Mentor Story: Becky + Lupita

By Rachel Humphreys

Becky grew up in Grand Rapids, but spent nearly a decade living in Los Angeles. In LA she earned a Bachelor’s of Arts in Media Arts and Animation and started working in the media industry while also teaching art classes at the local Boys and Girls Club.

When Becky returned to Michigan, she felt some culture shock moving from Southern California, and wanted to find a way to reconnect with her community here in West Michigan. A friend of hers was a mentor with Affinity and had shared the need for 100+ mentors. Becky decided that was something she could do something about. 

In 2015 she was matched with Lupita. Becky describes Lupita as “incredibly compassionate, smart as a whip, and hilarious.” She notes there have been several times she’s been in tears laughing so hard with her mentee.

Although she had had various experiences working with kids as a camp counselor, volunteer, and daycare worker, becoming one student’s mentor was new and a little nerve wracking. Early on she remembers feeling  “a little wrongfooted” and worrying about whether or not she was making an impact. 

“In the beginning it was a lot of reading books, however once she discovered there were legos in the Mentor Center that’s all we do,” jokes Becky. “[Lupita] makes very elaborate lego sets, often with a storyline, characters, and complex plot.”  

After her initial nervousness settled, she and Lupita found their own rhythm and determined together what their mentoring hour looks like. Each week Becky asks three things “What’s the best part, the worst part, and the coolest thing she learned that week?” It’s become part of their weekly routine and Lupita has even started to be the one to ask Becky about her week.

Becky and Lupita eventually applied for “School-Based Plus” status, which allows mentors to take students on independent outings and has an added layer of screening and training. When thinking about their mentoring relationship, Becky explains, “I am a grown-up friend to her. She texts me every now and again things like, ‘I missed you last week. I’m glad we’ll see each other.’ We go to museums, orchards, and Lupita even came for cookie-baking with my family.”

Becky makes time each week to connect with Lupita’s family, “I usually walk her home after mentoring and hang out with her family. They are very similar to mine, close knit and really value education. Her family are super warm and compassionate people. In fact, her mom and my mom have become friends. She has a little brother and older sister, opposite of mine. Lupita thinks it’s hilarious.”

Becky is in the process of completing her second Bachelor’s, this time in Urban Forestry, and Lupita is planning on attending her graduation ceremony to cheer her on.

Over the past few years she’s witnessed Lupita grow and mature, “There’s more depth to our conversations. She’s moved from a self-focus to noticing what’s going on in the community and world. She’ll even bring up politics. There’s an emotional intelligence that’s really grown. She’s very empathetic and thinks about others a lot. ” 

Becky found herself pleasantly surprised about the impact this has had on her own personal life. “It’s hard to articulate how. I don’t have any kids myself. But now there’s one person I’m super invested in. I’m interested in her friendships, how she’s changing as a person, and I’ll wonder things like whether or not she figured out her new locker combination.”

Not only has mentoring impacted her personal life, but Becky’s perspective of the world has changed as well, “The nature of having to help someone else sort out how they feel about something makes you more open as a person. It gives you a more deeper and richer understanding as life as a first-generation american, especially in this political climate.” 

Becky’s response to those thinking of mentoring? “Absolutely, you need to do it. It’s the most fun hour of the week. Especially if you both decide to be a plus match. You’re able to share experiences in your own community with someone else and offer other perspectives. She has me laughing all the time.”

She adds that the staff support is amazing, “They remember me, remember to follow up, and offer one-on-one support the entire time. No one is forgotten or gets lost in the mixed, even through staff changes. Mentors and students don’t get left behind.”

If you’d like to learn more about becoming a mentor, click here, or support matches like Becky and Lupita by making a small monthly donation.

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. 

