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 aMentor. 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)!
As part of our 2021 Community Listening Project we asked the public if we should provide extra training for mentors related to diversity, equity, and inclusion topics specific to mentoring. Ninety-two percent of respondents said that it was either important, or very important for our organization to provide this (page 4), so we complied!
If you’re not completely sure how putting time and resources into DEI work relates to mentoring, and us fulfilling our mission and vision for Affinity, we love learning with you! Check out the extensive research we have been conducting to make sure we facilitate amazing mentoring in this recent blog. We are grateful for the Steelcase Foundation whose grant has made it possible for this training to be free and widely available for AM partners, staff, mentors, and board members.
Anti-Racism Training Series
In February, March, and April of 2022 Affinity Mentoring facilitated a three tiered training (levels 101, 201, and a community panel) focused on Anti-Racism in Education and Mentoring. We had 71 total attendees at these three, free training sessions, in addition to three expert trainers and 5 panelists.
DEI 101 Training: Our trainers included Vanessa Jimenez, Founder/CEO of Mezcla Mosaic Collaborative and Marlene Kowalski-Braun, GVSU Associate Vice President for Enrollment Development Deputy Inclusion and Equity Officer for our 101 training. They facilitated a brave, healthy, inquisitive space for individuals to begin thinking about how other’s racial life experiences might be different from our own, and why it matters in education and mentoring. They invited participants to engage in critical reflection about foundations of DEI work, including defining diversity, equity, inclusion, and intersectionality both personally and organizationally. They helped participants develop an understanding of social identity, white supremacy, implicit bias, and microaggressions and how they shape a person’s experience of power, privilege, and oppression both individually and organizationally. Lastly, we discussed our personal and collective responsibility to keep ourselves and each other accountable to anti-racist work, especially in mentoring.
DEI 201 Training: Christine Mwangi, CEO and Founder of Grounded In Equity, President and CEO of Be A Rose, member of the Affinity Mentoring Board of Directors, and KDL Director of Fund Development, led our 201 training. We dove deeper together into how race impacts education in our community, and the individual and community-level steps that we can take to support all students succeeding. Christine helped us define and understand specific terms and ideas when discussing the racial achievement gap in our local schools, including redlining and its lasting effects on school systems. We discussed systemic outcomes that disproportionately affect students of color within the academic sector, and how individuals can help make a positive impact through interactions with students and mentees. Below are a list of excellent video resources that Christine shared with us.
DEI 301 Training: Our third training for this year was actually a panel discussion with local experts on DEI, education, and mentoring who helped us take the things we learned in our previous two trainings, and understand them more fully in Grand Rapids and Wyoming. Our panel included Kyle Lim of the Urban Core Collective, Rafael Castanon of Health Net of West Michigan (and AM mentor), Alex Kuiper of Godfrey-Lee Public Schools, Brandy Lovelady Mitchell of the Michigan Education Association, and Erika VanDyke of the Urban Core Collective (and an AM mentor).
Mentors, staff, and partners were invited to submit questions to the panel ahead of time. Some of our key questions and take always from the nearly two hours of discussion included:
We learned about institutional racism, redlining, and other systems that make racism a part of our schools. Sometimes it feels like the problems are so big that there is very little we can do about them. Is that true?
Panelist responses: We need to remember that progress is not linear, and we need to adapt to changes so that we keep moving forward. Racism is meant to exhaust and paralyze use; when issues are this complex, remember to focus on students, families, and communities and their needs. The work is worth it, because racism continues to hurt real people, and we cannot move at the same pace that the resistance is moving; we have to work faster if we actually want to make change. We need to imagine the future we want to live in and begin shaping it, even if we can’t fully see it yet. Never forget that system level change can start with voting! Vote for people who will make the changes you want to see.
Is there any work being done already in Grand Rapids to help make our schools anti-racist?
Panelist responses: Challenge your school board and the schools executive cabinet to make sure that they are engaging in real DEI work! You can send them letters, and attend school board meetings (even if you don’t have students attending that school), and the Urban Core Collective can help you prepare letters and statements; they are also helping to organize parents/caregivers, and you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to participate.
What are ways that we can start conversations about race with children and students without scaring them?
Panelist responses: Let discussions be organic and student-led, and never engage in conversations with your mentee because you want to, but let them lead so that you don’t cause extra harm. Acknowledge when you don’t know the answer. You can discover the answer alongside students and mentees, and even ask your Affinity Site Coordinator to help you find resources to do that.
Always validate student emotions and feelings, and ask them open-ended questions, and provide them with clarifying statements to help them process their own thoughts and feelings. Model to them by doing your own mirror work and showing them that it is healthy to learn new things.
Mentors: what is something that you have learned about your mentee’s culture from mentoring?
Panelist (and attendee) answers: Find out what your mentee is passionate about, and let that lead your conversations and learning! As they get more comfortable, they will be excited to share, and feel safe to share more intimate information, like their culture, with you.
