Jordan & Henry

Mentee Henry, mentor Jordan and I sat down to get to know each other a few weeks ago so I could learn more about each of them. I had heard inspiring things about their mentoring relationship, now in its fifth year, and I was curious, what made it so successful?

First of all, Jordan is the lucky one. Henry is funny, smart, focused, driven and genuinely curious about experiencing new things, even things that might be outside his comfort zone. He wants to learn and he has dreams he’s well on his way toward achieving with his hyperfocus and self-propelled ambitions. He shared that his favorite car was a Maybach – did anyone else know that was a car when they were in fifth grade?? I learned of Henry’s discernment and logic when we talked about his favorite sports teams, which he selects because of the players, not necessarily because they play in his home state of Michigan. Hence why he’s chosen the Golden State Warriors and the Boston Red Sox as a few of his favorite teams. 

He also knows what he likes and what he doesn’t. He’s not timid about stating the things he enjoys, and why or who he wants to be when he grows up–an athlete in either basketball (“depending on how tall he gets”) or baseball, or perhaps boxing. He started pursuing boxing a while ago and goes a few times a week, on his own initiative, to learn techniques and also get stronger. 

Affinity mentor Jordan is a fantastic example of what an effective, caring and engaged mentor looks like: he expresses care and successfully treads the fine-line of challenging growth; he provides support and shares his power–he asks Henry how he’d like to respond to certain situations that directly pertain to Henry. 

From our short meeting, Jordan showcased how seriously he takes Henry’s goals and dreams in how he was able to recite every detail of their past interactions. He listens intently and tailors his approach with Henry based on what Henry says he needs. There was also an energy behind Jordan’s support. He gave Henry the opportunity to lead and express what he feels like doing during their time together, while also keeping Henry’s academic success within view. He diligently worked alongside Henry on an English (not Henry’s favorite) assignment to not only ensure Henry got the best grade, but that he understood how he got the grade. 

We could all use a Henry in our lives, but most importantly, youth like Henry deserve a mentor like Jordan in their lives. Students need five to seven caring adults outside their families to affirm and invest in them, leading to positive and life-altering results that set the course of their lives. 

Please, join us! There are so many ways to invest in these young lives. Reach out at any time and we will find a place that best fits your skills and potential. 

Mentor Story: Cait + Merlyn

September 2022 | By Rachel Humphreys

Cait’s first day of mentoring at Burton!

Cait was looking for an opportunity to give back. She yearned for an opportunity to make her life more well rounded; to find a volunteer opportunity that fed her soul. She stumbled upon Affinity Mentoring in the tail end of 2019. Then the pandemic happened and starting something new was set aside, for the time being at least…

As the fog began to clear a bit in 2021 she reached back out to Affinity Mentoring. 

“I was so nervous the first time I met my match,” recalls Cait. She remembers thinking, “I don’t have a ton of experience with kids!” Cait hadn’t done anything like mentoring before. 

“I was so worried about being matched and not being able to click with my student, but Rocio does a really great job of pairing mentors with their mentees,” she says. “After our interview, Rocio knew exactly the kind of student I would pair well with. She read me like a book. She paired me with a high energy, creative girl and the match was perfect!”

Cait was matched with Merlyn, a spunky, chatty, and excitable 8 year old. “We’re both the middle of 5 children. During our mentoring time we talk a lot, read, make crafts, and play. Family is very important to her and she has a good support system. She enjoys lots of quality time with her mom.”

Her goal is to make space for Merlyn to express her authentic self without fear of being teased or mocked. Cait explains that mentoring can be a healing experience. She recalls being nicknamed “loud girl” in school. “I was hyper, loud, and weird. I want Merlyn to be able to have a safe space to be her authentic self.” 

Learning about another culture has also been an added benefit. “It’s very eye opening, she’s learning two languages. Activities like reading together go a little differently than when I used to read with the boys I nannied in Ada.”

Whether it’s about her latest craft at her art table at home or stories of her ‘millions’ of cousins, Cait has found the key to mentoring – being present and listening.

“Mentoring is such a rewarding experience for both mentor and mentee. You can do so much good in such little time. I don’t think people realize how low of a time commitment mentoring can be and how easy it is to fit into your schedule. I hope more people look into mentoring,” she explains.

Although the mentoring commitment of one year has been completed, Cait will be returning this Fall to mentor Merlyn again. “I want it to be a long-time match. I want to be there, cheering, as Merlyn graduates high school.”

Interested in becoming a mentor? Sign up here.

100 Days, 100 Mentors

Each year we have over 100 students on our waiting list, asking for mentors across our six partner schools.

We need your help.

In the next 100 days, our goals are to:

Will you join us?

Become a Mentor Match Sponsor. Make a small, monthly contribution to Affinity. Your gift will not only help students academically, but it’ll also give them the social and emotional support they need to work towards a positive future.

Become a Mentor. Sign up today to mentor one student for one hour week starting this fall and ask a friend to mentor too (virtual and in-person mentoring options available)!

Share our campaign on social media with the hashtag #100days100mentors tag us on Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn.

