Antione Tates was suspicious of a man who kept showing up at his Baltimore home, fearing he was a police officer or a probation agent. His mother pleaded with him to call the phone number left at the door. The number was for Roca, a anti-violence program that focuses on the city’s most at-risk young men by enrolling them into programs that aim to make them less inclined to resort to violence. the Baltimore Sun reports. It’s had success elsewhere and arrived in Baltimore in a $17 million, four-year project funded by the city, businesses and philanthropies. Roca has made 13,000 attempts to enroll at-risk young men into therapy and educational classes and transitional employment services. If that number sounds high, Roca officials say they don’t give up, and try hard not to take no for an answer.
The teens are referred by police, probation and patrol agents and juvenile justice officials, who recognize they need help beyond a jail cell or the court system. Roca workers are successful in speaking directly to only about half of the young men they approach. It takes repeated attempts to nudge the young men into the program, and officials said it will take at least two years for them to make meaningful change. Roca founder Molly Baldwin, a Baltimore native who started the program 30 years ago in Massachusetts, said “I think it’s been a remarkable start. I think what we are hearing and seeing from young people is a desire for change.” Roca has received 327 referrals, of which 95 have been enrolled into job training and education programs. Roca hopes to raise the number enrolled to 175 next year, and add 60 men each year for the next two years. Five men identified by the program have been killed and eight others have been injured in shootings.