2017-2018 Annual Report

We are excited to share with you our first annual report! In this report you will find:

  • A letter from our executive director
  • Revenue and expenses
  • Growth and sustainability
  • Community impact
  • Mentor stories

Check it out now! Affinity’s 2017_2018 Annual Report

Leading by Example: Mentor, Donor, Partner

 

Leading by Example | Board Member, Mentor, and Community Partner
By Rachel Lopez

Jason Loepp is a father of two young children. He and his wife, Heather, are from the East side of Michigan and lived in Tennessee for several years. In 2008 they moved back to Michigan to be closer to family, which is when Jason joined the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) team.

Leadership at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan
Over the past 10 years Jason has worked his way up from Individual Contributor to Director of West MI/UP Customer Consulting and Reporting at BCBSM. He enjoys being an active member of the community and taking part in local events. One of those events was a “Friends of Burton” at Burton Elementary – which is where he was first introduced to Affinity Mentoring.

“Being a father of two kids – I understand homework and the extra need and push.” He instantly connected with Affinity Mentoring and the message resonated with him. “Hearing about the need tears at your heart. I came back to the office and drummed up more support. I recruited 4 or 5 more mentors.”

That was 4 years ago. The partnership between BCBSM and Affinity is growing stronger each year. This year 8 employees from BCBSM are volunteering weekly as mentors. “I’m a big believer in the program, I try to get as many people involved as possible,” says Jason. A large part of the growth is through word-of-mouth and employees returning from mentoring talking about their experience.

“People started getting involved in small events, like the Secret Santa Workshop, and I talk to my co-workers about mentoring. People want to get involved. It starts with one day, so what’s one hour per week?”

Weekly Mentoring
Jason, a mentor himself, has been working with Angel for the past 4 years. “We’re both competitive. We play a lot of Uno – but add math into it. The first one to get 100 points loses. I think I’m the proud reigning champion, but you can say he is. The first time he beat me he was so geeked,” chuckles Jason.

“I usually go on Friday mornings so I can be in my jeans and relaxed. We usually spend some time in the library and pick out a book. The last one he picked was about Abraham Lincoln, so I picked out an encyclopedia to see what else I could find about him. Then we talk about it more. I’m a nerd like that.”

Jason explains that Affinity aligns with many of his company’s values, “We like to do things that are athletic. It’s important to get kids out and active. BCBSM has a campaign to get kids active 60 minutes a day – if I can help get 20 minutes of those, that’s great. Angel loves soccer so we’ll sneak out onto the field to kick the ball around.”

Board Member
Jason wears many hats and is involved with Affinity at different levels – partner, mentor, and board member. “The people involved in Affinity’s leadership and their employees make a difference. They are there. It’s a hands on organization, in every level. They have a pulse on what’s going on,” comments Jason.

As a board member, he loves to get other people excited about the mission, share his experiences, and the personal benefits mentoring offers. “I think at work, it gives people from different areas of the company something in common. At home, it’s interesting that my mentee and son are both in 6th grade. It helps me make sure I’m holding my son accountable in his homework too.”

Community Partner
Jason has led the partnership between Affinity and BCBSM, they are big believers in mentoring and are in it for the long-haul, “As long as we’re here in GR we will always have people that want to mentor. To see the happiness of the kids – that’s what it’s all about. We are going to support local organizations that make a profound impact on children and Affinity does that. We’d like to get two more mentors each year.”

Not only do their employees donate their time, but the company also donates their “treasure.” As a partner, BCBSM has committed to covering half of the cost of each of their employees’ mentor match ($600 per match). “[Mentoring] is not free – the cost of supporting a match for a year. There’s a cost the run the program and we wanted to be able to support, not just the talent, but the time and treasure. We’d like other organizations to also donate their time, talent, and treasure. These kids are our future so let’s invest in them now,” says Jason.

If you’re interested in learning more, check out our Mentorship Opportunities and Community Partnerships.

Herman Miller Cares Supports Capacity Building Efforts

October 2, 2018

Affinity Mentoring is pleased to announce it has received a $20,000 grant from the Herman Miller Cares Foundation. These funds will strengthen our capacity to serve more students, expand programming, increase literacy support, and implement our comprehensive evaluation plan.

