Inspiration at Roca’s 10th Annual Breakfast

Roca participant Trevor Gayle receives the Vichey Phuong Peace Award at Roca's 10th Annual Breakfast.

Roca participant Trevor Gayle receives the Vichey Phuong Peace Award at Roca’s 10th Annual Breakfast.

This blog post was written by Sam Hiersteiner, New Profit’s Communications Director.

Roca, a New Profit grantee and partner in the landmark Massachusetts Juvenile Justice Pay for Success Initiative, is working to disrupt the cycle of incarceration and poverty in America by helping high-risk young people get off the streets, develop skills and find jobs.

Earlier this week, I attended Roca’s 10th Annual Breakfast and was inspired by the way the organization’s great staff and participants stood strong and brave. They always do, but this time those of us in the room knew things were different. In February, a 21-year-old Roca participant, Kenny Lamour, was killed while on a work crew in Boston. It was the first time in Roca’s nearly 30-year history that such an event had occurred, which is notable given the thousands of tough cases the organization has taken on over time.

After acknowledging the tragedy and the pain Lamour’s family and friends continue to feel, Roca Founder and Chief Executive Officer Molly Baldwin used her speech at the breakfast to express, on behalf of her staff, an even stronger commitment to Roca’s transformative mission and intensive, data-driven engagement model. That fearlessness to reach out a hand where no one else will is the glue that holds the Roca network of staff, participants and partners together.

Trevor Gayle, a young Roca graduate who is now a full-time employee of Chase Management in Springfield, MA, followed Baldwin and spoke emotionally about how the model had changed his life and the lives of so many other men and women from tough backgrounds in Massachusetts. For his success in the program and his leadership efforts within Roca’s network, Gayle received the Vichey Phuong Peace Award, named after a beloved former Roca staff member who died in a tragic accident.

In addition to Baldwin’s resolve and Gayle’s inspirational story, it was notable that the audience at the breakfast came from across the spectrum of nonprofits, state and local government, law enforcement, business and philanthropy. Such a coming together represents the bipartisan, cross-sector collaboration that is needed to address the toughest social challenges we face in America, as new Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker noted in his remarks at the event. New Profit has long made this type of collaboration central to its own model for driving transformative change.

Governor Baker also spoke to the Commonwealth’s continued commitment to the innovative “Pay for Success” model for financing and getting better results from programs like the aforementioned juvenile justice initiative, the largest such effort in the country to date. Massachusetts remains the epicenter of the growing Pay for Success movement, with organizations like Third Sector Capital Partners, the intermediary and program manager of the Massachusetts juvenile justice initiative, leading the way in growing it across the country. Last Sunday, Third Sector and Roca were both featured in the Boston Globe Magazine in an article about interesting new ways to invest in social impact. New Profit’s policy arm, America Forward, has also played a lead role in raising awareness of Pay for Success among policymakers, leading to hundreds of millions of dollars in new incentivizing funding.

My final thought about Roca’s breakfast, at which more than $500,000 was raised, was about the the critical role organizations like Roca must play if criminal justice reform is to move forward. We hear a lot about politicians and partisanship and businesses and big institutions in the quickening debate about changing the criminal justice system, but to take advantage of the best opportunity we’ve ever had for reform, we need to also do more to raise up frontline voices like Molly Baldwin’s and Trevor Gayle’s. We won’t get the outcomes we all hope for without their insight.


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