Issue 4  |  Spring 2017

Dear Roca friends,

“How do the changes in immigration policies impact the young people at Roca?” we are asked again and again these days. And indeed, we work in communities with many unaccompanied minors, young men and young mothers who have witnessed and experienced unimaginable violence and trauma in their home countries and on their journey here.

Changing policies impact our young people immediately. When they feel that they belong, they are safe, and they are welcome – they can plan their future, stay out of harm’s way, and go to work. When they are being targeted, marginalized, and blamed for any problem – they hide and they are terrified. And that’s not only hard on them, that’s also less safe for everyone.

But this is why we are here.

We believe young people can succeed and change, even when it seems impossible. This work is never easy – in fact, on a good day, it’s very hard – but the privilege of working with young people is worth it. Just recently, AP featured Roca’s work, in a story that was published in over 80 media outlets in the country and beyond. This story too is a good example for the challenge and the privilege of doing this work.

With Roca’s Annual Breakfast less than a month away, we’re sharing with you in this Issue some of the exciting things we’ve worked on in the past few months. We were honored to give a TEDx talk in DC, read poetry, advocate with young people at the Massachusetts State House, work on changes in the law that would raise the age of the juvenile system to 21, and celebrate an award won by one of our most inspiring youth workers, Roca Boston Assistant Director Tha Thai!

Thank you and see you at Roca’s Annual Breakfast on May 8th!

Molly Baldwin

Founder and CEO

Roca tedx talk


Watch Molly Baldwin telling the story of Roca, how relentless we are, and what it takes to help young men stay out of jail!

Linette, a Roca young mother, shares her poetry


In January, Linette Nieves, a Roca young mother, with Molly Baldwin, joined Mass Poetry and other leaders and organizations in the Boston community for “An Evening of Inspired Leaders” to share works from their favorite poets. Molly recited “The Rhythm of Time” by Bobby Sands, and Linette, a writer herself, read an original poem “Justice the Broken System.”

This was a great opportunity for leaders from around the community to talk, enjoy the writers’ work, and to reflect on its connection to their own lives. Roca is blessed to be connected with many organizations in the greater Boston area and this event provided the opportunity to get to know them better.

Read Linette’s original poem below and all other poems recited on Mass Poetry’s website. You can also watch the video from the event!

Justice the Broken System

I call the system broken
I only have spoken
Not just on facts
But please sit don’t overreact
After all don’t I have rights
So why fight me
Isn’t it call freedom of speech!
We live a life full of lies
But we take it in as if we’re eating pie
Will this ever end
All this violence
All these young folks
Reaching their hand to the wrong alliance
Mother losing their kids to system
Mother losing their kids to the street
But please tell me our system is not broken
Running away from the past
Coming to a place known for its freedom
But I have no right
But I work as hard as people who got rights
I call the system broken
But please sit don’t overreact
I’m just trying to get an education
But these fees are tragedy
Just like this sad melody
Single mom doing it on their own
Trying not to frown
But then again don’t overreact
The system not broken right?

-Linette Nieves

Young People at the State House: Why Roca


“Roca helped me turn my life around,” Tyvone Williams from Springfield shared at the Massachusetts State House last month in front of a large audience. He joined other Roca participants, staff, police officers, mayors and leaders from other programs, reminding our legislators that young people matter.

The Safe and Successful Youth Initiative (SSYI) is one of the greatest examples of a true partnership between police departments and community-based organizations. Every year, as state representatives and senators are debating about the budget, young people and law enforcement gather at the State House to make sure our legislators hear about it and continue to fund the program.

We were honored this year to advocate together with Rep. Aaron Vega (D-Holyoke), Rep. Adrian Madaro (D-Boston), Rep. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn), Sen. Thomas McGee (D-Lynn), Revere Mayor Brian Arrigo, Boston Police Superintendent-In-Chief William Gross, and many other supporters at this event. At the end of the day, though, it was Tyvone who really reminded us why it all matters.

