STORY UPDATE: Youth group Roca will earn 'Pay for Success'

The nonprofit group Roca is starting a groundbreaking partnership with the state of Massachusetts. But it will only be paid if it succeeds.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Mary Baldwin, known to many as ‘Molly,’ was photographed near her office in Chelsea, Mass. She is the founder and executive director of Roca (Spanish for ‘rock’), which has won national acclaim for its work with at-risk youths. Roca aims to move teens from the streets and gangs into responsible, productive lives.

Mary "Molly" Baldwin has been helping young men get out – or stay out – of trouble for a quarter century (See "Her guiding principle when working with at-risk teens: Never, ever give up," Nov. 29, 2010).

Now Roca, the nonprofit group based in Chelsea, Mass., that Ms. Baldwin founded and leads, is celebrating its 25th anniversary by entering into a groundbreaking partnership with the state of Massachusetts. The twist? Roca will only be paid if it succeeds.

For years, Roca (Spanish for "rock") has been "using evidence and data to get better at helping very high-risk young men change their lives," Baldwin says. The program works with youths involved in the criminal justice system and moves them toward finding and keeping a job – and staying out of prison.

Every youth who stays out of prison saves the state about $47,500 a year – the cost of housing an inmate.

Roca and Massachusetts will soon sign a contract for a pilot "Pay for Success" program that will pay Roca $23 million six years from now – if it can demonstrate concrete results by cutting recidivism and increasing employment among at-risk youths. The program's effectiveness will be determined by a set of benchmarks designed by experts at Harvard University.

"That's really exciting," Baldwin says. "That's an enormous project where we'll serve about 900 young men across the state." The youths have criminal records and are seen to be likely to return to prison or undertake violent crimes.

"We engage them through relentless outreach and relationships," she says. "It takes about 18 to 20 months to see any particular behavior change." To fund the program in the interim, Roca and Third Sector Capital Partners, a nonprofit intermediary, are raising $24.6 million including $17.6 million in grants and a $7 million commercial loan.

• From time to time the Monitor will be checking in on its past difference-makers to give a progress report. For more about Roca, visit www.rocainc.org.

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