Mayor Catherine Pugh has worked overtime to find $17 million in funding to bring Roca, a Massachusetts-based anti-violence youth intervention program, to Baltimore. This past week, she decided it was time to move forward with an official announcement. Pugh notified Baltimoreans that the program will come to Baltimore with the help of The Greater Baltimore Committee and private philanthropy after the State of Maryland punted on a request to help underwrite the program as part of the governor’s crime reduction initiative.

While the announcement was hailed in some quarters of the city, several current youth service providers told the AFRO they had no idea the Roca program was coming to the city.

“No, there has been no communication at all with the Boys and Girls Club. Although I heard about it on the news, it would be nice to have a connection with the Roca program at some point,” said Kenneth Darden, president of the Boys and Girls Club of Metropolitan Baltimore.

Darden, whose Boys and Girls Clubs currently operates a wrap-around program for hard-to-reach youth at Baltimore’s Juvenile Detention Center, said he was supportive of the ROCA concept because it will complement their work and serve young adults up to the age of 24.

“Collaboration will be the key,” said Darden, adding that he hopes Roca plans to hire local staff.

“We all need be working together,” he continued. “I would be happy to connect with Roca, the Mayor’s Office or anyone else who is interested in ensuring youth services in Baltimore are aligned.”

Roca has built a solid reputation in Massachusetts, where the program has operated for the past 30 years.

“We’re here to help young people who are not able or ready to show up for other programs. We want to help young people to stay alive, stay out of jail and go to work,” said Yotam Zeira, director of external affairs for Roca headquarters.

Zeira said they are already busy preparing for the expansion to Baltimore, and the organization has been making connections since discussions originally began.
“We have a lot to learn before we start operations in Baltimore this summer,” he told the AFRO. “We’ve been in communication with Baltimore for the past five years in and out.”
Ziera said Roca already has a Baltimore connection since the organization’s founder, Molly Baldwin, is originally from the city. However, he conceded Roca needs to connect with organizations and individuals who are doing the “on the ground” work since the situation in Baltimore may be different.

“We are painfully aware that there are distinctions between Baltimore and Massachusetts. We know that there are a lot of incredible partners and we look forward to meeting them. We will partner with anyone we can and learn from everyone we can,” Ziera said.

Six million in additional funding is still needed to fully fund the Roca program. Pugh and other City leadership are considering funding the gap from local coffers.