Molly Baldwin, founder and CEO of Chelsea-based Roca Inc. delivered a powerful talk Thursday at TEDxPennsylvaniaAvenue, sharing the story of Roca and how relentless outreach and data can help change the cycle of recidivism in our country.
Baldwin was one of 14 speakers invited to the Newseum in Washington D.C. to share their visions for what they and we can and should do together “Within 10 Years” to address our country’s and our world’s greatest challenges.
Just shy of 30 years, Baldwin founded Roca with the hope to break the cycle of violence and incarceration in Massachusetts. Her vision was to go out into the community and get to know the young people affected by gang violence and try to change their lives.
“We knew hundreds of gang members. They would come to Roca and hang out, take classes, feel good about themselves, and then go home and deal drugs and shoot people. This is not what we wanted,” she said.
So they put the brakes on Roca—temporarily. Baldwin and her team went back and looked closely at everything they had tried, and revised their strategy. They decided to target the young men with the highest risk—the ones most difficult to work with, and who are not willing or able to make a change in their lives.
Then Roca’s youth workers start knocking on doors. Over and over.
“What we do is called ‘relentless outreach,’ but really it’s stalking. We just can’t say that because it’s illegal,” Baldwin joked. “Only after knocking on doors 1 million times does something change.”
Roca offers its participants a space to learn and grow, and to understand the opportunities that they have if they step away from violence. Roca builds relationships with each and every man and woman that comes through their door, and helps them build a better future.
Sometimes, these men and women fall back, they relapse into their old habits, but Roca doesn’t give up. They keep reaching out, and get the men and women back on track.
“We’re also data nuts,” said Baldwin. “We track them and ourselves, figure out what we do. Our data suggest that we’re on to something. But our data is not just data—our numbers are real people.”
Baldwin said it was an honor to join the impressive list of speakers at the TedXPennsylvaniaAvenue event.
“Thirty years into our work and at this time in our country, Roca’s story of relentlessness – for itself and for the young people we are so lucky to serve – is an important one for people to hear,” said Baldwin.
Roca’s mission is to disrupt the cycle of incarceration and poverty by helping young people transform their lives. Since 1988, Roca has worked with the highest risk young people in communities across Massachusetts. Today, Roca works with nearly 700 young men, ages 17-24, each year from 21 communities out of its offices in Chelsea, Boston, Springfield and Lynn, MA.
Roca serves high-risk young adults through a non-mandated, community-based intervention model. Roca’s model is four years long: it consists of two years of intensive relationship and skill building, followed by two years of follow up. The young people at Roca are not ready, willing or able to participate in traditional programming, so the organization uses “relentless outreach” by Youth Workers, intensive case-management, in addition to tailored education, workforce readiness and life skills programming to help participants stay out of harm’s way and go to work. Inherent in Roca’s model is engaging the police, probation and other community partners in young people’s change process, to ensure that both our young people and their communities get the best possible outcomes.
A data driven organization, Roca rigorously tracks its performance and outcomes. The organization is the service provider at the Massachusetts Juvenile Justice Pay for Success Project, the largest Social Impact Bonds project in the U.S. to date.