How can we encourage mentees to embrace their own culture?
Panelist answers: Model this behavior to your mentees by talking about your own life experiences and culture, and then inviting your mentee into the conversation.
Use diverse books and resources in the mentor centers to talk about different cultures, and find resources that match your mentee’s culture and invite them to be proud about it.
Make sure to connect the micro level work with the macro level work; we won’t need to help students “rediscover” or share their cultures and experiences if we fight against the systems that make it hard for them to share those things naturally. By improving the whole system, we make this easier and healthier for each student!
DEI and Anti-Racism Resources
Some resources and reading that panelists recommended included:
Lastly, we were able to share some resources with all of our participants that Affinity Mentoring has been developing to help give mentors and partners more resources to continue learning and growing together with each other and their mentees. We highly encourage you to check out and use these resources, and talk to your Affinity Mentoring team members for more learning opportunities!
As we close out this 2021-2022 mentoring year, we will be publishing our full 2022 Community Listening Project results showing that:
85.2% of respondents tell us that it is very important or important that we “publicly support groups of people who are dismissed or unsafe in our community”,
85.9% of respondents tell us that it is very important or important that we put time and resources into “finding more diverse mentors”, and
80.8% of respondents tell us that it is very important or important that we “provide yearly diversity training for mentors”.
Based on this, and the overwhelmingly positive attendance and feedback from this year’s trainings, we will continue to provide new training series each year, giving mentors and partners opportunities to learn about key areas of identity development for students, and how it relates to creating and maintaining an amazing mentoring program with short and long term student benefits. Our 2022-2023 mentoring year DEI training topics will focus on gender identity and sexual orientation. We promise to continue listening to you and your needs, and making decisions for our programming based on the most up to date, peer-reviewed research on how to support students and fulfill the mission and vision of Affinity Mentoring to the best of our ability.
Debbie, a kind and gentle soul, has been mentoring students for the past decade. She heard about the opportunity through one of Affinity’s partners, Mars Hill Bible Church. “I liked the one-on-one program where you invest in long-term relationships, build trust, and watch them grow.”
Debbie recalls the first few weeks of mentoring, “I was nervous about helping with school stuff and getting more immediate results. Then I realized it’s more of an investment of one hour at a time, it’s building the relationship and the foundation a bit more each visit.”
Victoria, a compassionate and loving person, has four daughters, including Stephanie and Emelinda who have both been part of the mentoring program. She remembers first hearing about the program when Emelinda came home from Kindergarten saying, “Mami, quiero un mentor.” She helped her sign up, however, Victoria never realized what this relationship would blossom into or how their two families would intertwine.
Emelinda was soon matched with Debbie. Victoria describes Debbie as someone with a huge heart that loves working with kids. She recalls Debbie always being at every event. After a bit of time together, she saw her shy and quiet daughter come out of her shell and become more confident. Emelinda started to play more, talk more, paint, and improve her English.
“[They’re] my surrogate family,” smiles Debbie. “Her mom and I have the same birthday and we always text each other. They are a really nice family that supports each other. I’m glad I can be a part of it and that they trust me.” Victoria agrees, “God put her in our path, she is part of our family and my daughters are really happy with her. Every time our birthday comes around we ask each other – so where are we going to celebrate?”
“Debbie gives good advice, like another mother, to my daughters, but also to me. She tells me I’m doing a good job, to be patient, and not to worry because I’m a good mom. No one has ever told me that before, not even my own mother. I don’t know whether she is like another mother to my daughters, or to me,” explains Victoria.
After Emelinda and Debbie had been a match for 6 years, it was coming to a close. Emelinda was entering middle school and yearning to spend more time with friends. Debbie and Victoria both felt the change and comforted each other as they saw her pull away, not wanting to talk, and becoming more distant. Debbie wasn’t sure what to do. However, after talking to Affinity staff member, Laura Ward, she helped her understand that she was no longer in need of a mentor and that was OK. Being a mom herself, it finally clicked and she understood not to take it personally, “I thought to myself, ‘I know that age.’”
Victoria remembers, “When [Emelinda] was done with the program I was worried about losing the relationship with Debbie. No one was going to be there helping me, telling me I’m doing a good job. We both cried. I knew, she too, was sad in her heart. We started texting each other. She helped me understand girls go through their changes differently. She kept telling me to be strong, and she would help me. I would repeat it to myself over and over.”
Debbie sees the role of a mentor as an encourager. “I always tell Emelinda ‘You’re so smart, creative, generous, and amazing.’ Later I would hear her repeat it, ‘You know, I am pretty smart and creative.’” Victoria started to feel more confident too, “Now there were two people [Debbie] and I sending Emelinda messages and reinforcing the same thing.”
