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.”

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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.