Tyvonne gave a shout out to his youth worker, Hamzah, who keeps pushing and supporting him every day. They drove all the way from Springfield to make sure that people at the State House know that they too should invest in young people, and that change is possible. See more photos here.

Raising the Age to 21


In an ideal world, after a young person commits a crime and the justice system responds, they will never do it again. In the real world, in our current justice system, young adults reoffend more than any other group. What are we doing wrong?

The criminal justice system misses too many opportunities with young people. It doesn’t offer enough rehabilitation, doesn’t prepare them to go back to school and jobs, leaves them with criminal records, and sends them to adult jails hoping they will somehow learn to do better next time. The result? 76 percent of those released from Houses of Corrections in Massachusetts find themselves in court again within three years of release. What our system does now just doesn’t work – and that’s not safe for anyone.

But several bills that are now considered my Massachusetts legislators, proposing to gradually raise the age of the juvenile court and Department of Youth Services to 21, can make a difference.

The juvenile justice system is much more suitable to holding 18, 19, and 20 year-olds accountable. It is focused on development and education, connected to more services, keeps the process confidential, and gives young people a better chance to stay out of crime and move on with their lives. We have one of the best juvenile systems in the country – we should use it.

Brain science and developmental psychology know that 18-to-20-year-olds are still not fully-mature adults, but you don’t need a Ph.D. to know that. If we want a justice system that achieves effective results, we should start doing things differently.

Massachusetts should raise the age to 21. It is time to be national leaders, and make sure young people’s cases are handled by a system that can help them succeed. Adult courts and adult prisons just fail young people, and make all of us less safe. A gradual, responsible change of the law, will create better future for young people and better outcomes for our justice system.

Roca Boston’s Assistant Director Tha Thai Receives the Light of Dawnn Award


In February, Highland Street Foundation, along with community members and the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network awarded Tha Thai, Roca Boston’s Assistant Director, with the Light of Dawnn Award. The award is presented annually to three nonprofit professionals working in Massachusetts who demonstrate marked compassion and unwavering commitment to serving those in need. Tha, who started at Roca as a youth worker, earned the award for his exceptional ability to build trust and promote behavior change with Roca’s high risk young men.

With Tha’s years of experience as a youth worker, he has helped train other youth workers at the organization on better ways to connect with the highest risk young people. Tha also leads Roca’s effort to build relationships within the Boston community, specifically with police, to learn more about how to best approach and connect with young people in the city.

“Tha is a unique character, with a humble and respectful approach—he has a special way of interacting with people that really earns him respect,” said Roca’s Founder and CEO Molly Baldwin. “His commitment to young people, to Roca and to building these connections to better the Boston community makes him so deserving of this award.”

The Light of Dawnn Award was created to honor the life of Dawnn Ashley Jaffier, who was tragically killed at 26-years-old from gun violence. She was a budding professional in Boston’s nonprofit community, and these awards honor her life and dedication to giving back.

Roca Annual Breakfast


Roca’s Annual Breakfast is rapidly approaching! Each year, the Breakfast is an opportunity to raise funds for Roca and bring together partners, supporters, and friends to address issues facing the young people Roca serves.

This year, we are excited to welcome Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey; Founder and President of JustLeadershipUSA, Glenn E. Martin; and Chelsea Chief of Police & President of the Massachusetts City Chiefs, Bryan Kyes as our speakers. Their wealth of knowledge and experience around topics of incarceration, policing, and immigration will lend themselves to a great discussion on the greatest civil rights issues of our time.

There’s still time to join us! To purchase tickets please register through our Annual Breakfast page. For questions, reach out to Ryan Keefe at

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

  • Charles Hayden Foundation
    City of Springfield
    Frederick C. Lutze and Christian Rausch Family Foundation
    Ellen Abbott Gilman Trust
    Gisela B. Hogan Foundation
    John Hancock Financial
    Marjorie Bride and Terry McEnany
    Metropolitan Mayor’s Community Safety Initiative
    New World Foundation
    Sarah W. Rollins Charitable Trust
    TJX Foundation
    W.K. Kellogg Foundation
    Wellesley College

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