Above: Molly Baldwin ’12 speaks at Lesley's 2016 Commencement, where she received an honorary doctorate.
The Heinz Family Foundation on Tuedsay named Lesley alumna and honorary doctorate recipient Molly Baldwin ’12 as a recipient of the 25th Heinz Award in the Human Condition.
As part of the accolade, Baldwin will receive an unrestricted cash award of $250,000 in recognition for her work as the founder and CEO of Roca, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit started in 1988 that disrupts the cycle of poverty and incarceration by helping young people — primarily young men of color aged 18 to 24 — impacted by traumatic experiences in centers of urban violence.
“For 30 years, Molly has persisted in serving young people who are the hardest to reach, and whose traumatic life experiences could put them on the path to a lifetime of poverty, unemployment or incarceration. Where others have given up, Roca steps in, and stays in,” says Teresa Heinz, who established the Heinz Awards to honor the memory of her late husband, U.S. Senator John Heinz.
Baldwin founded the Roca model in Chelsea, Massachusetts, and has since expanded to more than 20 communities across the state. Two years ago, Roca launched its first out-of-state initiative in Baltimore, Maryland.
For over three decades, Baldwin has been an advocate, mentor and community organizer, bringing together institutions, corporations and agencies to support these young people and give them a chance that would otherwise be unavailable to them.
“No young person is too tough for us, even those who have lost all trust and hope for the future,” says Baldwin, who holds a master’s degree in education from Lesley.
Lesley welcomed Baldwin back in 2016 to receive an honorary doctorate and address the Class of 2016 at Commencement.
“Molly does what few are willing to do — she goes to the most difficult areas in our cities and she stays, she keeps knocking on doors, she keeps developing, collaborating, encouraging and inspiring. She sees the worth of young people long before they can see it in themselves,” says Lesley President Janet L. Steinmayer. “I cannot think of anyone who would be more deserving of this award, and we are fortunate to count her among our inspiring alumni.”
Unique model meets young people where they are
Roca workers go directly to young people in crisis, tracking them down through friends, scouting the streets and showing up on their doorsteps. Using their four-year, data-driven and evidence-based Intervention Model, the nonprofit meets young men and young mothers where they are, and helps them to gain education, employment and life skills.
Roca incorporates cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) — a focus on building trust, safety and relationships; employment skills practice; and long-term coaching. The program’s effectiveness is evidenced in dramatic drops in recidivism rates among the youth Roca engages. As of 2019, 97 percent of the young men enrolled in Roca in Massachusetts for more than two years had no new incarcerations.
For young women, many of them mothers who were unable or unwilling to participate in other programs, Roca offers childcare and transportation, as well as additional, intensive mental health and domestic violence modules.
Through its Engaged Institutions component, Roca also works within the criminal justice system to confront injustice and transform how police officers and agencies relate to the kind of young adults Roca serves.
“Our goal is to engage law enforcement, and to move them from an adversarial stance to one that recognizes these young men and women of the community as fellow human beings struggling with trauma, fear and poverty,” says Baldwin.
Through this initiative, Roca is addressing police brutality, corruption and systemic racism in the neighborhoods it serves, thereby working to prevent young people from shooting or getting shot.