Program Alumna and Affinity Staff: Angela’s Story

Wearing her favorite pair of converse sneakers Angela lugs her rolly backpack up the last few steps. She loves school. A little timid and shy, but she absolutely loves reading. Her favorite book is Junie B. Jones is a Graduation Girl. She wants to do well in school, make her parents proud and their sacrifices worth it.

Program Alumna and Affinity Staff: Angela’s Story
By Rachel Humphreys

Holding hands, 8 year-old Angela and her 3 sisters quickly dart across the street and into the safety of Burton Elementary’s brick archway. Her long, dark pony tail swishes as she runs.

Wearing her favorite pair of converse sneakers Angela lugs her rolly backpack up the last few steps. She loves school. A little timid and shy, but she absolutely loves reading. Her favorite book is Junie B. Jones is a Graduation Girl. She wants to do well in school, make her parents proud and their sacrifices worth it.

Hard-working, strong, and supportive, Angela loves her parents. They emigrated from Mexico before she was born, in search of a better life and more opportunities. Her biggest wish is to spend more time with them. She doesn’t quite understand why they have to work so much.

Her parents leave for work each morning at 4am and get home after 7pm. They get home tired each day. As the second oldest, Angela takes care of her younger sisters – gets them ready for school, helps them with homework, and walks with them to and from school.

Her mom is always positive, despite even some of the most difficult times. She remembers one bitter-cold winter where they didn’t have heat. Angela and her sisters crawled in bed each night with their parents to keep warm. Her mom would nudge her dad and ask him to tell stories. They’d fall asleep laughing together.

Other days they didn’t have enough food. Angela would look forward to the the free lunches at school. She could see the pain in her mom’s eyes when she asked if there was anything to eat.  Her mom always found a way to make it work. Angela remembers waking up the next morning to warm tortas and chorizo con huevo.

A few months into second grade she meets Wendy. She’s tall with dark blonde hair. She hasn’t met many people that look like Wendy. She brings her a pink Snapple juice. Even though she’s unsure why she needs a mentor she starts to enjoy hanging out with Wendy.

Wendy has this way about her, “You just know she’s listening, like really listening.” It makes Angela feel important and more confident. Wendy comes each week to see her.

She helps her with homework and they read lots of Junie B. Jones stories, but mostly they just talk. Wendy loves to hear what Angela thinks, what she wants to do when she grows up, and answers her millions of questions. To Angela, Wendy has all of the answers.

At the end of the school year Angela and her family move. It’s hard being the new girl. Sometimes Angela gets teased for her dirty uniform. She only has one and can’t wash it every day. She’s often lonely, but seeing Wendy is a bright spot. Her new school doesn’t have in-school mentoring so Wendy starts visiting Angela and her family at their house.

At first Angela is a little hesitant to share her mentor with her sisters, but she realizes how much fun they all have together. Wendy comes over after school. While her mom makes dinner the girls and Wendy watch movies, giggle, and talk.

She has never met anyone as cool as Wendy, “I wanted to be like her. She made me want to be there for someone like she was there for me. She made me feel smart and like I could do anything. When there wasn’t enough food or we we didn’t have electricity I would forget about it when I was with Wendy.”

Fifteen years later Wendy and Angela still keep in touch. Angela and her family moved 6-7 times and Wendy moved to Chicago when Angela was in 7th grade. However, that didn’t stop either of them. Wendy is still one of Angela’s biggest role models, “I really appreciate her. Sometimes I feel lost and she helps me focus.”

“When the movie ‘Hidden Figures’ came out Wendy messaged me and told me I should see it. She said that I would love it because of how much I enjoy math. I couldn’t believe she remembered.”

Angela still enters those brick archways each week at Burton Elementary, but now for a different reason. She is the Program Assistant for Affinity Mentoring and the entrance of the old building has been renovated into Affinity’s Mentor Center. “After Burton was renovated everything looks so different, everything but the archways. It’s exactly as I remember it. I remember being in this school and now I get to help students like me.”

This fall Angela will be continuing her degree at Grand Valley State University. She plans to become a social worker. She wants to help the Hispanic community and families like hers to feel safe, loved, and supported. Like Wendy did for her.

