Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh announced this month a $17 million public-private partnership with Roca, anchor business institutions and philanthropic organizations to help Baltimore’s highest risk young people disrupt cycles of poverty and incarceration.
Roca is a Massachusetts-based group that has earned national recognition for providing some of the most innovative and effective interventions for young adults most at risk for committing or becoming a victim of violence.
The program currently operates in four sites in Massachusetts (Boston, Chelsea, Lynn, Springfield) and will replicate its model in Baltimore City.
“This is a very special announcement for me because we believe the approach to violence reduction is holistic, and we want to be inclusive in our approach to reducing the violence that exists in our city,” said Mayor Pugh. “Roca is not just a program that focuses in on individuals between the ages of 17-24, it is an intense focus that helps young people move beyond violence and into the types of job training, and personal development that leads them to become more productive members of our community.”
The significant new partnership will join other efforts to proactively engage high-risk youth in the City of Baltimore, and to reduce recidivism for those who have already encountered the criminal justice system. It will be funded by a combination of private and public dollars raised by Roca and the City of Baltimore, with a request for State funding still pending.
“We are humbled by the incredible efforts in the city to bring about change,” said Roca founder and CEO, Molly Baldwin. “At Roca, we are painfully aware that we can neither arrest nor program our way out of the violence devastating this city and that we need a different approach. We are so grateful for the invitation to help and we know we have a lot to learn as we initiate our work in Baltimore.”
Currently, Roca serves over 1,000 high-risk young people in 21 communities in Massachusetts and has been preparing to work in Baltimore for the past five years. Roca plans to serve 75 young people in Baltimore during its first year and gradually increase its services to 300 young people annually over the next three years.
Roca will begin operations in Baltimore during Summer 2018. An intensive planning process already is underway.
Tragic events seem to be cascading upon us from throughout the world almost on a daily basis.
Whereas for the past 15 years (since 9/11), a terrorist-inspired event might happen sporadically, now when we go on-line each morning to look at the latest news, we find ourselves reading about some terrible act committed either by ISIS-inspired terrorists, politically-motivated individuals (Dallas and Baton Rouge), racist or poorly-trained police officers, or simply drunken losers (Nice, France).
Politicians, commentators, and all of us search for a common thread in such acts because to be able to rationalize such horrible deeds would allow us to make sense of them and come up with a plan to deal with them.
For example, when we go to war, that is a fairly easy thing to conceptualize. We can identify our enemies and set ourselves on a mission to destroy them.
But the tragedies that have occurred both abroad and at home are not so easily solvable. We can do everything from carpet-bombing the desert in the vain hope of getting rid of ISIS’s Middle East leaders, to imposing sensible gun laws, and to training our police to better-handle stressful situations, but deep down, we know there is no magic-bullet solution to the violence that is taking so many innocent human lives.
At times such as these, common-sense solutions — not panic — are what is called for. Further, as uncertain as the world may seem, we cannot yield to the impulse to retreat into a shell. The French consulate in Boston went ahead with its annual Bastille Day celebration in the Back Bay despite the calls by some to put it off. Capitulating to those who seek to deprive us of our freedoms by voluntarily curtailing our freedoms essentially means that they have won — and we must never allow that to happen.
Inspiration and leadership are sorely lacking from most the world’s democratically-elected heads of state, and we are not expecting much from the conventions on either side of the political fence in these next few days.
So unfortunately we must look backwards to find the right words to serve as our guiding principle in times such as these, and Franklin D. Roosevelt said it best at the height of the Depression:
“The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.”
Hair Cuttery at 1086 Revere Beach Parkway in Chelsea will host a cut-a-thon on Sunday, March 6th from 6:00 – 9:00pm to benefit the Jordan Boys and Girls Club. All haircuts will be $10.00 with 100% of the proceeds going to the club.
The Jordan Boys and Girls Club helps young people, especially those in need, build strong characters and realize their full potential as responsible citizens and leaders. The cut-a-thon will benefit the Boys and Girls Club’s many programs which support the youth in the Chelsea community.
