New Diversity + Inclusion Workshop for Mentors

By Rachel Lopez

Affinity Launches “Learning and Growing Together Series”
A discussion on race, culture, and inclusion in the mentoring relationship.

The goal of this workshop is for mentors to grow in their cultural intelligence and ability to use their expanded understanding to navigate cultural, experiential, racial, and other differences with their mentees successfully.

This will be an engaging and interactive session that deals with topics such as: cultural intelligence, cross-cultural communication, implicit bias, and healing racism.

Our goal is that attendees will walk away with:

  • increased cultural intelligence
  • elevated morale and energy
  • better communication and problem solving strategies
  • empowered to be even more effective mentors

All current mentors are encouraged to attend one of the three following training dates [a meal will be provided] :

  • Wednesday, August 7th [5:30pm-8:30pm] at the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan 
  • Saturday, November 9th [9am-1pm] at Mars Hill Bible Church 
  • Saturday, February 8th [9am-1pm] at Mars Hill Bible Church 
  • REGISTER NOW [Mentors Only]

    About the Speaker
    This workshop will be led by Julian Newman, Founder/CEO of Culture Creative, who consults across the nation with organizations on the integration of cultural awareness. He is recognized as a creative and inspirational speaker/leader/consultant in the areas of organizational diversity and cultural agility initiatives. Julian holds a CQ Certificate through the Cultural Intelligence Center, is a certified facilitator for the Woodrick Center for Equity and Inclusion, a member of the Urban Core Collective Transformational Leaders Program, and was named to the Great Lakes Multi-Ethnic Regional Team to facilitate racial reconciliation and diversity training in Michigan faith communities.

    About the Series

    This series is part of Affinity Mentoring’s larger mission to be a more culturally responsive organization. Funds to provide this training were provided by Herman Miller Cares and Steelcase Foundation grants. 

Affinity Celebrates Loving Day

By Rachel Lopez | June 12, 2019

Loving Day is an annual celebration of the 1967 case involving Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving (Loving vs. Virginia) which struck down the criminalization of interracial marriage. On June 12, cities across the US remember this monumental day and celebrate multiracial love, identity, and acceptance.

For Affinity, this day holds a special place for many of our staff and board members. We asked them to share a bit about why this day is important to them.

“I’m thankful for those that paved a way for us. If they hadn’t, I’m certain we would be doing what we could to do it today. We’ve never once regretted loving each other and/or creating the family we have together. When I look at our kids, the product of our loving marriage of nearly 18 years (and going strong) … I see a beautiful representation of who we are and what we believe in! We love this big, diverse world we live in and long for the day our local communities better reflect that diversity! Until then, we will represent the best we can in the lives we live!”

Missy Jackson, Board Member

“When Wayne and I announced that we were engaged, we were told not to get married. We were told that people would treat us, and our future children, poorly because we’re an interracial couple. This month we’re celebrating our 10 year anniversary with our two beautiful children. We have experienced discrimination because of our interracial marriage. But, more frequently, we’ve been able to have really enlightening and beautiful conversations with people that cause them to think a bit differently. What can be more powerful to break down barriers than love?”

Laura Ward, Executive Director

“Thank you to the Lovings for fighting for their freedom to love, regardless of the discrimination they experienced. They have taught me that love is love regardless of what your partner looks like. Intertwining Vietnamese and Mexican culture has granted us both the opportunity to learn and experience new things in our lives.”

Angela Reyna, Program Assistant

“We were married in 1996 and have three BEAUTIFUL children with a heart for diversity in their friendships. We saw the Loving movie as a family a couple years back at a community celebration in Eastown. What was shocking to me was my son catching the fact that our marriage would still have been illegal in 2000, in at least one state.”

Johana Rodriguez-Quist, Board Member

“The idea of an anti-miscegenation law is difficult to grasp in 2019, which is a great thing. While some areas of our society certainly have a way to go when it comes to genuine tolerance and acceptance, we are happy and appreciate that we’re able to live our lives together and do not have to worry about the concept of state-sanctioned intolerance.”  

Adam Russo, Board Member

“Loving Day is important to me because I’m the product of an interracial relationship, and because I’m in one as well. I’m so grateful for people like the Lovings who worked so hard and sacrificed so much so that relationships like ours could be possible.”

John Robinson, Board Member

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!