HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — A program in Hartford is helping to bring stability to young mothers whose lives have been impacted by domestic violence. The Roca Young Mothers program opened in 2021, but the need for services has never been higher.
Stefani Basora was Roca’s Young Mothers’ first referral. She matched the program’s critical-risk criteria of violence and instability impacts after being arrested days ahead of giving birth to her daughter at just 14 years old.
“They helped a lot because when I got pregnant, I was 14 when I had her so I really couldn’t work legally. I couldn’t get a job,” Basora said.
Her daughter, who turns two this Saturday, was her reason for leaving a domestic violence relationship, giving her a motive for change.
“My kid comes first. I’m not going to put myself in that situation anymore and I don’t want my daughter growing up in that environment because I did and it’s not healthy,” Basora said.
Roca Inc. gave her every resource to make a difference.
Ochoi Bacchus, the program manager for Roca Young Mothers said she is also a domestic violence survivor.
“I’m a survivor myself, I’ve been there, I escaped with my four kids. For a lot of us, we stay because we don’t believe there’s a way out. So what we are saying is, I will help you. I will hold your hand. There is a way out of the situation,” Bacchus said.
Roca Inc. uses referrals from agencies like the Department of Children and Families (DCF), Hartford police, or local high schools to take what they call a relentless approach.
“We go and we knock on her door until she opens it and we don’t go away. There’s nothing a young woman can do to get kicked out of our program. This is a program where there is no judgment. We believe young people are not their behaviors and we work with them to change their behaviors,” said Sunindiya Bhalla, executive vice president of Women and 2Gen at Roca Inc.
Roca Young Mothers works with 80 high-risk women between 14 and 24 years old. The majority of women in the program have been arrested, do not have a job or high school diploma and have experienced domestic violence.
“And having a trusting consistent person there, that’s who we are. We are those people for our young people,” said Kat Hannah, of Roca Young Mothers.
The program typically runs for three to four years and offers services from mental health counseling and daycare. The organization also helps the young mothers in the program to find jobs, housing and the chance to further their education.
The Hartford nonprofit has a waitlist.
“I could not have imagined when we opened in Hartford how great the need was and how significant the trauma and victimization of young women here in Hartford is, from sex trafficking to sexual assault to domestic violence, these young women have been through a lot,” Bhalla said.
During the News 8 interview on Monday, Roca Young Mothers received three urgent calls for people who needed help getting to a safe space.
“They’ve been very supportive to me. They are one of my biggest resources. Get the help. Don’t be afraid,” said Mykala Wedler of Hartford.
Domestic violence survivors say to give power back to yourself and to take that first step before it’s potentially taken from you.
“Don’t believe that a little push, a little pinch, a little shouting can’t become more than that. I’ve lost so many friends. I’ve had friends who are paralyzed because they didn’t leave in time. So I’m saying don’t wait. Walk away. Their life will be better and so will yours, at least you’ll be alive,” Bacchus said.
For more information on resources available at Roca Young Mothers check out the website.