2022 DEI Training Series Reflections

May 11, 2022 | By Cassandra Kiger

As part of our 2021 Community Listening Project we asked the public if we should provide extra training for mentors related to diversity, equity, and inclusion topics specific to mentoring.  Ninety-two percent of respondents said that it was either important, or very important for our organization to provide this (page 4), so we complied! 

If you’re not completely sure how putting time and resources into DEI work relates to mentoring, and us fulfilling our mission and vision for Affinity, we love learning with you! Check out the extensive research we have been conducting to make sure we facilitate amazing mentoring in this recent blog. We are grateful for the Steelcase Foundation whose grant has made it possible for this training to be free and widely available for AM partners, staff, mentors, and board members. 

Anti-Racism Training Series

In February, March, and April of 2022 Affinity Mentoring facilitated a three tiered training (levels 101, 201, and a community panel) focused on Anti-Racism in Education and Mentoring. We had 71 total attendees at these three, free training sessions, in addition to three expert trainers and 5 panelists. 

DEI 101 Training: Our trainers included Vanessa Jimenez, Founder/CEO of Mezcla Mosaic Collaborative and Marlene Kowalski-Braun, GVSU Associate Vice President for Enrollment Development Deputy Inclusion and Equity Officer for our 101 training. They facilitated a brave, healthy, inquisitive space for individuals to begin thinking about how other’s racial life experiences might be different from our own, and why it matters in education and mentoring. They invited participants to engage in critical reflection about foundations of DEI work, including defining diversity, equity, inclusion, and intersectionality both personally and organizationally. They helped participants develop an understanding of social identity, white supremacy, implicit bias, and microaggressions and how they shape a person’s experience of power, privilege, and oppression both individually and organizationally. Lastly, we discussed our personal and collective responsibility to keep ourselves and each other accountable to anti-racist work, especially in mentoring. 

DEI 201 Training: Christine Mwangi, CEO and Founder of Grounded In Equity, President and CEO of Be A Rose, member of the Affinity Mentoring Board of Directors, and KDL Director of Fund Development, led our 201 training. We dove deeper together into how race impacts education in our community, and the individual and community-level steps that we can take to support all students succeeding. Christine helped us define and understand specific terms and ideas when discussing the racial achievement gap in our local schools, including redlining and its lasting effects on school systems. We discussed systemic outcomes that disproportionately affect students of color within the academic sector, and how individuals can help make a positive impact through interactions with students and mentees. Below are a list of excellent video resources that Christine shared with us. 


DEI 301 Training: Our third training for this year was actually a panel discussion with local experts on DEI, education, and mentoring who helped us take the things we learned in our previous two trainings, and understand them more fully in Grand Rapids and Wyoming. Our panel included Kyle Lim of the Urban Core Collective, Rafael Castanon of Health Net of West Michigan (and AM mentor), Alex Kuiper of Godfrey-Lee Public Schools, Brandy Lovelady Mitchell of the Michigan Education Association, and Erika VanDyke of the Urban Core Collective (and an AM mentor).

Mentors, staff, and partners were invited to submit questions to the panel ahead of time. Some of our key questions and take always from the nearly two hours of discussion included:

  • We learned about institutional racism, redlining, and other systems that make racism a part of our schools. Sometimes it feels like the problems are so big that there is very little we can do about them. Is that true? 
    • Panelist responses: We need to remember that progress is not linear, and we need to adapt to changes so that we keep moving forward. Racism is meant to exhaust and paralyze use; when issues are this complex, remember to focus on students, families, and communities and their needs. The work is worth it, because racism continues to hurt real people, and we cannot move at the same pace that the resistance is moving; we have to work faster if we actually want to make change. We need to imagine the future we want to live in and begin shaping it, even if we can’t fully see it yet. Never forget that system level change can start with voting! Vote for people who will make the changes you want to see. 
  • Is there any work being done already in Grand Rapids to help make our schools anti-racist? 
    • Panelist responses: Challenge your school board and the schools executive cabinet to make sure that they are engaging in real DEI work! You can send them letters, and attend school board meetings (even if you don’t have students attending that school), and the Urban Core Collective can help you prepare letters and statements; they are also helping to organize parents/caregivers, and you can contact if you want to participate. 
  • What are ways that we can start conversations about race with children and students without scaring them?
    • Panelist responses: Let discussions be organic and student-led, and never engage in conversations with your mentee because you want to, but let them lead so that you don’t cause extra harm. Acknowledge when you don’t know the answer. You can discover the answer alongside students and mentees, and even ask your Affinity Site Coordinator to help you find resources to do that. 
    • Always validate student emotions and feelings, and ask them open-ended questions, and provide them with clarifying statements to help them process their own thoughts and feelings. Model to them by doing your own mirror work and showing them that it is healthy to learn new things. 
  • Mentors: what is something that you have learned about your mentee’s culture from mentoring?
    • Panelist (and attendee) answers: Find out what your mentee is passionate about, and let that lead your conversations and learning! As they get more comfortable, they will be excited to share, and feel safe to share more intimate information, like their culture, with you. 
  • How can we encourage mentees to embrace their own culture?
    • Panelist answers: Model this behavior to your mentees by talking about your own life experiences and culture, and then inviting your mentee into the conversation. 
    • Use diverse books and resources in the mentor centers to talk about different cultures, and find resources that match your mentee’s culture and invite them to be proud about it. 
    • Make sure to connect the micro level work with the macro level work; we won’t need to help students “rediscover” or share their cultures and experiences if we fight against the systems that make it hard for them to share those things naturally. By improving the whole system, we make this easier and healthier for each student!
DEI and Anti-Racism Resources

