Every year, as part of our partnership with 1% for the Planet, Wolven donates 1% of our profits to community and environmental organizations working to protect our planet and empower our communities. This year one of the groups we are excited to support is Roca, a non-profit organization based in Baltimore on a mission to disrupt incarceration, poverty, and racism by meaningfully engaging and empowering young adults, young mothers, and communities at large.
They offer a whole variety of programs to help young adults escape the cycle of crime, poverty, and violence including workforce development and training, GED programs, lessons in Cognitive Behavioral Theory (CBT), and overall a stable environment of mentors who help build lasting relationships.
One of these mentors and Transitional Employment Coordinators is Joseph Brown, who I had the pleasure to sit down and chat with. He told me about the work he and the Roca team are doing to help young adults in the city of Baltimore become confident working professionals, while also finding connection with themselves, their neighbors, and the natural world.
Can you tell me about your job and role at Roca?
My name is Joseph Brown, I am a transitional employment coordinator for Roca in Baltimore. My job is teaching young men how to work and professional skills. In my department we teach them how to be on time, teach them how to use professional language, have a positive attitude, be a team player, how to accept feedback and demonstrate initiative — ya know, these are skills that they need to have a job in the outside world. That’s basically some of the things that we do in transitional employment.
Our work crews go out in the community, we have contracts with the Baltimore City Department of Public Works, Department of Transportation, General Services and Parks and Recreation. We go out into certain areas they assign us — and we do basic community service work; we do clean ups, we do some lawn maintenance, we do playgrounds, what we do on the playgrounds is fix swings, we might fix the park benches, and things of that nature.
How long have you been at Roca?
I personally have been working with Roca, I’ve been here 22 months. I am from Baltimore city, born and raised. I am a truck driver by trade.
Ya know, I never thought about working with the youth or working with troubled kids, or anything like that — I kind of got pulled into it, and basically the jobs chose me.
I’ve been here for 22 months now and I don’t plan on going nowhere right now.
Where are the young men in your crews from and how old are they?
These kids are from the city — East Baltimore, West Baltimore, South Baltimore — and all parts of those areas and urban communities, and we go into those areas and we take care of those basic community needs, ya know, trash and those types of things.
The young men are ages 16 to 24.
How big are your crews?
Our crews are mostly 4 to 5 guys, because we send them out in basic pick-up trucks that fit up to 6.
How do the work crews benefit not only the individuals in the crew but the communities overall?
It benefits the community because the guys that are in our program, most of the work that they do is in their own neighborhoods. So they go to their own neighborhoods and they see trash and they start cleaning up. They start noticing — since they are doing this type of work, they see how dirty their neighborhoods are from all the, ya know, people throwing trash and more and they give them the motivation — ya know, they start talking to some of the guys, when they are outside they just start cleaning up or they tell their friends “don’t throw that in the gutter” — so it benefits the community by just being aware of what’s going on and tackling the trash and anything that might need taking care of in the neighborhood.
How do these programs benefit the environment?
We remove the harmful waste so the planet can thrive and families can have safe parks for healthy outdoor activities.
Do you have advice for people on how to run similar programs in their own communities?
So, we work with troubled young men. And the thing about it is, ya know, us working with these kids, is giving them some hope. Teaching them the basic skills of life as far as working, and other ways to provide for themselves, other ways to make money, other ways to get up and get going, and not always be caught up in the street life or on the corners involved in illegal activities and things of that nature.
So the work that we do is needed. We are trying to save lives. We’re teaching young men basic things in life that can take them a long way. So, this type of work is needed. And definitely, community service work is always going to be needed because everybody that lives in the community for the most part or communities, don’t always take care of their neighborhoods. And by just teaching them basic stuff, if they were ever to buy a house or something like that, they would keep their front clean, they would learn how to use lawn mowers and weed-wackers and stuff like that to keep their grass mowed. We teach them how to do some planting, so they can plant plants for the environment, and teach them how to think green.
Could you tell me more about your education programs?
We do offer the young men GED programs. We have educators here that teach them the basics skills that help them with the GED program. We also help them get their learner's permit, you know, study for that test and eventually get their driver's license. We do offer driving school as well through an outside source. We do that as well.
We all focus on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Different skills to teach the young men how to slow things down in all aspects of life — and how to not do anything and everything off of emotion. Teach them how to slow down and flex their thinking and be present in the moment. These are some of the skills we teach to get them through life.
What do you hope for the future of these programs?
Well for one, the programs are very, like I said, very needed, because there is a lot of misguided youth in the cities and in the country. A lot of kids are growing up without their parents, a lot of kids are growing up without a mentor, or big brother, or any sort of figure in their life, so these programs are very needed because they give young men hope.
A lot of young men that we deal with don’t think about the future, they don’t even think about the next day, they gave up on themselves. And a lot of us at Roca, the Rocca staff, believe in the young men more than they believe in themselves. So that gives them some hope — us being there for them when they have episodes, when they blow up or when they lose their cool, they might get mad at us, but we still show them that we are there for them so these types of relationships that we build with these guys are very important - in a sense, we give them tough love, but ya know, we show them that we care as well.
Is there anything you would want other people to know about the work you are doing or what you are teaching?
So Roca’s mission is to be a relentless force in disrupting incarceration, poverty, and racism by engaging young adults. Ya know, police and the system at the center of urban violence — to address trauma, inspire hope, and drive change in the young men. That’s our mission - I believe, it’s an important mission, and our mission supports our young men and shows them that they can change - because a lot of them feel so stuck, feel like they can’t be nobody, they can’t get their driver's license, they can’t get their GED, ya know, and our programs just in general shows them that they can do it. So it teaches them not to give up on themselves because a lot of them have given up on themselves.To learn more about the important work Roca is doing and to support their efforts, please visit: https://rocainc.org/
Sustainability Specialist & Graphic Designer at Wolven