With ROC Program, Teens Are 'Making a Choice' Every Week

Going five years strong, ROC Teen provides free, safe and fun programming each Saturday for local teens.

Participation in ROC Teen events has skyrocketed this past year, with the group’s annual operating budget increasing from $16,000 to $50,000 and up to 80 teens attending the weekly events, said ROC Teen organizer Steve “Virgil” Virgilio.

The goal of the Recovery Outreach Committee teen program, better known as ROC Teen, is to offer an event in the Charlestown area every Saturday as an alternative for teens who might otherwise hang out on the streets. The group offers a variety of options, including bowling, movie nights, and sober dances.

Virgilio estimates that 95 percent of the teens that participate in the weekly events are from Charlestown, but teens also come from other areas around Boston, including the North End, Saugus, Everett, and Tewksbury.

“They make a choice every week – whether they want to hang on the street or come ice skating,” Virgilio said. “There’s something every week waiting for them.”

Expanding the program has taken some extra effort from Virgilio, who regards ROC Teen as a full-time job. He works in construction “on the side,” he said. Most of his time is devoted to fundraising and planning for ROC Teen events.

For the past five years, the group has been funded mostly by contributions from local businesses, but the group is also starting to apply for grants, said Virgilio. This year they secured a couple of small grants and became a tax-exempt organization. He publicizes the ROC Teen events in order to keep the program as transparent as possible and garner more support from the community.

The learning curve has been steep for Virgilio, who has no prior experience in applying for grants or running this type of organization, but that ROC Teen is taking “baby steps” to becoming a more sustainable program, he said.

ROC Teen has inspired other organizations that serve teens in the Boston area to offer more free events. Virgilio senses some competition, but he views the increase in these programs as a positive outcome rather than a threat. “We’re the new kids on the block. We’re not here to take anyone’s grant, but we do like that it has sparked something,” Virgilio said.

Many of the teens that Virgilio interacts with come from homes that have been affected by drug use and alcoholism. In the past year, however, the ROC Teen events have attracted teens from more well-off families who are able to contribute financially to the group.

Still, the increase in participants has put a strain on Virgilio to keep the program going. He said that people have encouraged him to cut back, but he is determined to offer something for the teens every week. “So far we’ve never failed a Saturday, he said. “A lot of us have to sacrifice on our own. When there’s nothing there, we make it happen.”

In addition to fundraising, Virgilio is active in the community, going to the schools to meet with students when problems arise and even fighting for them in court. “This thing is on Saturday, but I’m busy all week,” he said.

ROC Teen has an approach that is unique from any Virgilio has ever seen, he said. Almost all of the events are completely free. When teens have to come up with even $5 or $10, only half the usual amount can afford to attend, Virgilio said.

The group also provides a welcoming environment for the teens. “A lot of agencies demand respect from the teenagers, and with ROC, we give them respect. It’s a big difference,” said Virgilio.

Virgilio approaches the teens with a special understanding and appreciation of the problems that they are going through. “I don’t forget where I was at that age. I know what they’re going through. I know the streets, I know the recovery, I know the drug pressures, and I know the family pressures. I know where they are,” he said.

The ROC Teen group has had a profound influence on many of the teens who have participated. Virgilio noticed that teens started going back to school and graduating. Some of the students who were involved with the group from the beginning have shown an interest in donating and helping to run the group.

Roots of ROC

The group started five years ago when Virgilio met with three teens as part of a drug and alcohol recovery program to talk about personal and family problems. After that initial meeting, at the request of the teens, they started getting together every week.

In the first year, attendance increased to about 20 teens, and Virgilio started offering food and fun outings in addition to the opportunity to talk about their problems. In the past year, attendance at the weekly events increased dramatically, said Virgilio. 

As the group grew, the teens became less comfortable sharing, said Virgilio. He has found that teens still receive mentoring through the group by connecting with some of the chaperones who help out at the weekly events. For the most part, the teens take the initiative in approaching the chaperones that they trust, said Virgilio.

