A Tale of Two Mothers: Debbie + Victoria

By Rachel Humphreys

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.”



Ready to start your own journey? Become a Mentor or Sponsor a Mentor Match




*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.

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!

Stacey + Mariana’s Story

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.


A Mentor Story: Brandon Reyes

“When I was 5 or 6 years old my mom and I fled Veracruz, Mexico. Escaping an abusive relationship with my father,” explains Brandon. “As a young kid I still understood what was going on and why we had to leave.” Brandon vividly remembers crossing with the Coyotes to the United States, “I had really bad asthma and walking through the hot desert made it so much worse. We ran out of water so we ended up giving up. We turned ourselves in.” That was the first time.  

“My mom is a very kind and loving person. She’s really strong and has a big heart,” smiles Brandon. His mom knew she needed to leave the country in order to get them out of the abusive relationship. “The second time we traveled from Juarez, Mexico to Tucson, Arizona to Chicago and finally to Grand Rapids. My aunt lived there.” His aunt was able to help his mom find work at a local factory. Brandon and his mom lived in a small apartment with his aunt and six other people for the first 5 years. “During that time she was my mom and my dad.” A few years later “Popo” came into his family, becoming his step-dad and eventually “dad.”  

“I started school at Burton Elementary at the end of 2003. I had never gone to school before. We couldn’t afford it in Mexico. Everything was new. New culture. New language. Everything sounded blurry.” Brandon remembers one of his teachers, Ms. Pena, who made him feel welcome and helped him understand the new culture and language. She was married to a Latino and had learned Spanish. “My mom and I were really surprised.”

Although Brandon was getting used to his new life and new school. He still struggled with English and reading. His teacher, Ms. Morningstar, helped him get a mentor, Allan. “At first I was kind of scared. I didn’t know much English. It was tough to say words at the beginning. He made me feel confident and not worry if I said it correctly. He would show me a graph of objects and pictures – made sure I knew the basics to help me communicate.”

“Soon I started looking forward to [mentoring]. One time I got upset I couldn’t spell the words on a quiz. I tried to memorize them as best as I could. He cheered me up.” Allan, cared about him and just showed up. “I remember him asking me ‘how was my day, how’s mom, how do you feel in school’ –  he always started there. My mom wasn’t always at home, she worked a lot. It helped having someone ask me how my day was.”

One of Brandon’s favorite memories was going to Spring Hill Camp. “It was incredible. I had never gone camping. We did tie dye shirts, rock climbing, there was a lake – it was the most incredible thing. One day kids started getting cards and gifts from their parents. I thought my parents probably didn’t know. Then I received a bag of candy and a card from Allan.  I thought no one would remember me. It made my day to be honest.”

“When I came home I was talking about camping so much we finally went as a family. My parents wanted to go. In the Latino culture we usually stay close to our community. It was new for us. We went to Silver Laker and it changed the perspective of my family a lot. Now we go camping every year.”

“My mentors and teachers saw potential in me. Without my mentors I wouldn’t have graduated from high school. I wouldn’t have done a lot of activities or been as involved. I probably wouldn’t have the job that I do now. Now I go to Grand Rapids Community College, I enjoy graphic design, and I work at a nonprofit, Health Net of West Michigan. I’m really involved in the community and like to help people access resources.”

Brandon has also volunteered for FitKids, Michigan United, and Cosecha GR. “I’ve done a lot of public speaking about immigration, immigrant rights, sharing my story, and how to get involved.” In the future he hopes to start a nonprofit. His dream school is Calvin College. When asked about what he hopes the future will bring the mentoring program, “I hope a lot of kids are participating, I never want the program to end. It benefits the whole community.”

 


If you’d like to support other students like Brandon please consider giving the gift of mentoring starting at $10 a month. 

To Affinity and Beyond

An interview with Affinity Mentoring’s Executive Director, Laura Ward, about Affinity’s Journey to Independence.

 

Affinity’s Journey

In 2001 Mars Hill Bible Church launched the Mars Hill Mentorship Program at Burton Elementary with 8 matches under the umbrella of Kids Hope USA’s “one church, one school” mentorship model. Over the years, this program grew to serve more than 150 matches a year and had a large network of support and passionate volunteers. However, there was still a greater need for more mentors and more schools.