“We are thrilled to be working with the Jordan Boys and Girls Club to help raise funds for their clubhouse,” said Lydia Son, Hair Cuttery Salon Leader. “It’s so wonderful when we can come together as a community and support such a worthy organization.”
Hair Cuttery has an established history of charitable giving, supporting a range of local and national causes, including St. Baldrick’s Foundation, American Red Cross, The National Network to End Domestic Violence, American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Girls on the Run.
About Hair Cuttery:
Hair Cuttery is the largest family-owned and operated chain of hair salons in the country, with nearly 900 company-owned locations on the East Coast, New England and the Midwest. A full-service, value-priced salon, Hair Cuttery offers a full complement of cuts and styling, coloring, waxing and texturizing services with no appointment necessary, as well as a full line of professional hair care products. Hair Cuttery is committed to delivering a delightful client experience through WOW Service including a Smile Back Guarantee. Hair Cuttery is a division of Ratner Companies, based in Vienna, VA. www.haircuttery.com
As Chief Brian Kyes stood at the podium in Boston’s Federal Court last Friday after an historic roundup, four years in the making, of key MS-13 gang members in Chelsea, Eastie, Everett and Somerville, he thought of one innocent single mother who had simply looked out the window of a battered women’s shelter when she heard fighting.
For that short peak, she got a bullet in the head – premeditated and, as charges suggest, with extreme violence carried out by two MS-13 members from a clique in Somerville.
“My thoughts after this operation are with a young mother of three – Katerin Gomez – who was murdered on Oct. 18, 2014 by what we believe to be members of this gang,” he said. “This is someone that has nothing to do with gangs. Nothing at all. She heard noise outside, went to look out the window and that’s when she was hit in the head with a stray bullet…The greatest point today is this is not where it ends.”
In an unexpected and shocking roundup of El Salvadoran MS-13 gang members in Everett, Chelsea, East Boston, Somerville, Revere, and elsewhere, federal, state and local officials announced Friday morning that they believed they had put a significant dent in the alleged murderous and criminal gang known in Spanish as ‘La Mara Salvatrucha.’
Around 5 a.m. on Friday, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officials, Homeland Security, State Police and local police began arresting targeted members of the gang – that following an investigation that has been underway since 2012 and the recent indictment of 56 local members on RICO charges ranging from murder to drug trafficking.
More than 400 law enforcement officials made some 37 arrests on Friday, 14 of those listed as being from Chelsea. Some 15 of those indicted were already in custody on federal, state or immigration charges, including one man from Chelsea. Authorities also announced the arrest of the gang’s East Coast leader, Jose Martinez-Castro, of Richmond, VA.
Perhaps most important in Chelsea was an accountability for a rampage of violence that the gang has inflicted mostly on Chelsea soil, though many times the players and conflicts come from cliques in Everett, Somerville and Eastie.
Five murders were charged, including two in Chelsea and three in Eastie. Of those in Eastie, two of the victims were young teens from Chelsea – one a 15-year-old from Chelsea High School, Irvin De Paz. There were also 14 charges of attempted murder leveled against gang members, and a shocking 10 of those attempted murders occurred in Chelsea in 2014 and 2015. Drug Trafficking charges of five kilograms of cocaine were also leveled against the gang in Chelsea.
“Our goal is to stop the violence and the danger and fear they enact upon these communities,” said U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz at a press conference on Friday.
“Violence and its impact is real and seen in East Boston, Chelsea, Revere, Everett and Somerville,” said Hank Shaw, FBI special agent in charge. “Today’s operation made the kind of impact where approximately one-third of the MS-13 membership in Massachusetts has been or will be taken off the streets.”
Officials who investigated the murders, particularly that of De Paz and Eastie’s Wilson Martinez, said they were some of the most grisley scenes they had ever witness – noting that charges included murder with “extreme atrocity.”
“In my 30 years of law enforcement, a majority of which has been on the gang unit, I’ve never seen a more violent gang than this,” said State Police Lt. Frank Hughes. “The violence is unimaginable and the brutality they inflict on each other is unspeakable. Anyone who feels they will fill the void left by today’s operation – we’re on you.”