“Every day, students stop in our Mentor Centers to ask for a mentor. With Herman Miller Cares’ support, we’ll be able to to tell more of them that this is the year that they’ll get one,” explains Executive Director, Laura Ward.

There are currently 130 students asking for a mentor across Affinity’s 3 sites in Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS). With the support of a mentor, students have better attendance in school, more academic growth and more positive relationships with their teacher(s) and parent(s).

“The mentor/student matches receive a lot of resources to support the student’s academic and socioemotional development as well as vital match support through our dedicated and skilled Site Coordinators. Furthermore, in partnership with Grand Rapids Public Schools, we’ll be implementing a comprehensive program evaluation plan to inform our work and assess our impact,” says Laura. 

In the upcoming year we estimate we’ll serve 280 students. By the end of the 2018-2019 school year we will expand our reach to more students, develop a plan for site expansion, have aggregate data to inform our work and evaluate our impact, and have a more sustainable and diversified funding stream. 

This is the second year Affinity Mentoring has received a grant from the Herman Miller Cares Foundation. We are in the process of developing a robust fund development plan that includes grants, individual donations, corporate sponsorships, special events, and in-kind donations to ensure a diverse and sustainable growth plan.

Applications to become a mentor are still open, apply at https://affinitymentoring.org/mentors/.

Board Member, Mentor, and Donor: Maddie’s Story

Board Member, Mentor, and Partner: Maddie’s Story
By Rachel Lopez

A big smile and bigger heart, Madeline (Maddie) Aguillon is a long-time mentor, donor, and board member for Affinity. She has a long history of empowering and engaging the local Hispanic community in Grand Rapids.

During her time as a student at Grand Valley State University, she along with 6 friends, founded Sigma Lambda Upsilon | Señoritas Latinas Unidas Sorority Incorporated. Maddie and her friends felt their college experience was lacking the community they wanted, so they created their own. It was a place to belong, celebrate their heritage, and give back.

After graduating, she longed to stay connected to her roots and continue giving back to her community. While working at Gordon Food Service she came across the opportunity to mentor. She jumped at it because “it was a way to integrate my passion and work.”

Now, Maddie and Meylin have been meeting for the past 3 years. “Meylin is a free spirit. She likes to be funny and lives by her own rules. Sometimes she can be misunderstood. She wants to be part of the cool crowd, but doesn’t know how to fit in. We both look forward to this hour together. It’s a time for me to do something I’m passionate about and a time for her to be herself and not have to worry about trying to fit in or impress people.”

“Meylin loves the free play. The mentoring room always smells like nail polish because of us. She likes each nail to be a different color,” Maddie laughs. “My favorite thing is to see her improvement in reading in English. At first we only spoke Spanish to each other. Now she’s reading English and she’s excited to read (even if it’s just for the prize).”

She regularly talks to Meylin’s parents, “it’s like an extension of family.” They talk about church, challenges at school, and family. Maddie’s 3 year old daughter, Carmen, loves to play with her. “They hang out at all of the picnics and go on the rides together.” Meylin often jokes “My mom likes you, but her favorite is Carmen.”

“[Mentoring] has helped me not to forget my roots. The obstacles and everything it took to get to where I’m at.” Maddie grew up in the Southwest side of Grand Rapids. Her parents, resilient and very giving, worked a lot, usually 60-80 hours a week. They worked seasonal jobs, like railroad construction, to provide a comfortable life for Maddie and her two older brothers. “They would give you the shirt off their back, even if it was the last thing they owned,” she explains.

“I get it. I know what these kids are going through.” Her family lived on Crofton, down the street from where she would later mentor. Each week is something new, she’s learning right along with her mentee. “When I sit with Meylin she says she wants to be mentor. To be able to have that impact has been amazing. I learn so much from her.”

