Roca and Dorchester Brewing Co. helping young men of Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan leave the streets and go to work

The Business Journals Content Studio

By Laura Newpoff – Contributor

Aug 9, 2019

A few years ago, Denzel Florvil found himself fresh off a stint in prison and full of uncertainty about his future. He had no car, no high school education and no confidence that he could successfully interview for a job.

Then came Roca, the nonprofit which for three decades has used its “relentless outreach” model to help the highest risk young men stay alive, out of jail.

As with most of the young gang- and street-involved men Roca recruits each year, Florvil was “a work in progress” from the start - rough around the edges, unready, unwilling and unable to even show up. After several starts and stops, Florvil’s hard work helped make him a candidate for Roca’s Bridge to Success program, which subsidizes employment for the first 80 hours at one of its many partner businesses.

Matt Malloy, Dorchester Brewing Co. co-founder and CEO, decided to give the nearby resident a chance and hired Florvil to work on the packaging line for 20 hours per week.

“I didn’t want to know his background. I take people at face value,” Malloy said.

Knocking on doors

Roca Boston and Dorchester Brewing Co. are partners in the Lewis Family Foundation’s Jobs Action Tank, which supports key community organizations through its goal to place 700 young people from Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan into full-time jobs earning at least $38,000 in annual income by the end of 2020.

Carl Miranda, the site director at Roca Boston, said one of the strengths of its longstanding program with partner businesses across Massachusetts is that employers can always turn to the nonprofit for assistance with Roca participants.

“Denzel had some hiccups here and there,” said Rajon Brooks, Roca Boston’s employment manager. “Instead of firing him or writing him up, the employer can use us as their support network. For someone like Denzel, it may be easier hearing constructive criticism from me as opposed to the employer trying to redirect him.”

Roca works with men aged 17 to 24 with a previous history in jail, with gangs, in violent street activities or drugs. Miranda describes it as focusing on a small group of young people with an incredibly disproportionate impact on violence in the city: those who need relentless outreach because they are not ready, willing, or able to participate in any other programming available.

The “relentless” part of Roca’s four-year intervention model means not taking “no”’ for an answer. Roca youth workers knock on doors and show up wherever a young man is, whether that’s at his girlfriend’s house, a local hangout or prison to get them to engage in the program.

The program helps young men through building relationships for the purpose of behavior change, engaging businesses and institutions as partners, offering stage-based life skills, educational and employment programming and performance-based management that rigorously tracks data and evaluates outcomes.

In 2018, Roca served 942 young men, and was able to keep 78% of them engaged in the four-year model. 88% of graduates had no new arrests and 66% held jobs for six or more months, an impressive outcome given the many challenges young people at Roca face and a 26% unemployment rate in Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan. While 76% of young adults in the nation go back to jail within three years of release, young people at Roca are re-incarcerated at a much lower rate of 33%.

‘Part of the family’

Dorchester Brewing’s Malloy said the partnership with Roca is in keeping with their goal of supporting the neighborhoods of Boston and their people, no matter their background. A side benefit is it will help his company with an ongoing challenge of trying to build a high-quality diverse staff.

“We’re very much about hiring locally and trying to give people a chance,” Malloy said. “Very often, people in Dorchester still get redlined and the neighborhood is featured on the news for violence. But it’s wonderfully diverse, which is why I moved here.”

He said Florvil has thrived at Dorchester Brewing Co. In early July, Florvil celebrated his one-year anniversary at the brewery, where he works full time and was recently promoted.

Brooks called the partnership a “win-win.” Roca was able to find employment for one of its men and the brewery was able to hire someone with a diverse background from its neighborhood.

He said Florvil now has a car, pays rent at an apartment and is working toward completing his high school education. “Education typically leads to employment, but this happened the other way around,” Brooks said.

Florvil said, “the job has allowed me to focus on my education.”

Florvil is considered a success story, but Miranda stresses that Roca allows for failure in its model.

“Many young men are going to struggle, and the best partnerships understand there will be challenges and they can turn to us for support,” he said. “We incorporate that so when men stop showing up or don’t follow through, we don’t just give up on them. That’s the time we chase them more.”

Interested in getting involved, or have a successful partnership story to share that focuses on hiring young people from Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan into full-time jobs? Visit the Lewis Family Foundation’s job page for more information.

The vision of the Lewis Family Foundation is that young people from Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan live in and reinvest their service, capital, and intellect to ensure that their neighborhoods continue to thrive and are places of opportunity and access.

Laura Newpoff is a freelance writer with The Business Journals Content Studio.