Shaw said the murders were often “machete attacks involving slow, painful deaths.”
VIOLENCE NOTED IN CHELSEA
As a result of the investigation, five very troubling murders were tied back to MS-13.
In Chelsea, the murder of Katerin Gomez in Oct. 2014 was tied to Somerville clique members Hector ‘Cuervo’ Ramires and Bryan ‘Chucky’ Galicia-Barillas. The indictment charges that the two men with extreme atrocity and cruelty murdered her as she looked out the window.
Javier Ortiz was murdered on Dec. 14, 2014 by Chelsea clique members Hector ‘Vida Loca’ Enamorado, Luis ‘Brujo’ Solis-Vasquez of the Everett clique, Noe Salvador ‘Crazy’ Perez-Vasquez of the second Everett clique and Jose ‘Smiley’ Miguel Hernandez, also of the second Everett clique in Chelsea. The murder came as a result of an altercation with Ortiz the night before. Following the murder, the indictment indicates, Enamorado and Solis-Vasquez were congratulated for the murder at a meeting of the East Side Locos Salvatrucha (ESLS) in Everett. Two ESLS leading members, allegedly, were beaten by the gang members as discipline for not helping the two killers the night before.
In Eastie, on Constitution Beach, Wilson Martinez was killed in Sept. 2015 with extreme atrocity by one member from the Everett clique and two members from another clique, as well as a juvenile. The indictment alleges they were encouraged beforehand by Perez-Vasquez to murder more rival gang members in order to get promoted. All of those that participated in the murder were promoted within their cliques – one getting a 13-second “beat in” by numerous clique leaders on Deer Island Dec. 6, 2015.
In particular, the murder of De Paz, who was only 15, of Chelsea, was tied to the two violent strains of Everett MS-13 cliques.
The Everett-based ESLS and the Everett-based ‘Everett Locos Salvatrucha (ELS) had encouraged Everett’s Joel ‘Animal’ Martinez to murder De Paz in order to be admitted to the gang. The leader of ELS, Noe Salvador Perez-Vasquez, gave the initial encouragement, it was alleged.
The murder took place on Sept. 20, 2015 in Eastie. After the murder, the ELS clique disciplined Martinez by beating him at a meeting and refusing him entrance.
However, after that, on January 8 of this year, the ESLS clique allegedly initiated Martinez in a meeting at an Everett auto body shop. After he was beaten for 13 seconds, he was welcomed into the group – according to the indictment, which was established using wiretaps.
Finally, just a month ago, on Jan. 10, in Eastie, Christopher Perez-De La Cruz was allegedly murdered by members of two Somerville cliques. That murder, it was alleged, came due to a call from the East Coast leader in a December 2015 meeting in Richmond, VA for cliques in Massachusetts to be more active in killing rival gang members.
The attempted murders in Chelsea were as follows:
- March 28, 2014, Hector ‘Cuervo’ Martinez attempted to murder one victim with a knife.
- April 6, 2014, Rafael ’Tremendo’ Leoner-Aguirre attempted to murder two victims by attacking them with a machete.
- April 16, 2014, Aguirre, Josue ‘Gallito’ Morales, and Kevin ‘Blancito’ Ayala attempted to murder two men with a gun, hitting one of the victims.
- May 29, 2014, Daniel ‘Roca’ Menjivar and David ‘Cilindro’ Lopez attempted to murder one victim by stabbing him with a knife and shooting him with a gun.
- Sept. 8, 2014, Angel ‘Bravo’ Pineda and Jose ‘Little Crazy’ Vasquez and Bryan ‘Chucky’ Galicia-Barillas attempted to murder on victim by stabbing him with a knife.
- Around April 2015, Menjivar, Lopez, Galicia-Barillas and Aguirre and a man only known as ‘Violento’ attempted to murder one victim with a machete. That victim had been an MS-13 member, and a green light was given to kill him by a leader of the gang in Arizona – as he was suspected of working with law enforcement.
