Roca’s annual breakfast welcomed a packed house of local officials and supporters at the Intercontinental Hotel Monday morning, including former U.S. Secretary of Education John King, Jr., Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and U.S. Congressman Michael Capuano.
Roca, dedicated to transforming the lives of the highest-risk young men and women in the communities the organization serves, is also celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, kicking off a series of events at today’s breakfast.
“Where others have failed to capture the imagination and attention of young people, Roca has managed to do that and change their lives,” said Speaker DeLeo.
Highlights from the event included a keynote address from King, who spoke on the importance of mentors in young people’s lives, and how Roca’s model has effectively provided that to change the lives of its participants, as well as poignant remarks from Governor Baker on the importance of providing at-risk young men and women with the support they need to break the cycle of recidivism.
“My public school teachers saved my life, just like Roca is saving the lives of young people every day,” King said. “Your future doesn’t always have to be defined by your past. You can write your future. That’s what Roca shows young people.”
“I’ve always had a mom and dad (to support me), so when you make the stupid decision—we all make them when are young and stupid—there is someone there to help. For a lot of these young people (that Roca serves), there isn’t someone there to help,” said Baker, who emphasized that Roca is providing those young people with the support they need. “Everyone needs a fan.”
Roca was established 30 years ago in Chelsea, MA by founder and CEO Molly Baldwin. Through years of trial and error, data tracking, and relentless outreach, Roca has developed a model that has served 854 (and counting) young men across Massachusetts.
“Today, we have no illusions or expectations that it will be easy, but we have to find a road to help these young people change and live,” Baldwin told the crowd. “We believe that justice is a verb, and we know, like all of you, that our young people can change their lives.”
Roca also honored the winners of this year’s Vichey Phoung Award, given annually to two participants who, through hard work and determination, have demonstrated substantial positive change in their lives. This year, the award was given to two participants—Sandra Lopera in the Young Mothers’ program, and Damion Johnson in the Young Men’s program.
“When I was referred to Roca, I knew I was in the right place,” said Lopera. “At Roca I felt safe, and for once I wasn’t judged for my previous actions.”
“My time at Roca has now set my path to the future,” said Johnson. “It was something I thought for years was unattainable.”
In 2017, Roca was privileged to work with 854 young men, with 79 percent of them staying with Roca throughout the year. 84 percent of those participants had no new arrests, and Roca helped place 274 young men in their transitional employment program. Another 226 young men were placed in a job, with 76 percent holding that job for six or more months.
Roca also serves 16-to-24-year old mothers who are facing multiple risk factors related to violence and instability, and are not ready, willing and able to participate in programs or jobs. Using an adapted version of Roca’s four-year Intervention Model, Roca helps young mothers lift themselves up from violence and poverty and make a better future for themselves and their children.
Roca’s High-Risk Young Mother’s program builds on Roca’s years of experience with high-risk mothers and proven record of creating an outcome-driven model that leads to meaningful change. In 2017, Roca helped 200 young mothers, with 88 percent engaged in programming at Roca, where they are working, in school, or both.
“We truly believe that every young person, no matter how angry, isolated or hurt, matters. They are our children, and we can help them,” said Baldwin.