Issue 3  |  Winter 2017

Happy New Year!

As 2017 takes its first steps, we at Roca focus on our young people: how we can help them change their lives, even when it’s difficult, even when it’s dark and cold outside.

We are not deterred by destructive criminal justice policies or political uncertainty – we know that, much like young people, policies can change and improve. Our young people need us to work harder for them and be even more hopeful than before.

This holiday season provided many reasons for hope. As we share with you in this issue of Roca Ink., thanks to your generosity, Roca’s young people received holiday gifts and, more importantly, were able to give gifts to their children. This holiday season, more people tried our new online fundraising platform (the winter is an excellent time to run a 5K for young people), and a Roca volunteer organized a beautiful fundraiser art show at a lovely coffee shop. That’s awesome.

But the holiday season also reminded us why we need to get back to work – and fast. Many of our young people, especially in this time of the year, need our services. A new report tells us how harmful and uneven the impact of incarceration is on specific neighborhoods in Boston, all the more reason to find more effective solutions. And while there’s a real concern that criminal justice reform in Massachusetts is further out of reach than some thought, focusing on young adults (ages 18 to 24) in the justice system emerges as one of the most promising steps forward.

So there’s a lot of work ahead! For a taste of what the work looks like day-to-day you’ll hear from Anisha, who tells us about Roca’s new Cognitive Behavioral Theory (CBT) curriculum and its next steps.

And lastly, I am so honored to share that, next month, I will be speaking at TEDx PennsylvaniaAvennue in Washington, D.C, an event that will focus on the not-so-small subject: “Within 10 Years.” I look forward to being inspired by all the fellow speakers at this exciting event.

Stay warm and stay in touch!

Molly Baldwin

Founder and CEO, Roca

The Holiday Season at Roca


The holidays can be a time of great joy and generosity for many. This year, the holidays at Roca were just that. With many different initiatives, Roca was determined to make the holidays bright for everyone who knows us.

Each year, Roca’s development team runs a targeted holiday fundraising campaign, with the goal to fundraise for holiday gifts for all Roca Young People and their children. With the growing number of participants, this number was over 1,000. With help from our Board of Directors, development staff, corporate sponsors and many other partners, Roca was able to provide over $10,000 in food and gifts to Roca participants. Beyond that, with generous donations from Melrose Daycare, Toys for Tots and a team at AON Risk Management, we were able to provide gifts for 500 children of Roca participants.

Roca participants and staff stepped up to give as well. Lead by Chef John and many young mothers’ staff, dozens of young mothers worked tirelessly, baking 1,200 cookies for Roca friends and partners. This was an ideal way for young mothers to make some extra money around the holidays, test whether baking cookies can be a viable social enterprise at Roca and spread the holiday spirit to those we know and love.

It has been a great year for Roca and we were lucky to celebrate that with our participants, their children, our staff and our partners. Each site hosted its own holiday party, bringing everyone together to exchange gifts and enjoy the season together.

See more pictures here.

Art for Roca at the Pavement Coffeehouse


On a cold night in the beginning of December, a group of Boston artists, Roca staff and young people and members of the Boston community came together at Pavement Coffeehouse to sell art and fundraise for Roca. The artists agreed to donate half of the proceeds to an organization of the curator’s choice. Organizers Adam Bieda, a Boston University student, and Allison MacDonald, Pavement’s art director, chose Roca.

Adam first found out about Roca when he led a group of volunteers on a service project at Roca Chelsea. He left this experience inspired and was determine to do further work with Roca. “Roca’s mission closely aligns with my values,” Adam said. “Everyone I spoke to, both staff and young people were so inspiring and really opened my eyes to what can happen when people work for change. I want to be a part of that.”

Roca was thrilled to host the Boston University student volunteers and even more thrilled that that experience turned into an art fundraiser event. “You just never know what doors people will open for you,” says April Spataro, a Roca program manager who worked closely with Adam on this project. “It means so much that the work that we do with young people is inspiring others. I’m happy he saw what we do and wanted to give back, and so quickly!”

The event brought in over $1000 for Roca that was put toward holiday gifts for young people and their children. Adam and Allison were very happy with the turnout and are looking forward to doing an event like this again in the near future. We at Roca are looking forward to supporting them in this next event and helping anyone who wants to arrange more events!

From Our Youth Workers: Outreach in the Winter


“We’re like the postal service – we do outreach in any weather,” says Dennis Platt, a Roca Youth Worker. “You can’t let the change of seasons affect your drive to help young people.” And indeed, even when it’s cold, Roca’s Relentless Outreach continues. We know that showing up is the one thing that helps build trust with young people and push them forward.

But that’s easier said than done. A couple of weeks ago, temperatures in the Boston area dropped to five (-10 with windchill!), and knocking on doors didn’t seem like a great way to open the morning. “When it’s cold, they need us even more,” says Maria Jose Albarbari, a Youth Worker at Roca’s Young Mothers program. “Especially with the babies, this is critical – everything takes longer and is harder to do.”