- May 12, 2015, Jose ‘Muerto’ Hernandez-Miguel and Luis ‘Brujo’ Solis Vasquez attempted to murder a man with a knife.
- May 26, 2015, Galicia-Barillas and Domingo ‘Chapin’ Tirol attempted to murder two men by stabbing them with a knife.
- Aug. 23, 2015, Edwin ‘Sangriento’ Gonzalez attempted to murder two men by attacking and striking them with a machete.
- Dec. 27, 2015, Joel ‘Animal’ Martinez and Mauricio ‘Tigre’ Sanchez attempted to murder one victim by stabbing him with a knife.
“There was a time when rival gang members stay out of each other’s way – one went one way and the other went the other way,” said Kyes. “It’s getting to the point now that if there are two rival gang members and I see you walking down the street with the wrong hat or shoes, I might kill you by stabbing you or with a gun. This is the way these kids operate. That’s the message they get from the hierarchy.”
RECRUITING IN THE SCHOOLS
Most shockingly, federal officials detailed the fact that the gang was allegedly recruiting members from inside local high schools and middle schools – including Everett High School, Chelsea High School and East Boston High School.
“During the course of this investigation, it is alleged that MS-13 actively recruited prospective members, known as ‘paros,’ inside local high schools from communities with significant immigrant populations from Central America, including Chelsea High School, East Boston High School and Everett High School,” said Ortiz. “Prospective members were typically 14 or 15 years old. Under the strict rules of MS-13, as communicated to the local ‘cliques’ by the leaders of MS-13 in El Salvador, these prospective members must engage in significant violent criminal activity on behalf of the criminal organization, usually the killing of a rival gang member, in order to become a full-fledged member of MS-13, known as a ‘homeboy.’”
In order to recruit, the gang was involved in the three local high schools – both during school and after school – to get students to join the gang. Younger prospective gang members were often encouraged to commit more violent crimes to move up in rank.
Supt. Mary Bourque sent a letter home to parents and students following the raids on Monday.
“I want to reassure you that our schools are a safe place for students to learn and thrive,” she wrote. “We acknowledge that gang activity has taken place outside our schools and in our community. So that you are aware of our work, once we become aware of any student who begins to be enamored with gang life or ultimately becomes gang affiliated, we work closely with the Chelsea Police Department and their extended network to counsel the student and family to a better choice. We encourage you to reach out to us if you become aware of gang activity in your neighborhood or with your child’s friends. Our Chelsea way is to ‘Welcome and Educate.’ Let us not have a few tarnish all the good that we do each and every day in our schools.”
Chief Kyes and City Manager Tom Ambrosino said they will be vigilant to make sure gangs don’t return to the schools or the school kids looking for recruits.
“Schools are supposed to be a safe place for learning and gangs have no place in schools,” he said, noting the coordination that the Chelsea Police has with CHS when it appears a student is headed down the wrong path or may need help.
TRANSNATIONAL CRIMINAL ORGANIZATION
Additionally, Homeland Security officials announced that they were holding 10 individuals who weren’t facing charges, but had significant ties to the gang and were not in the country legally.
According to court documents, in 2012, MS-13 became the first, and remains the only, street gang to be designated by the United States government as a “transnational criminal organization.” MS-13 is one of the largest criminal organizations in the United States, and is an international criminal organization with over 6,000 members in the United States, with a presence in at least 46 states and the District of Columbia, as well as over 30,000 members internationally, mostly in El Salvador, Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala.
In Massachusetts, MS-13 is largely composed of immigrants and descendants of immigrants from El Salvador and has members operating throughout the Commonwealth, with higher concentrations in Chelsea, East Boston, Everett, Lynn, Revere, and Somerville.
Violence is a central tenet of MS-13, Ortiz said, as evidenced by its core motto — “mata, viola, controla,” translated as, “kill, rape, control.”
