Issue 15 | Winter 2023
From an emerging program in Boston, to milestones reached in Hartford, to the story of one remarkable young woman in Chelsea, in this issue of Roca Ink, you’ll get an inside look into how we are continuing to grow, learn, innovate, and share what we’ve learned.
Speaking of sharing, one of the most common questions we receive is, “When will Roca come to my community?”
The truth is that we can only grow our direct services so fast. When it’s easier to get a gun than a job, violence among young people will tragically extend farther than our own youth workers can reach.
Thankfully, the secret to Roca’s success isn’t magic, it’s brain science. Teaching one young person at a time—and the front line workers who make such a big impact in their lives—to think differently and do differently.
So our best avenue for bringing Roca’s success to more communities where it is urgently needed is to share the theories and techniques at the heart of our successful approach.
In 2023 we directly served nearly 1,800 young people, but in that same year the Roca Impact Institute coached more than 2,500 community violence interrupters, case workers, and police officers in 21 cities across the country. Those workers will touch tens of thousands of young lives.
We are so grateful to the community members who have joined with us, locally and across the country. Your support proves that every young life has value, no matter what they’ve done in their past. We could never have come so far without you.
If you haven’t already done so, please consider making a gift this holiday season so we can keep growing, keep innovating, and keep changing even more lives.
In Peace and Solidarity,
Founder and CEO
In Case You Missed It
2023 Annual Report
This fall we released our 2023 Annual Report, which recognizes the generosity of our donors and demonstrates the impact of our work—young lives saved and changed forever.
- Nearly all young people improved their behavioral health.
- More than three out of four got better at regulating their emotions, a key lever to reducing violence.
- Nearly all police said that learning Rewire CBT made them feel more effective in their work with young people.
And much more…
Ideas We Should Steal
Molly Talks Brain Science
The Philadelphia Citizen scoured the country for the ideas, changemakers, and innovators who are transforming cities, and brought them together to share their successes at last month’s Ideas We Should Steal Festival.
Roca CEO & Founder, Molly Baldwin, joined this group to explain how Roca uses brain science to disrupt violence before it happens. The key is teaching young people to take an 8–12 second pause between what they think and feel, and what they do in response. Watch Molly’s talk below.
On the Rise
The Roca Impact Institute
At just three years old, the Roca Impact Institute is rapidly becoming a national leader in community violence intervention. In 2023, Roca’s intensive coaching arm trained 29 organizations across 9 states and DC, and presented at more than fifteen national conferences and panels on gun violence.
At last month’s Bloomberg American Health Summit, our own JT Timpson spoke alongside researchers from Everytown for Gun Safety, an organization advocating for gun violence prevention on the national stage. Together they discussed the ripple effects of trauma, solutions that meet the short- and long-term needs of survivors of gun violence, and the lifesaving work that Roca is doing to disrupt cycles of trauma and violence.
In Beyond Measure: Gun Violence and Trauma, a first-of-its-kind report on the impact of gun violence released earlier this year, Everytown for Gun Safety endorsed the Roca Impact Institute as an effective training for violence intervention workers:
“More must be done to disrupt cycles of trauma and violence. Elevate the critical work the Roca Impact Institute is doing to train CVI practitioners to use brain science [on] young people at the center of violence to understand why they do what they do and how they can change their behaviors over time.”
Serving Younger Adolescents
Early-Stage Program at Roca Boston
In Mattapan, one of Boston’s most challenged neighborhoods, Police Captain Haseeb Hosein noticed a worrying trend: 15–17-year-old boys who were increasingly involved with guns and gangs, and who were rapidly becoming the main drivers of urban violence.
With violence skewing younger and younger, the system was failing the boys at the center of it. They were falling through the cracks in school, their family lives were often troubled, and traditional violence diversion programs—geared toward adults—left them out in the cold. Many ended up arrested, injured, or worse.
Captain Hosein had seen Roca’s success reaching Boston’s highest-risk young adults, so he asked us to step in and fill the gap for younger adolescents. But there was one problem: our intervention model is designed for an older age group, at a different stage in their brain development. With help and encouragement from the Boston Police Department, in 2019 Roca Boston launched a pilot program designed specifically for adolescents as young as 14.
This modified program still centers Roca’s signature Rewire CBT skills, which help young people improve their decision making and reduce recidivism. But for this younger group, we emphasize re-engaging in school, connecting with family services, and helping them understand and navigate the consequences of their past actions.
