The Heinz Family Foundation named Molly Baldwin, founder and CEO of Roca, a highly effective intervention program that provides relentless outreach to young people impacted by traumatic experiences at the center of urban violence, the recipient of the prestigious 25th Heinz Award in the Human Condition category. Ms. Baldwin is honored for Roca’s proven work in changing the lives of young people considered to be the hardest to reach, including those who have suffered as a result of poverty, gang involvement, violent crime and who will not show up to participate in school, work or traditional programs.
As part of the accolade, Ms. Baldwin will receive an unrestricted cash award of $250,000.
Since founding Roca in 1988, Molly Baldwin has remained focused on a mission to disrupt cycles of incarceration, urban violence and poverty in the lives of young adults – primarily young men of color between the ages of 18 and 24 – who are not ready, willing or able to participate in other programs. Roca’s model tirelessly seeks out young people who could benefit from its program and provides them the educational, employment and emotional regulation skills they need to change their life trajectories. The program incorporates cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT); a focus on building trust, safety and relationships; employment skills practice; and long-term coaching.
Because the young men and women served by Roca have already experienced a lifetime of trauma, building a foundation of transformational relationships from which change can begin takes time. Roca workers go directly to young people in crisis, tracking them down through friends, scouting the streets and showing up on their doorsteps. Roca data shows that it takes, on average, 10 outreach efforts to find a young person and often hundreds of efforts before they choose to engage in a Roca program. Roca’s trauma-informed curriculum and intervention program takes four years to complete, giving participants the freedom to repeatedly learn, practice, fail and practice again, even as they are challenged to change their thinking and become accountable for their lives.
“Roca believes and has seen that change is possible for every young adult, regardless of past history, if we are relentless in engaging with them, in providing the right intensive supports and when we never, ever give up on them, particularly when they fail,” says Ms. Baldwin. “We work with the young people most likely to shoot or be shot. For many of them, heartache and fear are all that they have known. Our mission is to address their trauma, help them change their thinking and behavior, and ultimately find a life of peace, safety and employment. No young person is too tough for us, even those who have lost all trust and hope for the future, but to impact urban violence we must work with the young people who are engaged in violence and we must work with the organizations and systems charged with serving them.”
The Roca model was founded in the city of Chelsea, Massachusetts more than 32 years ago and has since spread to more than 20 communities across the state. Two years ago, Roca launched in Baltimore, Maryland. It is cited nationally as a successful, evidence-based model for youth intervention that delivers measurable, sustained outcomes. A third-party evaluation of 978 young men served by Roca in Massachusetts between 2013 and 2018 found that only 34% recidivated within three years. And while almost 75% of young men come to Roca with a violent criminal record, four out of five stopped engaging in violent crime during and after their engagement with Roca. As of 2019, 97% of young men enrolled in Roca for more than 24 months had no new incarcerations.
Through its Engaged Institutions component, Roca also works directly with the criminal justice system, probation officers, judges and others to confront injustice and transform how police officers and agencies relate to the kind of young adults Roca serves. Roca has learned that it cannot help young people without partnering closely with the police and other criminal justice agencies. While Roca’s work with police is deeply informed by the very real issues of racial justice plaguing police departments and eroding public trust, it knows that the work with law enforcement not only enhances the safety of young people and their communities, it can also be part of the solution to these systemic failures of justice.
“Roca is committed to working relentlessly toward justice for all,” says Ms. Baldwin. “Sadly, the policing in the neighborhoods that we serve has far too often exhibited brutality, cruelty and corruption. Our goal is to engage law enforcement, and to move them from an adversarial stance to one that recognizes these young men and women of the community as fellow human beings struggling with trauma, fear and poverty. If we do not build collaborations with the police and other stakeholders in the criminal justice system, the young people we are trying to help are going to kill or be killed. Reaching these young people, helping them heal and providing the kind of wrap-around services needed to enable change, takes all of us – young people, their families, community members and public leaders.”
To further its impact and share its methodology, Roca, in partnership with Massachusetts General Hospital, has developed Rewire by Roca – CBT Skills for Living, a CBT approach designed for youth workers, front line staff, community workers and criminal justice providers that can be taught, practiced and mastered in the streets and community settings. Offered through the Roca Impact Institute, this three-month Train the Trainer series provides a simple, relatable approach that focuses on core life skills specifically relevant to the behavioral health of young people who are actively engaged in violence, criminally involved and who are often difficult to engage in traditional program models.
Roca also serves young women, many of whom are young mothers who have been unwilling or unable to participate in standard support programs. Roca’s women’s program includes services for childcare and transportation, as well as additional, intensive, mental health and domestic violence modules.
“For 30 years, Molly has persisted in serving young people who are the hardest to reach, and whose traumatic life experiences could put them on the path to a lifetime of poverty, unemployment or incarceration,” said Teresa Heinz, Chairman of the Heinz Family Foundation. “Where others have given up, Roca steps in, and stays in. The model that she has helped create demonstrates that the hard work of building trust and disrupting old patterns of thinking can change behavior and enable what every human being should be afforded: a life that is free of fear, lifted by hope, and anchored by opportunity. Roca’s enduring and meaningful impact on young lives beautifully reflects the spirit of the Heinz Awards.”
Established to honor the memory of U.S. Senator John Heinz, the Heinz Awards this year recognize those who have made significant contributions in five distinct areas of great importance to Senator Heinz: Arts and Humanities; Environment; Human Condition; Public Policy; and Technology, the Economy and Employment. Now in its 25th year, the Heinz Awards has recognized 151 individuals and awarded more than $30 million to the honorees. For more information about the awardees visit www.heinzawards.net/2020.
In addition to Ms. Baldwin, the 25th Heinz Awards honored the following individuals, who will receive their awards:
•Arts and Humanities: Gabriela Lena Frank, D.M.A., pianist and composer, who is breaking cultural, gender and disability barriers in classical music.
•Environment: Linda E. Behnken, commercial fisherman and Executive Director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, whose work promotes sustainable fishing practices and safeguards Alaska’s rural fishing communities.
•Public Policy: Katy B. Kozhimannil, Ph.D., M.P.A., professor and researcher, who is driving policy change through research that examines health care inequities and maternal mortality in rural, low-income communities and among women of color.
•Technology, the Economy and Employment: Alfa M. Demmellash and Alexander D. Forrester, founders of Rising Tide Capital, who are strengthening economic resilience through entrepreneurship, and removing the barriers to opportunity that have long impeded entrepreneurs from low-income communities.
•Heinz Awards 25th Anniversary Special Recognition: David H. Autor, Ph.D., a leading voice in economics, whose research has transformed our understanding of the impacts of globalization and technological change on the American worker.