One day, there was a big surprise for Victoria, “I got her off the bus and she was happy, smiling and said ‘¡Hola Mami!’ and grabbed my hand. Later that evening I sat between my four girls asking them about school.” Emelinda went last, “‘¿Mami, tienes la oportunidad de hablar?’ It was a huge surprise, we talked for over an hour. She recalled Debbie’s talks about how middle school is so different and Emelinda was surprised that everything she said would happen, did.” Afterward they both hugged and finally, turned a corner in their mother-daughter relationship. The first thing Victoria wanted to do was to let Debbie know that she’s going to be OK.
As fate would have it, Emelinda’s younger sister, Stephanie, had been in the mentoring program too. However, due to life circumstances her mentor, Marla, had to leave after a year and Stephanie was devastated. However, Affinity’s Burton site coordinator, Rocio Moreno, recognized this as a great opportunity to bring the two families together again. She reached out to Debbie and Victoria both to see how they felt about matching Debbie with Stephanie – they both wholeheartedly said yes.
Growing up, Stephanie had known Debbie and attended events with her older sister and Debbie. When Stephanie learned that Debbie would now be HER mentor, she started jumping around and was so happy. Victoria says, “Now I don’t have to worry about when they are together. I trust her. She is a huge help to my daughters and they have so much fun together.”
Victoria is a big advocate for mentoring and has already been referring other parents to the program, “Mentors help with the things you can’t teach as a mom or dad. They can play soccer, do different activities, if your kid likes something that you don’t the mentor can do it with them. It’s a whole new experience – for the whole family.”
*Editor’s Note*As most Affinity’s blog articles are captured, I had the opportunity to sit down one-on-one with Debbie and Victoria to hear their story. Victoria’s interview was in Spanish and Debbie’s in English. Neither one speaks the other language. One of the most remarkable things about their relationships is that despite their language barrier, they have developed this deep, lifelong bond. Our team is honored to have the opportunity to play a role in these two families’ journeys and support where we can in cultivating meaningful relationships and experiences.
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.
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.”
“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.
“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 email@example.com or click here >
We are always in need of more mentors, but especially male mentors!
Stacey Coffman is the Office Manager at Aon and has been for the last 25 years. She and her husband, Tim, have been married for 31 years and live in Cedar Springs. Their daughter, Lauren, lives in Ann Arbor. She wanted an opportunity to be a friend and role model to a student in Grand Rapids.
“You guys did a great job putting us together. It was a perfect match. “
Stacey started looking online for mentoring opportunities when she came across Affinity Mentoring. Last year Stacey was matched with Mariana, a shy 4th grader at Burton Elementary. “She hasn’t been shy since day one!” laughs Stacey. “We get along famously. You guys did a great job putting us together. It was a perfect match. Our birthdays are both in June, we both have glasses, and we’re both crazy!”
She describes Mariana as “loving, warm, and kind.” Together they read, practice math problems, make crafts, play a lot of games, and talk. “She has a special place in my heart. Her drawings are all over my cubicle. It’s enriched my life and opened up my eyes. It’s the best part of my week. Her smile lights up her whole face. She laughs from the tip of her toes to the top of her head. She’s always laughing and joking. It’s awesome,” smiles Stacey.
“Everyone can use a little more love in their life. At 53 I can still grow too.”
Stacey believes it’s a mutually beneficial experience for the mentee and mentor, “It’s good for me too. It makes me follow through on things and be accountable. I show up and am there when I’m supposed to be. I don’t let work take over my life. I have learned about different cultures, her dad is from Guatemala. It’s opened up my eyes a lot. Everyone can use a little more love in their life. At 53 I can still grow too.”
Stacey loves having the Mentor Center support and the relational approach Affinity embraces, “You can have a relationship. You can’t relate to children in programs that just focus on reading and in a short time. The Mentor Center is great, the supplies are great, and [the staff] are very helpful. They’re very nice, easy to contact, and always smiling. They’re not looking over your shoulder. They flutter in and out to make sure everything is ok. They get excited for the students.”
Aside from weekly volunteering, Stacey has also been a champion of Affinity at Aon. With Stacey’s advocacy, Aon has financially supported Affinity for the past two years. Aon recently donated $1,200 to sponsor a mentor match. This generous support ensures one mentoring match receives one year of mentoring, match support, resources, parent engagement, and anything else needed to be successful.
Aon is a leading global professional services firm providing a broad range of risk, retirement and health solutions. Our 50,000 colleagues in 120 countries empower results for clients by using proprietary data and analytics to deliver insights that reduce volatility and improve performance. By enabling our clients to take risks, we create social impact every day—driving innovation and economic growth and helping millions of people to recover and thrive in the face of adversity.
Our volunteers represent the best of Aon by demonstrating a commitment to service that extends beyond our day-to-day business responsibilities and into our communities. Each year, Aon employees devote thousands of hours of service to charitable organizations and educational institutions around the world.Visit aon.com/empowerresults to discover how Aon is making a social impact in communities worldwide.
If you’d like to support mentor matches like Stacey and Mariana donate online or if you’d like to learn more about corporate sponsorship opportunities contact Rachel Lopez.