To support more matches like Wendy and Angela you can sign up to become or a mentor or sponsor a mentor match.

Hear Angela’s story in her own words …

Program Alumna and Affinity Staff: Angela’s Story from Affinity Mentoring on Vimeo.

Mentor and Donor: Alicia’s Story

Mentor and Donor: Alicia’s Story
By Rachel Lopez

Born and raised in Grand Rapids, Alicia went to Kenowa Hills and a private Catholic school. However, she didn’t feel like she fit into any standard box.

Her father is Mexican and her mother is Irish. There was often a cross-over between her two cultures, both emphasizing the community as an extension of the family. She loves her family’s legacy and rich cultural history, but being bicultural wasn’t always easy for her. With fair-skin, freckles, and curly red hair she often didn’t feel Mexican enough. Other times, she didn’t feel Irish enough.

Her parents instilled a sense of resourcefulness, hospitality, and kindness in her, “We didn’t have a lot growing up, but they always gave others what they could, whether it was hand-me-down clothes or a warm meal.” It wasn’t unusual for friends and neighbors to feel at home at her house and share big meals. 

Her family left a legacy of service in the Grand Rapids’ community. Her grandmother, Maurilla Ortiz Blakely, was an educator, mother, and community activist. Orphaned at age 6, she married at age 16 and had 5 kids by age 30. At age 47 she earned her bachelor’s and went on to have a 20 year career in social work (Have you heard of the Grand Rapids’ Mexican Festival? Yeah, that was Maurilla’s brainchild in 1970).

Although her community work was important, she remembers her most as a warm and loving grandmother who took her grandkids to Meijer in the evening to burn more energy and taught the entire family how to make tamales .

Alicia’s mother was a teacher, earned a master’s in education, and is also a mentor at Affinity. She credits her mother and grandmother for instilling her desire to serve, support, and advocate for children. Alicia was a nurse for a local summer camp for three years and taught weekend cooking and crafting classes to kids when she was younger.

As members of Mars Hill Bible Church, Alicia and her husband began financially supporting Affinity Mentoring, “We saw the benefit of putting resources into kids. We come from families where children are valued and celebrated.”

Three years ago she decided to become a mentor too. Alicia loves being in the Burton school and feels the sense of community she has longed for. Alicia was matched with Leidy, a shy, quiet, and smiley first grader. “She was hard to get out of her shell but we bonded over both wearing glasses.” After meeting weekly for three years Leidy has become more confident, giggly, and “happy-go-lucky.”

“She’s highly competitive and plays until she wins. Our last Uno game lasted 40 minutes. We went through the deck twice. Alicia loves being a mentor, “It makes me really happy. This is what I look forward to every week. Everything is scheduled around it. I truly love it.”

She enjoys the flexibility of the program to meet students where they are at. During times when Leidy was struggling with reading they started checking out books. They tried many popular children’s series, but neither of them were convinced, “I don’t know if you’ve ever read Diary of a Wimpy Kid, it’s not that good.” Finally they found it, “Leidy loves Penny Dreadful (Penelope Jones). It’s a mix of stories and pictures, it’s perfect for her level and keeps her attention.”

Alicia appreciates the resources and support from Affinity staff, “It’s more than just mentoring. There’s a social work aspect. They put [students] in touch with resources, bedding and household needs, and make sure [mentors] get resources. It’s encompassing the whole family, not just the child.”

Alicia and Leidy will be meeting over the summer. They already went shopping and out to lunch. Leidy got to choose. Her favorite restaurant is McDonald’s but decided to give Red Robin a try. Later in July Alicia is taking her to the zoo.

Alicia hopes to teach Leidy that, “She can do absolutely anything she wants to, regardless of where she comes from. We all know life is hard and teaches you tough lessons.”

Alicia encourages anyone thinking about becoming a mentor to “just do it” and shares 3 tips

  1. If you don’t know if you’ll be any good at it, you’ll be amazed what just being there once a week will do for both you and your mentee.
  2. It’s not parenting, you’re their friend.
  3. If you think you don’t have time, you do. You might not realize what you get out of it until you’re in it.

If you’d like to learn more about becoming a mentor like Alicia apply here or support a student by becoming a mentor sponsor.