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/.

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.

 

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.

 

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, Donor, and Partner: David’s Story

Mentor, Donor, and Partner: David’s Story
By Rachel Lopez

“Richy has a soft heart, a real soft heart. I love this kid,” smiles Dave. Over the past 7 years they have developed a deep bond, “We did a little bit of academics and a lot of playing – he’s a pretty self-motivated kid. He’s probably better at math than I am,” he laughs. Dave has gone to a lot of Richard’s family events, and Dave invited him to his daughter’s wedding this summer.

On the books their mentorship ended in 2016 when Richard, transferred to City Middle School. However, they’ve remained close, “We still keep in touch. I see him 4-5 times each year.” Now an 8th grader, Richy is starting to think more about college, “I’m looking forward to helping him navigate his college aspirations. I told him him when he graduates college I’ll take him to any soccer game in the world.”

Dave has worked at Gordon Food Service (GFS) for 27 years. Over the years he has been a mentor, donor, and partner. Originally Dave, heard about the opportunity to become a mentor and jumped at it. Later on he began recruiting more GFS employees too, “It started with info sessions, but it’s a cool community here. There are lots of hearts to serve so it wasn’t hard to get mentors.”

No longer a formal mentor, he sees himself as an advocate for Affinity Mentoring, “I don’t mind getting people in touch with senior leadership. It’s a ministry I believe in and want to support. I know it takes money to run and support the staff. I want to see [Affinity] be maintained and grow.”

He had a vision to grow the partnership. He brought the idea to Cliff Charles [the former Director of Diversity and Inclusion at GFS] and asked if he could “provide the horsepower to do it.” The team along with passionate mentors, like Will Holland, ran with it.

The partnership with GFS now boasts over 60 mentors and it’s still growing, “Our [company] culture is reflective of our values. [Affinity Mentoring] ties in closely with the values of GFS – the Gordons are an amazing family, there are hearts to serve at various levels.”

Contact us if you’re interested in becoming a mentor or starting a partnership with your organization.

 

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.