Monday, April 26, 2010

The Rock of a Community

Chelsea is a small, urban, troubled city on the outskirts of Boston that is lucky enough to have an organization that truly makes a difference. ROCA, a Chelsea based non-profit organization, has been making a difference for over 20 years. Working with perhaps the most distressed within the community, young people, ROCA has managed to successfully impact an area that desperately needs as many positive influences as it can get. They have done amazing things by changing lives and promoting hope.

One of the biggest and most inspirational programs ROCA is running is The Key Program. It is an employment program for high risk people that have often recently been released from prison. When a person has a crime record it can be extraordinarily hard to find employment; ROCA gladly hires these people and gives them the second chance most people won’t. The Key Program is a three-step plan to full time employment; the participants in this program earn money for cleaning public parks, graffiti, and the ROCA facility. Along with earning money they earn the chance to redeem themselves for past grievances.

ROCA used to be an acronym for Reaching Out to Chelsea’s Adolescence, but with the expansion of their programs they’ve stopped using the acronym. ROCA, which means rock in Spanish, has fulfilled the symbol its name invokes and has become the rock of a community.

In speaking with one of the driving forces behind ROCA it’s immediately clear these people take what they do seriously and really believe in the ability for people to change when given the chance. Molly Baldwin, the founder and executive director of ROCA, happily met with me in order to give more insight.

I asked, “What inspired you to start this organization?” She sat silent for a while introspectively scanning the recesses of her mind; her eyes lit up as she began to speak. “I love young people. Sometimes the world takes its toll on people and they forget how to love their children, it doesn’t mean they don’t want them.”

Hearing this made me think back to walking into the building to meet with Ms. Baldwin. As I walked in I saw children and young adults everywhere conversing, laughing, and smiling with each other.

She continued with an air of hope behind her words, “Often the youths of a community get left out, but I’ve always believed in them.”

The organization is run just like any other typical business. The difference between ROCA and other businesses is the triple-bottom line. Most companies operate with one goal and that is profit; ROCA focuses its interests on profit, environmental impact, and social impact. All of these are carefully factored into any decision that is made. If more businesses operated under these guidelines maybe the world would be a better place.

Along with using their focused interests as a guide, it is clear that the people who make ROCA the success story that it is are happy with the work they do but never satisfied. Currently plans are being made to expand into another troubled city, Springfield. According to some of the statistics gathered by ROCA, Springfield has the second highest crime rate in Massachusetts; the poverty rate has almost reached three times the average for cities in Massachusetts. ROCA is always looking for answers to the problems that face communities; the solution that they’ve come up with is making an impact on the community’s young generation. It’s this forward thinking that has allowed them to sustain a positive influence for well over a decade.

“We are all here for a purpose,” says Ms. Baldwin, “and I’m not judging other people’s purposes, but it just feels like this is what I’m meant to do. It’s honestly a privilege.”

As I walked towards the exit of the huge ROCA complex I couldn’t help but feel inspired by the sheer earnestness in Ms. Baldwin’s voice and message. As I approached the door, I saw the same youths I saw on my way in. They were eating along with conversing, laughing, and smiling. Looking at them from afar they looked like a family; thinking about it now that’s what ROCA is doing, slowly turning a community into a family.

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