In addition to offering weekly events in the Charlestown area, Virgilio offers trips to places where most of the teens he works with would never have dreamed of going, such as Six Flags New England near Springfield, Mass. and Canobie Lake Amusement Park in New Hampshire. Although some have criticized these trips as extravagances, Virgilio believes that they make the teens feel like they have normal lives.

The first major trip Virgilio organized was inspired by a conversation with a small group of teens who were convinced that they would never see Disney World. But with the help of generous contributions from Virgilio’s boss in the construction business and various online donors, 25 teens went to Disney World with all expenses paid.

“It was like a dream come true,” said Virgilio. “I put my ticket in first. Then I ran back and I watched them come into the park one by one. I had tears in my eyes. It was amazing.”

More recently, Virgilio was inspired by the popular television show to organize a day trip to Jersey Shore for this upcoming May. He posted the event on Facebook, and within a week, over 100 teens had responded.

Despite the daily struggle to keep the group going and keep the events free, Virgilio is hopeful for the future. “I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the kids from the original group, or a couple of them, came back and kept the group going,” he said.

If you are interested in helping the group, contact Steve Virgilio here. Also check out the ROC Teen Facebook page and make a friend request to keep up with what the group is doing. 

PETER BUCCIERI March 25, 2011 at 01:16 AM
stephanie Cardone March 25, 2011 at 03:03 AM
I know Steven my entire Life, HE IS A STRONG POSITIVE ROLE MODEL , A SAFE HARBOR FOR KIDS IN NEED....Not only do I have the privilege to say he is a life long friend , but I have Chaparoned many of his trips, so I know first hand what he provides for his kids. Many people work with children , they all want the cute little ones that are easy to deal with between the ages of 5-11..Not many take on Teen- agers..As parents we dont want to deal with our teen- agers...I also speak from a parental point of view,I HAVE SEEN HOW THESE KIDS RESPOND TO STEVEN..IT IS NOTHING SHORT OF MIRACALOUS!! He is always willing to help out ...over and above what everyone else is doing, whether it be registering kids for school , lending a sympatheic ear...or even pulling money out of his own pocket to buy hats, gloves and winter coats for some. Steven is nothing short of an angel...doing "GOD'S WORK " I shutter to think what may have become of some of these kids , if it hadn't been for Steven's intervention. He loves these kids with everything he's got. SHAME on anyone who would dare to say less !! Thanks Stephanie Cardone
Deborah Luisi March 25, 2011 at 01:23 PM
I can not say enough about Virgil & what he does for these kids! It is sad to think some one could find fault in a helping hand?In a society that teaches our children , every man is for himself, this world needs more people like Virgil to teach these kids there is HOPE & people still care about them. "We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop." Mother Teresa Keep filing that ocean Virgil, these kids need You !
Kevin Cain March 25, 2011 at 02:54 PM
So there it is Soxfan29...looks like your negative comments toward Virgil and the ROC Teen Saturday program hold no weight at all with the teens involved and the majority of us "Townies" who know the truth of the matter. Virgil is a highly respected leader in our community. In fact, his commitment to the youth of Charlestown was recognized recently at the Annual Charlestown Community Appreciation Awards Ceremony. The work he does reaches far beyond weekly field trips and I am proud to be a sponsor in his Program. You must be an outsider, otherwise, you would know the pressures of being a teenager growing up in a town where it is very easy to fall victim to the streets. Virgil gives these kids a choice, and a chance to get off the streets....and in the process, has probably saved a life or two. The ROC Teen grows bigger and bigger every year, thanks in part to Virgil and the many volunteers who lend a helping hand. What does that say about the ROC Teen Saturday Program? People need not question the "structure, credibility, and leadership" of this program when the support of an entire community is behind it. The youth of Charlestown need a leader like Virgil. So Soxfan29, next time you want to take shots at a program you know nothing about, you should do your homework first. Kevin Cain