With 15 years of experience and a deep desire to become more inclusive and diverse, Affinity Mentoring was born as a 501c3 independent nonprofit in 2016. Affinity’s vision was to broaden our impact by engaging more schools, serving more students, diversifying our team, and cultivating relationships with more community partners.

As we begin a new school year we wanted to reflect on where we’ve been and where we want to go. So we sat down with our Executive Director, Laura Ward to hear more about Affinity’s journey to independence. In the last 4 years Affinity has:

  • established a board of directors,
  • received 501(c)(3) nonprofit status,
  • transitioned operations to Affinity (accounting, bookkeeping, and became its own employer of record),
  • developed a recurring giving program, and
  • secured more sustainable funding to replace Mars Hill funding.

 

Expanded Community Partnerships

“We believe community collaborations build stronger communities. We’ve gone from a few to more than 20. What we’ve seen is that one person volunteers to mentor and then they share that experience with a co-worker or supervisor. Soon after it starts to spread organically throughout the department and organization,” says Laura.

“I’m excited to see is that businesses are looking for tangible ways to deepen relationships in the community in a lasting and deep impactful way. Mentoring is one way to do that,” explains Laura. “What we’ve seen from our partners is that people are really enjoying the experience. They are connecting more deeply with the community, a widened world-view, and are meeting more people from their own organization from different departments.”

 

Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives

Affinity staff: Monica Zavala and Angela Reyna

At Affinity’s core is the belief that it takes all of us to lift up students in a supportive network. Laura states, “It’s really important that all kids know who they are and what they want to be regardless of what society tells them. Our job is to listen and journey with them to help them discover that for themselves.” Affinity understands mentoring is not the “silver bullet” but a small piece of the puzzle.

“As kids are growing and developing they’re discovering where they belong and who they are. It’s so important for them to have someone to journey with them that has had similar experiences. With the right support, students can see they don’t have to give up their native language or culture in order to belong and be successful,” explains Laura.

Strategic Plan Summary

Following our Strategic Plan, we have attracted and retained more diverse mentors, staff, and board members. “Our team right now is awesome,” smiles Laura. “Our whole team speaks Spanish and have a background in social work, nonprofit management, and/or community engagement. Several members of our team grew up in the neighborhoods where we work.”

“We’ve only had our board for a year and half, and to grow the board to 10 people and have it as diverse as it is is amazing. They are so dedicated and astute. They ask good questions and they’re invested. They’re always thinking about the here and now as well as the long­term vision and how to get there.”

 

Long-term Sustainability

Before entering this journey to independence our mentorship program was fully funded through Mars Hill. “Our independence means that Mars Hill is now a community partner instead of a parent organization,” explains Laura. “This next year is Affinity’s last year in the five year transition plan (the grant from Mars Hill ends in June 2020). As we grow and expand we are working on increasing funding from other sources to replace this grant funding and overall lessen our need on grants in general,” says Laura.

2017-2018 Revenue Sources

“We’ve gone from one revenue stream to five. It’s on my mind on a daily basis. The one thing we know is there’s needs to be diverse revenue streams. It’s been a heavy lift,” she explains.

“Getting Herman Miller Cares and Wege Foundation funding was a huge win. Because we’re working with kids and our work is so relational the funding needs to be sustainable. We can’t expand to another site until we’ve secured more sustainable funding,” Laura remarks.

 

The Future of Affinity

“There is plenty of research to show that mentoring doesn’t work – QUALITY mentoring works,” Laura explains.

Increasing Affinity’s organizational capacity is one of the key focus areas because there is a high demand for mentoring services, “it’s a balance between quantity and quality,” says Laura.

“My dream is for Affinity to be to provide mentoring for youth, throughout West Michigan, all the way through their educational experience, and even post-secondary,” says Laura.

Affinity is currently developing an expansion plan by identifying what are the next schools we’ll expand to and creating a strategic plan. Our hope is that we will be able to add a 4th school partnership by next fall. Then be able to add more schools in a regular rhythm.

 

Champion Affinity In Your Own Way

As we continue on our path toward sustainability and expansion, we need your continued support. Nearly 1⁄4 of our funding comes from individuals giving monthly. It may seem a small or insignificant, but we can assure you it’s not. Monthly match sponsors provide dependable sustainable funding to ensure participants experience quality mentoring.

Thank you all for your continued support, partnership, and love!