In this part of the country, cold winter is the reality, though. “In our work crews, we have to help them learn that the snow can’t be an excuse for not showing up,” Maria Jose explains. “We can give them a ride, and we will do it and will be flexible when they are early in their change process, but the goal is to help them understand that in a real job they will need to do it without us.”

CBT at Roca: What’s Next?


Think differently to act differently – Cognitive Behavioral Theory (CBT) teaches us how emotions, thoughts and actions are interconnected, and how we can change our behaviors based on how we feel and think. Over the past couple of years, Roca has taken a deep dive into CBT in order to make it useful, practical and accessible to our young people.

Together with Massachusetts General Hospital Community Psychiatry PRIDE clinic and with support of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Roca has developed a simple curriculum, which includes ten basic emotional literacy, emotion regulation, and interpersonal skills. “We’ve trained all frontline staff in the program, and ran three pilot rounds including focus groups and evaluation,” explains Anisha Chablani-Medley, Roca’s Chief Program Officer. “We needed something practical that young people can put into practice right away – not nice in theory, or overly academic or so clinical that it shuts them down instantly – just clear, simple language and usable skills that when practiced over and over, become second nature.”

CBT is now an inseparable part of Roca’s programming, and Roca is studying the appropriate impact and dosage of the curriculum, in preparation to testing the program in other settings. “First, we need to translate it to Spanish and see how to adapt it to our young mothers’ needs,” says Anisha. “But if we really we want to create a great impact, we need to find other places to try this CBT curriculum, improve the technology around it, and conduct rigorous evaluation.” All of these next steps, she promises, are underway.

Boston’s Geography of Incarceration – A Reality That Has to Change


A new report tells us what we’ve already known, in a new and disturbing way. In some Boston neighborhoods, every other building contains a resident that has been incarcerated. Millions of dollars are poured on locking up young men of color from a handful of blocks. And all evidence are that these specific neighborhoods have reached the “tipping point” where imprisoning residents hinders public safety instead of enhancing it.

The report, issued by MassINC, the Boston Foundation, and the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, looked at Suffolk County’s data in a brand new way: where did the people at the House of Corrections reside before being locked up? How many of them come from specific neighborhoods, such as Franklin Field and Egleston Square, and what does it mean for these neighborhoods? And, not less important, how much does the whole thing cost?

The findings are devastating and should serve as an immediate call for action. A key finding is that Roxbury residents are incarcerated at twice the rate of Boston residents as a whole, making Roxbury the neighborhood with the highest incarceration rate. Further, more was spent on incarcerating Codman Square residents in 2013 ($7.5 million) than the total budget for gang prevention grants statewide ($6.5 million). These findings reflect harmful policies and poor allocation of public dollars.

Change is necessary and possible. In a powerful op-ed co-authored by Roca board member and former secretary of public safety Kevin Burke together with Wayne Budd and Max Stern, they conclude: “When Beacon Hill leaders issue a package of legislative reforms […], let’s hope they take a comprehensive approach that strikes the right balance. As the neighborhood maps contained in this new report plainly show, anything less will not do.”

Criminal Justice Reform: Young Adults Are the Key


No doubt, this is the time for Beacon Hill to take up criminal justice reform. With the Senate President making the issue a priority, a study project led by the Council of State Governments (CSG) nearing its end, and the greater-than-ever need for change, many wonder what is the next step. Effective steps will have to look closely at those who offend and re-offend at the highest rates – young adults.

Massachusetts’ criminal justice outcomes for young people ages 18 to 24 are poor. Specifically, jail turns out to be one of the least effective and most costly responses to their offenses. Three-quarters of the 18-to-24-year-olds released from Houses of Corrections are re-arraigned within three years, and more than half of them are re-incarcerated.

There is a better path. Developmentally-appropriate response would move the younger people in this group, the 18-to-21-year-olds, to the juvenile justice system. The juvenile courts can hold these young people accountable in a more individualized and rehabilitative system, which is better suited to prevent future justice system engagement. The older ones, the 21-to-24-year-olds, should remain in the adult justice system but receive greater confidentiality protections and specialized sentencing provisions to help them get on the path to employment and self-sufficiency more quickly.

With a new legislative session starting this month, Roca remains committed to working with policymakers to make these changes in the Massachusetts justice system a reality. Our young people and our communities deserve it. It is time.

Roca extends a special thank you to some generous donors for giving in this quarter!*

  • Adelard A. Roy and Valeda Lea Roy Foundation
    Annie E. Casey Foundation
    Bank of America Charitable Foundation
    Barr Foundation
    Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts
    Devonshire Foundation
    East Boston Savings Bank Charitable Foundation
    Liberty Mutual Foundation
    Marjorie Bride and Terry McEnany
    Santander Bank
    Speedway Children’s Charities
    The Janey Fund
    The MENTOR Network Charitable Foundation

*All this in addition to the generous foundation, individual, and corporate support over the last quarter.