Some resources and reading that panelists recommended included:

Lastly, we were able to share some resources with all of our participants that Affinity Mentoring has been developing to help give mentors and partners more resources to continue learning and growing together with each other and their mentees. We highly encourage you to check out and use these resources, and talk to your Affinity Mentoring team members for more learning opportunities!

2022 Community Listening Project

As we close out this 2021-2022 mentoring year, we will be publishing our full 2022 Community Listening Project results showing that:

  • 85.2% of respondents tell us that it is very important or important that we “publicly support groups of people who are dismissed or unsafe in our community”,
  • 85.9% of respondents tell us that it is very important or important that we put time and resources into “finding more diverse mentors”, and
  • 80.8% of respondents tell us that it is very important or important that we “provide yearly diversity training for mentors”. 

Based on this, and the overwhelmingly positive attendance and feedback from this year’s trainings, we will continue to provide new training series each year, giving mentors and partners opportunities to learn about key areas of identity development for students, and how it relates to creating and maintaining an amazing mentoring program with short and long term student benefits. Our 2022-2023 mentoring year DEI training topics will focus on gender identity and sexual orientation. We promise to continue listening to you and your needs, and making decisions for our programming based on the most up to date, peer-reviewed research on how to support students and fulfill the mission and vision of Affinity Mentoring to the best of our ability. 

Response to Oakland School Shooting

December 8, 2021 | By Cassandra Kiger

Sad. Angry. Frustrated. Overwhelmed. Devastation. Loss of Words. Grief. Scared. 

As our Affinity Mentoring team discussed the most recent school shooting at Oxford High School in Michigan, these were the feelings we talked about:

  • How unbelievable this feels to have to consider when sending students to school, and also how obviously this will keep happening until something systemic changes;
  • the immediate repercussions we witnessed in our partner schools as other students, young and old, all clearly hurting and without means to accurately and safely communicate their needs, imitated what they heard and saw;
  • the lack of resources schools have to address the underlying needs and concerns behind these events, and our fears that more resources will be directed towards policing and suspensions rather than mental health resources and supports;
  • how desperately we want to galvanize the resources at our own disposal to make sure no student, ever, feels that they are without hope, resources, or a trusted someone to talk to and express their feelings, their fears, their hopes, and their needs to. 

We want to affirm your right and your need to experience so many feelings in times like these. Hard feelings. Uncomfortable feelings. Overwhelming feelings. Conflicting feelings. Feelings that make you feel embarrassed. Feelings that are different from those around you. We have to stop repressing our feelings and our grief, and we need to practice safely and appropriately expressing them. We need to demonstrate and model to the students around us that feelings are okay, they are normal, we all have them. And we need to model to students around us what to do with feelings; not to shove them down, not to ignore them until it’s too late, not to use them for pain or harm to others, but to express them in safe and healthy ways. 

There are no doubts that math and literacy are critical for the future of students, our community, and our world. But math and literacy at the expense of mental and physical health and safety are irrelevant. Our book-smarts will not matter if we do not know how to communicate with each other, resolve conflict, create boundaries for ourselves and others, express our needs and feelings, get support, and experience a full range of emotions. These things, too, are absolutely critical. Will you join us in treating them like they are? Sometimes it can feel scary or overwhelming to talk about mental health and violence. We want to support you with resources and tools. 

It is always ok to talk to someone about whether or not they are having thoughts about harming themselves or others. Talking with them about it does not increase their chances of causing harm to someone, it actually decreases it.

If you or someone you know is at risk of harming yourself/themselves or others, you can visit the Pine Rest Psychiatric Urgent Care Center at: 

  • Pine Rest Mental Health Services
  • Building E, Entrance E1
  • 300 68th Street SE, Grand Rapids, MI

Or call them at 616.455.9200 or visit They are open everyday except on major holidays. 

Seeking out mental health services like therapy or counseling is never weak. It takes incredible strength and bravery to admit when you could use extra support. No matter what gender you identify as, what race or ethnicity you identify as, where you are from, or what you were taught (or not taught) about mental health, we support you. You are brave. You are worth it. 

  • You can support students by  advocating for more in school resources to support student mental health and social emotional learning, rather than increased policing. 
  • Sign up for our newsletter at to learn about ways to support students and families, and things that impact our mental health and social-emotional well-being every month, and follow up on Facebook and Instagram for weekly tips and reminders. 

Our Mission is to facilitate equitable growth in academics, social emotional skills, and self-esteem through mutually beneficial mentoring relationships. We believe in cultivating a brave space that amplifies the voices of young agents of change in a diverse and inclusive community.

Our vision is to be a leading nonprofit for fostering belonging alongside young people, families, and community.