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Lynn's Roca supports at-risk youth

The Daily Item - 3/7/2023

Mar. 7—LYNN — State and local officials met to welcome Roca, a nonprofit that aims to curb urban violence and incarceration by counseling and supporting at-risk young adults, into its new location at the Clocktower Business Center Tuesday morning.

A crowd comprising of police officers, Roca youth workers, Lynn delegation representatives, Mayor Jared Nicholson, and city council members gathered in Suite 110 of 330 Lynnway — a lime green office space that will serve as Roca Lynn's new location.

Essex County District Attorney Paul Tucker opened the ceremony by discussing the importance of reducing inmate recidivism.

Tucker said that two thirds of the Commonwealth's Roca participants had some form of criminal history, but that only one in five Roca youths will come back into the criminal justice system. After two years in Roca, Tucker said that 90 percent of participants had not been arrested again, and 98 percent had not seen the inside of a jail cell again.

"That's a staggering statistic," Tucker said. "For those of you that are not involved in the criminal justice system, you may not realize the magnitude of that success, but it is extraordinary."

When Tucker introduced Assistant Director of Roca Lynn Emily Fish, she began her speech by sharing the successes of the Roca's cognitive therapy program. She announced that 57 percent of the youth that took part in the program saw improvements in regulating their emotions.

Additionally, Fish said that Roca partners with the Salem Department of Public Works for its transitional employment program to help its participants find work and earn a living. Last year, Fish said that 70 percent of participating 16 to 24 year-olds found jobs.

Mayor Jared Nicholson handed Fish a citation from the city congratulating Roca on its new location after he made remarks commending the organization for its dedication toward ending city violence.

"It's the real humanity that you all bring to this work — to be able to meet people where they are at, to be able to reach out and build relationships when sometimes people aren't ready for that," Nicholson said. "For you to keep showing up takes such a core strength and belief in the value of the person sitting across from you who you are trying to reach. We're just so honored that you all bring that level of commitment to our residents."

Nicholson's remarks preceded citations from Lynn City Council, presented by Ward 6 City Councilor Fred Hogan, along with citations from the Senate and the House of Representatives, presented by Reps. Daniel Cahill and Jenny Armini.

Cahill said that out of all the organizations that request state funding, funding Roca is one of the easiest decisions the state delegation makes.

"We just want to let you know if you are in the program, for every dollar that we donate, you are absolutely worth it. We want you to invest that dollar back in yourself. We are investing in you because we believe in you and we care about you. We want you to succeed," Cahill said.

Before officials lined up with Roca organizers to cut the ceremonial ribbon, Roca participant Dennis Friendly-Akers shared his experience with the program. Friendly-Akers said that his brother "dragged him" into Roca when he was 18 and left Department of Children and Families (DCF) housing.

Roca, Friendly-Akers said, taught him alternatives to self-medication, and how to professionally and maturely express his emotions.

"First, I was skeptical of brokers because I had so many programs, but with time, I realized that the staff out there genuinely cared about us. It was different from other programs — no matter how many times I didn't show up or ignored them, they never gave up. They would always find me where I was," Friendly-Akers said.

"Sometimes I feel lost, but I know I'm slowly making progress, one step at a time. I'm grateful that Roca has helped me mature in a positive way, and I thank everyone for supporting this program," he added.


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