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.

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. 

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.

10 Years Later | Ross’ Story

By Rachel Lopez

Mario and Ross at the Burton Mentor Center.

Mario and Ross at the Burton Mentor Center.

Ten years ago Ross became a mentor with our program. Over the past decade he has mentored 3 different students, including two brothers, Martin and Mario. Ross is an Investment Executive at Fifth Third Bank, “The market was terrible when I started [mentoring]. The two hour a week break from it was great when I’d mentor. I got to go be a kid for an hour. It was a way to destress.”

Ross mentored Martin from 2nd grade through 8th grade (programming ends after 8th grade). He decided to stop mentoring. He felt he and Martin had been a perfect pair, “He loved athletics, baseball, and soccer. We shared that.” Ross didn’t think he would find another student he’d be able to connect with like Martin.

However he changed his mind when Martin’s mother reached out to him personally and asked him to be a mentor again. This time for her other son, Mario. She saw how beneficial it was for her older son to have Ross as a positive male role model and wanted that for Mario. He couldn’t say no.

Now Ross and Mario have been a match for a few years. Mario is very different from Martin, he cares deeply about his academics. Instead of playing sports they read books together. “I hope he’d say I’m a friend. Sometimes I feel I don’t do as good on the academic stuff as other mentors. I’m not an educator. We’re friends. I’m someone he can count on if he doesn’t have support from family.” Through this process, Ross has become an extension of Martin and Mario’s family, and they his.

“Martin and my son are near the same age. My whole family went with Martin and his sister to the mall. My kids got to meet them.” Years after their mentorship ended, they still keep in touch, “Martin still reaches out to me when he has issues. Last summer we went to a Whitecaps Game and Dave and Busters. We all go together now.”

Martin, Ross, and Mario at the Whitecaps game.

Ross strongly believes that mentoring is mutually beneficial and that mentors can benefit just as much as the students from the experience. Becoming a mentor has had a huge impact on his life (not only as a weekly stress reliever).

“[Mentoring] helps me understand that even in our community there are kids and families that live so differently. It’s been a good thing to learn that.” He’s a big advocate for mentoring and champions the cause whenever possible. He hopes to encourage more people to become mentors.

“In my business, they think they don’t have the time. It may be the case for some folks, but I set my schedule and I block two hours every week.” Ross believes Fifth Third’s organizational culture has been supportive of his mentoring and they even track their employees’ volunteer hours.

He will challenge anyone that says they don’t have time to mentor, “They need to get over the idea they don’t have time for it. We are all busy. If we really thought about it we can squeeze two hours out. It’s not that difficult honestly. If you’re with a firm that can’t understand the importance you need to go to a different firm.”

If you’re inspired by Ross’ story there are many ways to get involved! Learn more about how to become a mentor or support our work as a community partner.