This past year, Maddie joined our Board of Directors. She serves as the board secretary. “Being a board member allows me to witness first hand what each individual contributes to the organization at every level. We all truly keep it going.” She not only donates her time as a board member and mentor, but she also sponsors a monthly match, “It’s fulfilling to know that my donation goes directly towards such an important and much needed program in the community. No matter how big or small the donation, knowing that it could contribute towards a new mentor/mentee match or a new board game in the center for the students to enjoy, makes it all worth it.” Maddie is a committed and passionate community leader that understands it truly, takes all of us.

If you’d like to make an impact in your community sign up to become a mentor or support mentor matches by giving monthly.

 

Affinity Welcomes New Interns!

Welcome Ariel and Annalise! 
This week we welcomed the newest members to our team, Ariel Simaz and Annalise Piazza!

Ariel Simaz 
Ariel will be interning with us for the fall and winter semesters. She is earning a Bachelor’s of Social Work from Grand Valley State University. She’s looking forward to learning the ins and outs of running a mentoring program and is hoping to gain more nonprofit management skills.

Her goal is to one day become a camp director for youth and/or adults with special needs to utilize adventure therapy. When she’s not in class or at work she enjoys camping, rock climbing, hiking, reading, DIY projects, traveling, and eating.

Welcome to to the Affinity family Ariel!

Annalise Piazza
Annalise is a senior at Calvin College, double majoring in Social Work and French. She will be primarily working at our Burton site helping match students, administer surveys, and support the Mentor Center!

She loves working with kids and is looking forward to watching students form strong bonds with their mentors. Her goal is to gain more experience in the Social Work field and later return to school for her Master’s. Outside of school, Anna loves sharing life with friends, co-leading Calvin Dance Marathon, and investing in her church.

Be sure to stop by the Mentor Center to say hi!

Marissa and Nancy’s Story

A Mentor Story: Marissa and Nancy
By Rachel Lopez

Nancy quietly slides into the seat next to me, she timidly looks up and asks me my name. I tell her my name is Rachel and that I work for Affinity Mentoring. She immediately looks more relieved. I tell her that I want to learn more about her experience in the mentor program.

Nancy’s smile widens as proudly tells me that she just beat her mentor playing Chutes and Ladders. Nancy, a 3rd grader at Burton Elementary comes out of her shell when she’s around her mentor, Marissa.

Marissa admires Nancy because “she accomplishes everything she sets her mind to.” She describes Nancy as “funny, energetic, and determined.” Nancy agrees, nodding and giggling, “I get crazy when I eat a lot of cookies.”

The both look at each other and laugh as they remember when Nancy finished the March Reading Challenge and earned vanilla-cream cookies. The lesson learned from that day was to read books before eating a plate-full of cookies and getting a sugar-rush. Nancy adds that she didn’t eat all of the cookies, she brought some home to share with her family.

Nancy might remember the cookies the most, but her teacher notices the difference in her academics. “Last year [Nancy] was at a kindergarten reading level, she had no foundational native language, and was unable to count by 2’s,” explains Ms. Carbone, a third-grade teacher at Burton Elementary.

Her weekly mentoring sessions with Marissa helped her immensely.

“By the end of the year Nancy had gone up 10 points on her MAP test and this year she has passed her unit math tests with 90% or higher! I attribute this to [her mentor] Marissa. She teaches her compassion, patience, and loyalty. Now she is a confident, thriving, and mindful advocate for herself and others,” exclaims Ms. Carbone.

This was Marissa’s first year as a mentor and she has already signed up to come back for fall. She recalls her brother (a mentor to another elementary student) telling her that she would be a great mentor for Affinity and that she’d love it. She happily reports, “he was right.”

—-

If this sounds like something you think you’d be good at and enjoy (or you think you might know someone that would) check out How to Become a Mentor.

Mentoring not your thing, but you think it’s pretty cool? Check out How to Become Monthly Sponsor to support matches like Marissa and Nancy.