During the course of this investigation, she said, this violence was directed against rival gangs, particularly the 18th Street gang, and anyone who was perceived to have disrespected MS-13. The 18th Street gang, another criminal organization in Central America with members living in the United States, has been a longstanding rival of MS-13. MS-13 members and associates often commit murders and attempted murders using machetes, knives, and chains in order to intimidate rival gang members – weapons that were confiscated and in full display on a table in front of Ortiz during the press conference.
The indictment further alleges that members of the MS-13 organization in Massachusetts sell cocaine, heroin, and marijuana, and commit robberies, in order to generate income to pay monthly dues to the incarcerated leadership of MS-13 in El Salvador. This money is allegedly used to pay for weapons, cell phones, shoes, food, and other supplies for MS-13 members in and out of jail in El Salvador. It was alleged that the money is typically sent from wire transfer stores right in the communities.
U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz details the charges and atrocities unveiled by MS-13 in East Boston, Everett, Chelsea, Somerville and elsewhere during a press conference to announce the surprise round up of some 37 gang members on Friday morning by 400 law enforcement officials. A host of charges were levied against 56 members who were indicted on charges ranging from murder to drug trafficking to attempted murder.
The Record performed an investigative report in 2013 about the amounts of wire transfers in 2012 from stores in Chelsea, East Boston, Everett and Revere. The paper found that $247 million left those communities in one year, with $72 million of that money going to El Salvador.
Continuing a desired trend, overall crime in the city dropped another 6 percent in the first half of 2014. Total crime is down 36 percent over the last three and a half years, and violent crime is down 44 percent since its highs in 2008.
“It’s great to see the efforts of many, including our police force and partners like Roca, paying off,” said City Manager Jay Ash. “I can’t say enough good things about all those who are working together, perhaps like none other in the country, to reduce and eliminate crime here while working to elevate the safety of our residents and the livability of our community.”
Predicted Chief Brian Kyes, “When you operate as we do on the philosophy that one crime being committed is one too many, my satisfaction on our plummeting statistics is tempered by my knowledge that even more needs to be done. Having said that, we’re showing, the Chelsea Police Department and our many partners, that we’re able to continue to achieve public safety gains, and that gives me reasons to be very optimistic that additional gains will be secured into the future.”
Ash and Kyes, who have partnered to lead the City’s anti-crime efforts since the latter’s elevation to police chief at the end of 2007, say there are numerous factors contributing to the decrease in crime. One factor is certainly resources, with the City increasing the Police Department by 16 positions, or 18 percent, since Kyes became chief.
“Our manpower levels are making a huge difference, allowing us to deploy specialized units that address the best practices of prevention and intervention, while maintaining sufficient strength to undertake more traditional policing,” informed Kyes.
Among those best practices is the establishment of the Street Robbery Task Force, organized in early 2013 to look for crime before it happens and put would-be street criminals on notice that uniformed and plain clothes police officers were more than just watching them.
“All our officers do a great job, but our Street Robbery Task Force is really allowing us to be at our very best by giving us the manpower necessary to get out of our cars and interact with law abiding citizens and those who may be ready to cross the line into something more nefarious. Our officers are interviewing hundreds of people, especially young men, on a weekly basis, and are making sure everyone knows they are around…and that is making a huge difference,” reported Ash.
In addition to manpower, which both Ash and Kyes acknowledge is a function of strong support from the City Council and the positive work of the City’s economic development and finance teams, the two also went out of their way to praise Roca.
“The relationship between ROCA and the Police Department has been a ‘game-changer.’ We set joint goals, communicate regularly and train together to maximize our overriding goals of increasing safety in the community while promoting a better way of life for young people that may have been mixed up in bad things,” revealed Kyes.
“Roca has received the world’s largest pay-for-success contract to replicate elsewhere what is happening here in Chelsea. It’s one of the most exciting things to come in the area of violence reduction, and it has started here. Governor (Deval) Patrick is supporting the effort, Wall Street is investing in it, and public policy and top law enforcement officials from around the country and world are all watching and learning from it,” boasted Ash.
Through the Roca/CPD relationship, young men, typically ages 17-24 with violent pasts, are engaged in behavior-changing interactions that have a track-able path and measurable results. Violence, repeat offenses and incarcerations are down significantly in that cohort, which, in turn, reduces the amount of crime in the community.
