Affinity Mentoring began in 2001 under the Kid’s Hope model, a cause championed by Laura Ward in partnership with Mars Hill. Over the next decade-plus, Kid’s Hope did its best to address various needs in the 49507 area code, however that proximity began alerting the team to additional opportunities that would benefit the community. Thus began the transformation of Kid’s Hope into Affinity Mentoring, which became its own 501 (C)3 in 2016.
The longstanding existence of this agency is no doubt in large part because of its relentless dedication to empowering youth and families – stakeholders in their communities at large – to reach not only their goals, but their dreams.
Among the staff and leadership that has kept Affinity thriving during times of challenge and transition is our newly appointed Executive Director, Rocio Moreno. Rocio joined the organization in 2017 after graduating from Grand Valley State University with her Master’s degree in Social Work.
“From the second I walked into the Burton location for the interview of the Mentor Center manager position, I connected with the heritage of spanish-speaking students and staff and my own experiences struggling with academic and emotional thriving. I am driven by faith and I believed it was my time to uplift those around me. I would consistently see the gratitude of the families I worked to empower. So many times I’d run into a family during a community event or at one of the schools and they would either hug me or thank me because they were so thankful for Affinity’s program.”
Through its seasons of leadership, Affinity Mentoring has become a highly effective program that bolsters social emotional learning, academic skills, and leadership growth. It is an individualized and personal program tailored to each student and their particular needs. The organization uses different metrics to track the impact of the program including mentor, mentee, and community. Through these surveys Affinity is able to identify areas of growth, community needs, and the best way to invest its resources. Affinity listens to those who are most impacted by the work that we do. Across the board, these community connections showcase attendance rate increases, improvement in academics and a higher quality of life in general for all who participate. Some students have been in the mentoring program for 8 years and others who were once mentees have now become mentors themselves. Other mentors have gone on to adopt children as a result of their experience with their mentee or sharing their family’s holidays with the family of their mentee or mentor.
Rocio also shares about the significance of the program and why it’s relevant to the Grand Rapids community as a whole–not just program participants.
“We are constantly doing multi-generational work. Not just for the mentors and mentees, but for the families of both. We are rooted in the family structure, not simply in a student’s academic success. Part of this work includes the reduction of barriers that individuals face in pursuit of success, notably, our program participants as well as their kin. In her own words, Rocio strives to leave a mark on the legacy of what Affinity is and will become. She acknowledges the many that have come before her time who have done amazing work both within Affinity and the community.
“Both the organization and those who have come before my time have a very special place in my heart. They are an inspiration of the mark that I would like to leave behind in an effort to support students’ social emotional learning, academic skills, and leadership growth”.
“The organization is fundamental to the community because we are building up our next generation. The students we’re serving will grow up to be our next City Commissioners, Teachers, Mentors, Executive Directors, etc. We are planting seeds of empowerment; seeds of belonging, and continuing to cultivate a brave space that amplifies the voices of young agents of change in a diverse and inclusive community. As a mother of two, I know the impact my children will have on the next generation and I see each mentee the same way.”
“As stakeholders in and around Grand Rapids, we need to understand we are not separate entities and that at the heart of our city is our youth. “If we consistently show simple acts of kindness, our children will grow up speaking life into their own generation, and those to come.”
For those looking to get involved, there are several ways to join our work be it as a volunteer, mentor, donor, community partner or board member. We are always looking to diversify our program offerings based on the needs of our community. We’d love for you to join us on this important journey!
For more information, visit our website at www.affinitymentoring.org