Colleen Bryan March 25, 2011 at 03:14 PM
Margaret chase March 25, 2011 at 06:42 PM
I have two children who attend roc they both have come from a home of drug and alcohol abuse with out Virgil my kids wouldn't have amything to do on Saturday my daughter would be running the streets and my high functioning autistic son would have to stick to my side he is mow 13 and really needs to be out with his friends but without supervision this isn't possible Virgil has made it possible. My daughter would of never been to the maceys day parade she wouldn't be going to jersey shore my children wouldn't have any of these experience without Virgil he Is what these kids need he is what they want he iwas defiantly set from heaven he was put here for this pursose!!!WE LOVE YOU BIG DADDY VIRGIL,KEEP UP THE GREAT WORK!!!!!!!
Soxfan29 March 25, 2011 at 06:52 PM
If only it were that simple! When will people stop playing the "townie" card? It's getting really old. Too bad there wasn't this much passion when the proposed Kenedy Center cuts blog appreared a few weeks back. On a more serious note, I guess folks were not able to seperate their feelings about Virgil from my initial question, Apologies for not making that clear enough. I'm glad the young people had a chance to be heard about their experiences and wish them the best. However, as ROC grows questions such as this will come up, and it will not be personal. It wasn't in this case. Clearly Virgil means alot to alot of you, and that's not a bad thing, it's great. The weather is looking good for the weekend, have fun tomorrow!
Laura Hanlon March 25, 2011 at 07:42 PM
HELLOOOOOOOOOO SOXFAN...we absolutely know the structure credibility and leadership of this program!!! What is your problem ? I think you have nothing better to do with your time than to attack a wonderful person such as STEVEN VIRGILIO and what he is doing for these children!! I think youre just one miserable person...dont you think its a great thing for these teens? What is it with you??? Why dont you offer your time for a week and see what its all about before you go and run your mouth(respectfully saying) or do you just sit on your behind all day and attack people and programs you know nothing about? I am sorry if I sound harsh but its just really bothering me that you know nothing about this program or the people who volunteer their time..Now you have a great weekend yourself ..ok?? :)
Margaret chase March 25, 2011 at 08:56 PM
To answer your question on how we send them off each weekend with Virgil is simply trust we know he's not fake and really cares you heard the kids as well as parents and recovering atticts tell you of all his good this alone should answer your question it's been going strong for five years and growing for a reason and any parent or adult can join him on any given saturday to see for themselves it's like watching a movie you don't know if you like it til you see it talk to our teens they will tell you how we send them every weekend with Virgil instead of the streets or how being a coach potato or smoking weed on the streets getting arrested I can call him during Any event to check on my children and yes we areTOWNIES and proud of it we all watch out for each other and our children at one time because we care!!! That's just who we are sorry for who can't stand that I'm proud of where I came from!!
D Rose March 25, 2011 at 09:09 PM
For all the people who are writing something bad or negative about steven.Do what he does for 1 month with 100 kids every saturday.And when there was no money he used his weekly check.After working 40 to 50 hours a week doing construction.Never mind doing this for five years.Shame on you all.You should be writing that he is a HERO.Virgil God knows what you are doing thats all that matters.And your 100 kids
Laura Hanlon March 25, 2011 at 09:25 PM
ellen March 26, 2011 at 04:36 AM
Meaghan March 26, 2011 at 05:46 AM
Soxfan , you clearly have no clue what you are talking about or what the group is about . I am one of the originals as well and if it wasnt for VIRGIL i dont know where i would be today . Virgil has been there for every teen sense day 1 & has let it be known that no matter what happens that will NEVER change ! Virgil has done everything in his power to help me and many other teens out no matter what day of the week it was ; whether it was coming to school or court to speak on my behalf , or coming to tewksbury EVERY saturday for a year to make sure that I wasnt missing out on anything ! Even if it was just a meeting and no trip he still took that 20 minute drive out of his way to make sure NOBODY was left out .