“We’re honored to have such a great relationship with the Police Department and the confidence of special leaders like City Manager Ash and Governor Patrick. Our model is working, especially because we have so many young people who are fighting hard to change the habits and attitudes that have taken them to bad places,” said Molly Baldwin, Roca’s Executive Director who was recently recognized as one of Massachusetts’ top 100 innovators across all sectors.
Baldwin was also quick to point out that others in the community are making a difference as well.
“I admire what the schools are doing, how effective The Neighborhood Developers neighborhood work is and efforts like those being waged by the Collaborative to help young people lead better lives, MGH to combat drug addiction and North Suffolk Mental Health to help those with mental health needs in our community. The courts really get it, too, and that’s rounding out our great team that is committed to finding a new and better way to combat public safety and the development of young people in our community,” said Baldwin.
Ash, Kyes and Baldwin were part of the victorious Chelsea delegation to the All-America City competition this past June. The community’s combined efforts to reduce crime and improve the lives of residents and the quality of life in local neighborhoods were central to Chelsea’s winning pitch to a jury of national experts on community revitalization.
As to where the community goes from here, Ash cited numerous initiatives soon to be launched, including: the Police Department will be hiring a crime watch outreach director; the City will soon offer a security camera acquisition program for residents; an MGH/City partnership will result in drug outreach councilors led by North Suffolk Mental Health being added to the streets; a task force dealing with sexual exploitation of women involved in prostitution is being formed; numerous community partners are ramping up community engagement and safety efforts as part of Chelsea Works – the innovative initiative being funded, in part, by the Boston Fed through its Working Cities Challenge and co-lead by TND, and Chelsea District Court is working with the Police Department on stay away orders for those arrested in the downtown, thereby creating “Crime-Free Zones.”
Of more ambition is an application led by Roca and the City to secure federal funding to create specialized teams to intervene in individual and family circumstances where crime may then be a result.
“All of those efforts and numerous others are being supported by scores of local partners and those from outside the community who are seeing Chelsea as the innovators we are trying to be,” said Ash. “We may not have all of the answers now, but we’re challenging each other to come up with them and achieving measurable success long the way.”
“There’s reason to be encouraged,” commented City Council Matt Frank. “Yes, we’ve got much more work ahead of us, but building off of efforts that are already enjoying such tremendous success in reducing crime rates means that our future work is much more likely to be equally as successful. It is and will continue to take all of us to win back our neighborhood’s nightly, and the work we’re doing here and the results we’re seeing really suggest that we’ll continue to achieve even greater success making Chelsea an even safer place to live, work and play.”
Nearly seven years ago, ROCA founder and CEO Molly Baldwin gathered her staff in a conference room and decided to address a question that had been nagging her for some time.
While everyone in Chelsea, Revere and other nearby locales loved and praised ROCA for its work with gang members and local youth, the organization’s own founder wasn’t so sure it was as great as everyone was saying – at least when it came to transforming the lives of the kids hanging around the center on Park Square.
“I had to ask the question at that time about whether we were really being helpful to these kids,” said Baldwin recently. “We were doing what we knew how to do, but we weren’t tracking how the kids were doing. We were mostly a hangout, a place for kids to come that was safe from the street activity. But when we asked whether or not we were really helping these kids, we didn’t know. We didn’t track their progress or set tough expectations for them. We simply opened the doors to them. Sadly, I don’t think we were really helping them, and that was a heavy weight to carry. So, we decided at that moment we had to do something different.”
That epiphany moment for the organization – founded in 1988 – resulted in a total transformation where ROCA targeted two specific populations (high-risk young men 17-24 who have been in jail and likely will go back; and high-risk young mothers) and implemented rigid standards for those that entered the program. Additionally, they put in place a sophisticated tracking system that has proven to be worth its weight in gold.
Having just celebrated its 25th year in existence, ROCA – which still serves mostly Chelsea youth (46 percent in 2012) – has fully implemented the changes demanded seven years ago and has become a nationwide model in what is known as performance-based outcomes.
