News from ROCA:Young Men Head to the Farm

News from ROCA:Young Men Head to the Farm

If you want to change how you feel and think, try do something new and different – this is one of the core lessons from Roca’s cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) program. For the high-risk young men and women in Roca’s Chelsea program, an opportunity to do that came in the form of a hooved animal, one that Chelsea rarely sees.

Through a connection with the local high school, Roca was connected with the Ironstone therapeutic horse farm in Andover, Massachusetts. The farm was eager to work with Roca, providing an opportunity for participants to come out and learn how to care for, and eventually ride, the horses at the farm.

The first session of this project took place over four sessions inviting 12 young men from Roca Chelsea to learn the basics of horse care and training. This was a part of the young men’s usual Wednesday class schedule, giving them a change of scenery from the usual classroom.

The first week the men learned the basics of horse care, and the second and third weeks went into more detail about training, grooming, and care for these animals. The final session allowed them to finally ride the horses.

“Because this is a therapeutic horse farm, the staff there works with people who have disabilities or have dealt with traumatic life events, so they understand the population we work with more and wanted to create an experience where you can related to the horses,” explained April Spataro, a Roca program manager.

“We also try to incorporate CBT into this experience, talking about how they felt working with the horses—one of the big surprises is that these young men thought caring for horses was easy, but it’s not.”

Even though this counted as class time, it didn’t feel like it. Over the four sessions, all 12 participants were eager to learn and try out their new skills. Spataro said based on the success of this first group, she hopes to make this a regular course for participants to try.

Roca, Inc. is an organization based in Chelsea dedicated to helping the highest risk young men and women break the cycle of poverty and incarceration through relationships, relentless outreach, and programming. In Roca’s monthly column, we highlight some of the highlights happening from their headquarters.

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Roca’s Founder Molly Baldwin to Speak at ‘Disrupting the Poverty Cycle Conference 2014′

Roca’s Founder Molly Baldwin to Speak at ‘Disrupting the Poverty Cycle Conference 2014′

On Thursday, April 10, Molly Baldwin of Chelsea-based non-profit Roca will be speaking at the 2014 Disrupting the Poverty Cycle Conference hosted at UMass Boston.

Baldwin’s work as Founder and CEO of Roca – an organization dedicated to moving high-risk young people out of violence and poverty – has gained significant notoriety of late due to Roca’s cutting edge partnership with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts aimed at reducing incarceration and increasing employment among justice system involved young men around the state.

Roca also serves roughly 200 high-risk young mothers per year, helping them change destructive behaviors, and gain economic and social stability. Baldwin will focus her comments at the conference largely on Roca’s successful work with these young women.

According to the conference organizers, the mission of this year’s program is “to provide the opportunity for pioneering stakeholders across diverse sectors to share practical emerging approaches to engage low-income families in a journey to economic self-sufficiency. Experts in program delivery, applied research, public policy, philanthropy, and program participants are invited to this gathering with the purpose of generating cross-sector dialogue among those with a vested interest in seeing low-income families succeed.”

Baldwin will be participating in the event along with many prominent leaders, including keynote speaker Dr. Harry Holzer of Georgetown University, and panelists from respected organizations such as MDRC, Pew Charitable Trusts, CFED, and Jobs for the Future.

For Baldwin, who has worked for almost 30 years on addressing the issue of poverty among teenage and young adult mothers, the conference is an exciting opportunity.

“To be counted among such an esteemed, dedicated group of leaders is a real privilege – but more importantly the conference is creating a much-needed forum to discuss deeply critical issues that have yet to be resolved in this society,” said Baldwin.

More specifically, Baldwin adds, “These days, it’s getting harder and harder for working class and low-income single mothers to make ends meet – particularly with the group of high-risk young mothers that Roca serves. We need to speak openly and honestly about the issues affecting these young women, their children, and explore new approaches for helping them get out of the poverty cycle.”

The one-day conference was created to do just that.

Conference organizers are hoping to accomplish three overarching goals, as stated on the conference website:

•To hold a vital, engaging forum on U.S. poverty and economic mobility rooted in contemporary economic conditions and policy debates;

•To foster cross-pollination between academics, program leaders, public officials, and low-income individuals;

•To leave every attendee of the conference with at least two new ideas that can reshape/improve their work.

To register for the conference, visit Crittenton Women’s Union website at The Conference will be held on Thursday, April 10, 2014 between 8 a.m.-5:30 p.m. at the UMASS Boston Campus Center, 100 Morrissey Blvd, Boston.