Now in the early implementation stage, this program, is serving 100 young adolescents per year at Roca Boston with encouraging results. In 2023, 94% of younger adolescents improved their behavioral health after 18 months, and 88% weren’t re-arrested after two years.
Along the way, we have developed incredible partnerships with the Boston Police, the District Attorney’s Office, Boston Public schools, the MA Department of Youth Services, and many others. We are deeply grateful to everyone who believed in the potential of these boys to change their lives, and who came together to make this initiative a reality.
Roca Hartford’s First Two Years
Since bringing our Young Mothers Program to Connecticut two years ago, we’ve identified and forged relationships with 100 of Hartford’s highest-risk young women. We found them traumatized and stuck, so deep in violence and even trafficking that they couldn’t find a way out on their own. Now, many of these young women have made it halfway through our intensive 4-year program, and we’re pleased to share their progress.
In the Roca Hartford 2-Year Report, we share our early data and discuss what we’ve learned about young women’s involvement in community violence—what drives it, what challenges it presents, and what we can do to help.
Roca Chelsea Renovation
Transforming Roca’s Flagship Site
For nearly 3 decades, Roca Chelsea has been the launching pad for all our growth—our dreams and plans, our successes and disappointments, have all been born here in Chelsea, MA. This flagship location is a hub of violence intervention and economic advancement for the young people of Greater Boston, and it’s the administrative center for all Roca sites across MA, CT, and MD.
But our oldest site has experienced all the wear and tear of a beloved home for a big, energetic family. It needs a major transformation to meet the demands of our expanding and evolving programs in Greater Boston, the growth of our national coaching institute, and changes in workplace culture since COVID.
Renovations will soon be underway, and we are moving at a swift pace—we expect to complete the project by the end of 2024. In the meantime, our programs are housed in three temporary locations around Chelsea, though we remain together in spirit.
When we welcome young people back to the new Roca Chelsea next year, they will look around and see a modern space in good repair, and know how much they are valued.
Trauma first hit Anyi before she was old enough to walk, and just kept coming. When we met her, she was stuck in a state of fight or flight, struggling to cope with her anger and care for her daughters.
After a lifetime of abuse and abandonment, she finally found people she could rely on at Roca and was just starting to get her life back under control. But when she relapsed into old habits, reality slammed down hard.
Anyi was torn away from her daughters and left isolated, but we showed her we would never give up on her. In her darkest moments, she turned to the skills she’d learned at Roca to stay in control and come out the other side stronger than ever.
Learn a Rewire CBT Skill
Label Your Feelings
Trauma keeps young people stuck in survival mode, so they keep repeating the same harmful behaviors. That’s why we use Rewire CBT, a relatable and simple version of cognitive-behavioral theory that helps young people heal from trauma by rewiring their brains.
The 7 Rewire CBT skills help young people understand the relationship between what they think and say in their heads, what they feel in their bodies, and what they do in response. They learn to identify negative patterns, pause, and make a choice before they act.
Rewire CBT Skill #2: Label Your Feelings
Chronic trauma and stress can leave young people numb, disconnected from their feelings, and unable to recognize when they’re experiencing strong emotions. But if they don’t understand their emotions, they can’t tell when they’re reacting emotionally instead of logically.
Labeling your feelings means noticing what’s going on in your body when you’re triggered by events, thoughts, or memories, and understanding what those feelings mean.
If a young person notices their face getting hot and their pulse rising, and realizes they’re pissed off before they blow up, they have a chance to pause, breathe, and make a different choice.
“[CBT is] all about using your head, the strongest part of your body. Especially as a young black man against what we’re against in these conditions, you got to use your head.”
—Elijah, Roca Baltimore
Roca is looking for excellent candidates who are committed to helping young people at the center of urban violence transform their lives. We are hiring for several positions in Baltimore MD, Hartford CT, and across Massachusetts, including:
- Youth Workers to engage the highest-risk young people in transformational relationships to drive behavior change.
- Crew Supervisors to help young people in our Transitional Employment Program learn and practice the skills necessary to be successful at work and in life.
- Salesforce Admin and Marketing Specialist to provide database management and fundraising support.
- Employment Specialist to help young people find long-term job placements with a living wage and beyond.
And many more! Visit our jobs page for all openings.
If you’re excited by Roca’s mission and think one of these jobs would fit you well, we invite you to apply or forward the job listings to a friend.