As explained in their most recent report, ROCA changed its mission.
“ROCA understood that just creating a place for young people to belong or be engaged in activities wasn’t good enough,” read the report. “Rather, ROCA realized that these young people deserved and needed the organization to get better at his mission to move them out of harm’s way and toward economic independence. ROCA had to learn how to help them change and learn new behaviors.”
Documenting this change has been critical, Baldwin said, and she pointed to the first year of results to tell the story about how they are now truly helping young people.
She said that 39 young people in their new target audience moved to the final Phase 3 of their new program in 2012. Moving to that phase means participants have had three months of unsubsidized employment, made educational gains, had no new arrests for six months and no technical program violations within six months.
Of the 39 in Phase 3, 79 percent stayed employed, and 70 percent made educational gains.
However, the most important numbers, Baldwin said, are those that tell a story of breaking a cycle of violence, arrest and incarceration. Those numbers detail that 90 percent of the participants had no new arrests and 100 percent committed no new technical violations within the program.
That was success she could point to.
“Having this first year of data to look at was huge,” said Baldwin. “It showed that we had moved from an organization who could not point to success to an organization that could document success and could even pinpoint specific successes and specific failures. If you don’t know what’s working, how can you get better at it? If you don’t know what’s failing, how can you refine it?
“Over the past year in particular, we believe that we have focused on a singular mission: making ROCA’s intervention model for high-risk young people a real solution for addressing violence and poverty in this country,” continued Baldwin.
Getting there, however, meant making some tough choices.
First, the door was no longer open to anyone that walked through it. The organization had to hone in on its core group. Many were turned away because they did not fit the new criteria. It was tough, but had to be done to get better at the mission of truly helping young people – specifically the most at-risk young people.
Being a de facto community center was not going to cut it any longer.
Secondly, they had to commit to aggressively training youth workers and giving them a strict plan to use with their charges. That plan was a three-year, goal-oriented outline designed to take young men from jail to employment to full self-sufficiency.
“We are serious about that model,” said Baldwin. “If they are not meeting their goals, we tell them, ‘Hey, you have to go.’ And we make those tough decisions now. Likewise, when they’ve completed the three-year program, they have to go out on their own. We no longer will continue to hold their hand. At a certain point, they have to move on from us.”
That is also something they can document.
The Chelsea location enrolled 888 young people in 2012, and their satellite Springfield office enrolled 232. Some of them had to be dismissed.
Some 28 percent of those dismissed were because they couldn’t meet enough goals to make it to Phase 3, while 22 percent were dismissed due to not completing the three-year plan on time. Another 17 percent were cut loose because they couldn’t be found, and 9 percent got dismissed for not being able to move from Phase 1 to Phase 2.
Overall, however, they have found success, touting a 78 percent retention rate in the new program for those considered eligible.
Within the model, ROCA also puts participants to work.
Many might have seen ROCA participants sweeping the streets, cleaning City Hall or cleaning parks under the supervision of a trained outreach worker. That work is training, they said, to move the young people towards an ability to work in the private sector. Many have never had jobs, or if they have, they have an abysmal employment record.
Most of all, though, they have a criminal record that blots out a lot of opportunities.
Through partnerships with many local companies and some Boston companies, ROCA is able to place successful, high -risk youth in jobs that they probably wouldn’t be able to land due to their prior criminal record. In forging those partnerships, ROCA has eliminated a major barrier to self-sufficiency and a major reason why many young people end up in jail. Even if they want to do right, Baldwin said, a lot of times there are no opportunities for them to do so because of a checkered past.
Now, forging on into 2013, ROCA leaders said they are glad that seven years ago, Baldwin forced a tough conversation and an even tougher self-evaluation.
“It’s hard to admit you weren’t helping, that you weren’t helping them change their lives – or that you didn’t know whether or not you were,” said Baldwin. “We took responsibility for that, and we changed as an organization. Now, we have gotten better at what we do and we can prove it. We learned that if you’re not tracking your performance, then you’re probably not getting better at what you do.”