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S&P Raises City’s Credit Grade to AA-

S&P Raises City’s Credit Grade to AA-

Local officials were ecstatic with the news that Standard & Poor’s had increased Chelsea’s credit rating to AA- last week – one of the highest tier municipal credit ratings.

“We’re thrilled,” exclaimed City Manager Jay Ash, who led the effort to increase the City’s rating from A+. “There are many positive signals as to the direction our City is heading, but none may be as universally understood and admired as a credit rating increase.”

Said Council President Dan Cortell, “To get bumped-up into the AA category, especially in these tough times for government finance when many are just hopeful to hold on to what they’re already rated, means we’re succeeding in finance, management and overall community well-being.”

Councillor Brian Hatleberg said the City has succeeded in responsible spending by finding new ways to pay for service.

“We’ve been working those areas (stated by Cortell) and others, have been thoughtful about every penny we spend and innovated in finding new ways to pay for bettering services,” he said. “Our economic development activities are the best in the state, and the efforts of both elected and appointed government have been beyond reproach.  I’m therefore not surprised that our rating has been increased.  Having said that, I’m sure happy that others, like S&P, are seeing us for the accomplished City government we have become.”

S&P rates entities like businesses, medical institutions and all levels of government prior to those entities issuing bonds to finance capital improvements. Credit rating agencies pick apart a municipality’s balance sheets, financial plans and managerial capabilities in order to advise investors buying the bonds about the credit-worthiness of the municipality.

Chelsea is currently seeking to raise $2.3 million to finance water and sewer repairs and other capital improvements. In assessing the City’s ability to repay any debt incurred, S&P’s rating suggests Chelsea’s future outlook is stable, and that the City has a strong capacity to meet all financial commitments.

‘I’d say that is an accurate statement,” said City Councillor Leo Robinson, who serves as the Council’s chairman of finance.  “Over the last 20 years, we’ve gone from Receivership to being one of the area’s strongest and most successful municipalities. It’s taken a lot of hard work, continued focus and, frankly, a bit of luck, but even on the luck side of things we’ve put ourselves in a position to capitalize on opportunities when they arise.

“It’s a good feeling every time and quite often I hear how others now regard our community,” he continued.

Chelsea’s new rating seemingly puts it on par with communities like Beverly, Melrose and Somerville and varying levels above Everett, Malden, Medford, Revere and Winthrop, some of whom are rated by S&P and others who have opinions on a different scale from Moody’s Investor Services. Boston has an AA+ rating and Cambridge exceeds all with an AAA rating. The City’s elevated rating means that borrowing costs will be lower in the future.

“We don’t borrow a heck of a lot, but, when we do, it’s always nice to pay less for the money we raise,” noted Ash, who reported that $40,000 will be saved on the repayment of the debt being issued as a result of the new rating.

Ash says he hopes for further increases down the road.

“We’ve come a long way, but there are still three ratings higher we can reach.  In order to improve, we need to continue to strengthen our bottom line, lengthen our track record of success and address the shortcomings that still hold us back, albeit at this new higher level which the City has never reached,” said Ash.

S&P cites the City’s weaknesses as still high poverty among many residents, and a high level of outstanding obligations for pension and health insurance costs for municipal retirees, both current and future.

“We continue to seek new ways to improve the financial outlook of our residents, even if many of the issues of poverty are beyond our full control to impact,” said Ash. “On our outstanding obligations, though, that’s squarely on our shoulders and a reason why we need to keep other areas of spending down. Although almost every other community is in our boat, owing hundreds of millions of dollars for pension and retiree health costs going forward, we take no comfort in that and are continuing efforts to reduce those future liabilities.”

Despite the negatives, S&P hailed the City’s “location and participation within the deep and diverse Boston metropolitan area; experienced financial management; stable and predictable revenue profile, and low overall debt burden” as credit strengths.

“Again, not everything’s perfect and heaven knows we have a lot more to do before we can declare ultimate success,” said Ash. “But, today, we can declare we’re being successful, and each time we break ground on a new hotel, drop our crime rate, open a new park, send a CHS graduate off to an Ivy League school, work collaboratively instead of at odds, and produce a balanced budget, so much more good can then come next.

“I’m pleased where we are and eager to accomplish even more,” he continued. “Our future is rightly full of hope because we have and will continue to do everything possible to continue to turn that hope into achievement. This bond rating increase validates what we’ve been doing and gives us every reason to stay on the same path towards our next reason to celebrate.”


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