When it comes to Roca, the spotlight on the award-winning Chelsea organization often falls upon success stories it’s had with at-risk young men trying to avoid jail.
That spotlight rarely falls on what was originally the mission of Roca – to assist at-risk young mothers. Last Thursday, following some renovations to a new space, the Young Mother’s program held an open house to remind everyone of the important work that has been and continues to be a second priority of the heralded organization.
“If Roca is going to fulfill its mission long term, it’s got to do so by doing for both,” said Roca Board Chair Malcolm McColl. “The board has a strong, strong commitment to the Young Mother’s program…We think this program is absolutely critical. We should be helping people and not just genders. A community is often defined by the strength of its women…The fact of the matter is, there is great wisdom to that. High risk young men are an important cause, but we also believe in building up the young women as well.”
On Thursday, Rosie Munoz-Lopez, director of the program, talked about the important gains made by many of the participants – including getting diplomas, driver’s licenses, and parenting help.
Latisha Rezendes told the crowd she has participated in virtually every program Roca has offered, and it has taken her from a life on the fringes to one where she is attending school part-time, working part-time and raising her daughter full time.
“Thanks to Roca, I’ve done a lot of things I wouldn’t have done and avoided being on the streets,” she said. “The programs here and the people here have changed my life. Roca’s mission is to help at-risk young mothers depart from the cycle of incarceration and poverty…and that’s exactly what they did for me. They helped me find a job and to make better money.”
Lilian Pineda, 20, said she had participated in Roca once before, but left the program. She found that she wasn’t doing anything with her life and had no goals.
It was then that she came back to Roca.
“Honestly, I think I would be struggling if I hadn’t come back – going job to job to job an don’t knowing what’s right for me,” she said. “They have helped my son a lot. He needed help with speech and he’s learned a lot here…They’ve always helped me here and you get used to everybody and it becomes like a family. Right now, I do maintenance work here, but my goal is to take everything I’ve learned here and find a job outside of Roca and continue on from here. I have my driver’s permit now and my goal now is to learn to drive.”
However, Pineda hinted that maybe her eventual career might be helping young mothers like herself get back on their feet.
“I hope that maybe one day I can come back here and work as a counselor,” she said. “You see a lot here. You see how you can change people’s lives and I’d like to do that.”