between. There are times when attending a band concert conflicts with a work shift that puts food on their table at home. Monica sees how these impossible balancing acts really weigh on parents who deeply desire to show up for their kids. She reminds these parents, and us all, that we belong. We’re a part of something outside our nuclear family that will extend and support our nuclear family at the same time. 

It is powerful and life-changing work we’ve undertaken, and we are so grateful for staff like Monica who tirelessly champion the voice of her students and larger community. 

I’m often left wondering, who would I become if I had Monica in my life years ago? 

New Executive Director

Rocio Moreno

Affinity Mentoring began in 2001 under the Kid’s Hope model, a cause championed by Laura Ward in partnership with Mars Hill. Over the next decade-plus, Kid’s Hope did its best to address various needs in the 49507 area code, however that proximity began alerting the team to additional opportunities that would benefit the community. Thus began the transformation of Kid’s Hope into Affinity Mentoring, which became its own 501 (C)3 in 2016. 

The longstanding existence of this agency is no doubt in large part because of its relentless dedication to empowering youth and families – stakeholders in their communities at large – to reach not only their goals, but their dreams. 

Among the staff and leadership that has kept Affinity thriving during times of challenge and transition is our newly appointed Executive Director, Rocio Moreno. Rocio joined the organization in 2017 after graduating from Grand Valley State University with her Master’s degree in Social Work. 

“From the second I walked into the Burton location for the interview of the Mentor Center manager position, I connected with the heritage of spanish-speaking students and staff and my own experiences struggling with academic and emotional thriving. I am driven by faith and I believed it was my time to uplift those around me. I would consistently see the gratitude of the families I worked to empower. So many times I’d run into a family during a community event or at one of the schools and they would either hug me or thank me because they were so thankful for Affinity’s program.” 

Through its seasons of leadership, Affinity Mentoring has become a highly effective program that bolsters social emotional learning, academic skills, and leadership growth. It is an individualized and personal program tailored to each student and their particular needs. The organization uses different metrics to track the impact of the program including mentor, mentee, and community. Through these surveys Affinity is able to identify areas of growth, community needs, and the best way to invest its resources. Affinity listens to those who are most impacted by the work that we do. Across the board, these community connections showcase attendance rate increases, improvement in academics and a higher quality of life in general for all who participate. Some students have been in the mentoring program for 8 years and others who were once mentees have now become mentors themselves. Other mentors have gone on to adopt children as a result of their experience with their mentee or sharing their family’s holidays with the family of their mentee or mentor. 

Rocio also shares about the significance of the program and why it’s relevant to the Grand Rapids community as a whole–not just program participants. 

“We are constantly doing multi-generational work. Not just for the mentors and mentees, but for the families of both. We are rooted in the family structure, not simply in a student’s academic success. Part of this work includes the reduction of barriers that individuals face in pursuit of success, notably, our program participants as well as their kin. In her own words, Rocio strives to leave a mark on the legacy of what Affinity is and will become. She acknowledges the many that have come before her time who have done amazing work both within Affinity and the community. 

“Both the organization and those who have come before my time have a very special place in my heart. They are an inspiration of the mark that I would like to leave behind in an effort to support students’ social emotional learning, academic skills, and leadership growth”.

“The organization is fundamental to the community because we are building up our next generation. The students we’re serving will grow up to be our next City Commissioners, Teachers, Mentors, Executive Directors, etc. We are planting seeds of empowerment; seeds of belonging, and continuing to cultivate a brave space that amplifies the voices of young agents of change in a diverse and inclusive community. As a mother of two, I know the impact my children will have on the next generation and I see each mentee the same way.”

“As stakeholders in and around Grand Rapids, we need to understand we are not separate entities and that at the heart of our city is our youth. “If we consistently show simple acts of kindness, our children will grow up speaking life into their own generation, and those to come.” 

For those looking to get involved, there are several ways to join our work be it as a volunteer, mentor, donor, community partner or board member. We are always looking to diversify our program offerings based on the needs of our community. We’d love for you to join us on this important journey!

For more information, visit our website at

Mentor Story: Cait + Merlyn

September 2022 | By Rachel Humphreys

Cait’s first day of mentoring at Burton!

Cait was looking for an opportunity to give back. She yearned for an opportunity to make her life more well rounded; to find a volunteer opportunity that fed her soul. She stumbled upon Affinity Mentoring in the tail end of 2019. Then the pandemic happened and starting something new was set aside, for the time being at least…

As the fog began to clear a bit in 2021 she reached back out to Affinity Mentoring. 

“I was so nervous the first time I met my match,” recalls Cait. She remembers thinking, “I don’t have a ton of experience with kids!” Cait hadn’t done anything like mentoring before. 

“I was so worried about being matched and not being able to click with my student, but Rocio does a really great job of pairing mentors with their mentees,” she says. “After our interview, Rocio knew exactly the kind of student I would pair well with. She read me like a book. She paired me with a high energy, creative girl and the match was perfect!”

Cait was matched with Merlyn, a spunky, chatty, and excitable 8 year old. “We’re both the middle of 5 children. During our mentoring time we talk a lot, read, make crafts, and play. Family is very important to her and she has a good support system. She enjoys lots of quality time with her mom.”

Her goal is to make space for Merlyn to express her authentic self without fear of being teased or mocked. Cait explains that mentoring can be a healing experience. She recalls being nicknamed “loud girl” in school. “I was hyper, loud, and weird. I want Merlyn to be able to have a safe space to be her authentic self.” 

Learning about another culture has also been an added benefit. “It’s very eye opening, she’s learning two languages. Activities like reading together go a little differently than when I used to read with the boys I nannied in Ada.”

Whether it’s about her latest craft at her art table at home or stories of her ‘millions’ of cousins, Cait has found the key to mentoring – being present and listening.

“Mentoring is such a rewarding experience for both mentor and mentee. You can do so much good in such little time. I don’t think people realize how low of a time commitment mentoring can be and how easy it is to fit into your schedule. I hope more people look into mentoring,” she explains.

Although the mentoring commitment of one year has been completed, Cait will be returning this Fall to mentor Merlyn again. “I want it to be a long-time match. I want to be there, cheering, as Merlyn graduates high school.”

Interested in becoming a mentor? Sign up here.

100 Days, 100 Mentors

Each year we have over 100 students on our waiting list, asking for mentors across our six partner schools.

We need your help.

In the next 100 days, our goals are to:

Will you join us?

Become a Mentor Match Sponsor. Make a small, monthly contribution to Affinity. Your gift will not only help students academically, but it’ll also give them the social and emotional support they need to work towards a positive future.

Become a Mentor. Sign up today to mentor one student for one hour week starting this fall and ask a friend to mentor too (virtual and in-person mentoring options available)!

Share our campaign on social media with the hashtag #100days100mentors tag us on Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn.