An organization aimed at keeping young people off the path to incarceration celebrated their opening in Holyoke Tuesday night. 

Edward De La Cruz, a 17-year-old Roca participant, told 22News, “I was going down the wrong path or whatever, making bad decisions, getting locked up.”

Roca celebrated it’s Holyoke chapter Tuesday night with the district attorney, the mayor, and many members of local law enforcement.

Roca officially opened it’s doors on High Street in Holyoke last month, and in that short time, Cruz said the program has put him on a better path. They found him a job with the Department of Public Works, and he’s earned certifications in CPR, First Aid, and AED. 

“I realized that the program is so much more than just a job. They help you with your education, they help you with life skills, they help you with a lot of things. It’s like these people, they really care about me,” said Cruz.

Roca is aimed at helping men ages 17-24 who have had run-ins with the criminal justice system. Roca provides classes, training and certifications. Working with participants on everything from workforce readiness to emotional literacy.

Melvin Malave, Roca’s program coordinator, said the group gets referrals from the sheriff and police department to pinpoint people who might need a little help. 

“The idea is really to equip them with marketable skills they can take with them into the real world. If we can affect and change a life for one young man, then we’ve done our job in Holyoke,” said Malave.

For De La Cruz, he said Roca has already made a real difference, “It’s really helpful to have somebody, or like a group of people, a whole team in your life, because not everybody has that. I’m just thankful for ROCA honestly.”