Meaghan March 26, 2011 at 05:48 AM
(cont ) Virgil is honestly my true hero and the greatest person alive and I will never ever let anyone say different . I got your back virg , just like you always had & still have mine !!! And I dont see any body else doing anything close to what virgil is doing for us ( of course besides the people donating & that is highly appricated , thank you guys ! ) so how can anyone bad mouth this group or vrigil when its \ hes been nothing but great towards everyone involved ? Virgl has taking me & 24 other teens to Florida and New york and many many other places that most of us have never been & still wouldnt have gone too if it wasnt for virgil . And its not his job to be doing this , he does this because he truely cares about every single one of us , and wants the group to grow and grow even if that means more money out of HIS pockets , When new people tried coming and we all said no he said yes and kept saying yes and always is going to say yes . It doesnt matter if your from an alcoholic \ drugs family or a so called well- off family if your 12 or older your welcome in Teen saturday ( ROC ) . Virgil has done nothing but good things for almost everyone in this town and i give him all my respect for it .
Meaghan March 26, 2011 at 05:53 AM
( cont ) We love you virgil & everything your doing for us and dont listen to what other people have to say because all the matters is that you know the truth and we all do tooo ! thank you for everything youve done over the past 5 years and thank you for everything im sure youll do for me in the next 5 years :) I dont think i could ever explain how much everything virg has done means to me ! and i dont think words could explain how thankfull i am for everything he has done for me ! not just taking me on trips but for being there for me when i needed advice and didnt want to ask my parents or needed someone to talk to . It all means so much to me and i will never be able to forget it ! You mean the world to me and everyone in this group virgil and always will never for get that ! You are my hero , love you .. Meaghan :)
Marc Evers March 26, 2011 at 06:01 AM
virgil is one of the best guys I know. he goes out of his way to help the kids in the community to keep them off the streets. some kids never have the chance to go to these types of places. every saturday virgil dedicates his time to keep the kids off the streets. I have so my respect for virgil for what he has done for me and also all the other teens. thank you virgil for everything you have done for us. lets keep it going.
nelson pacheco March 26, 2011 at 02:10 PM
I cannot believe what I just finished reading soxfan, you cannot be serious. Really. You must have no clue about how hard it is to keep something like this going week in and week out. And now we are going to question someone like steve virgilio's credibility, why dont you show up to one of there weekend events and learn some valuable things first, then maybe you can talk, and for sure the message will be different. That I know. Good job Big Daddy Virg.
SUE GRECO March 26, 2011 at 03:57 PM
Jan Brown March 26, 2011 at 05:31 PM
I say Good Job Virgil! My granddaughter goes with Virgil on some of his trips. At first I was totally against it as she is only 13. I checked everything out for myself before I let her go anywhere. If he wasn't on the up and up she wouldn't be going. As for him being disorganized it is because more kids show up for each event than said were going to go. He never turns anyone away even if it means leaving late because he has to get more transportation for the extra kids. If Peter Looney who provided money for these trips from CHAD found him to be trustworthy, then he is. I feel perfectly comfortable letting her go anywhere with Virgil as I know she will be coming home the same way she left and always had a great time. If for some reason some younger kids had to be home earlier than some of the older kids, he made sure they got home safely. I cannot say enough good things about him and there should be more people willing to do what he does for the kids in Charlestown. Keep up the good work Jan Brown
Carla Cunningham March 26, 2011 at 05:59 PM
Jamie Byrnes March 28, 2011 at 02:28 PM
seriously soxfan? first of all if you were so "well involved" with children then you should by far not be someone trying to criticize such a wonderful man like Virgil. "I have dedicated my life to helping young people, particularly youth in Charlestown." thats hilarious because other then mission safe, or the boys and girls club, no other organization has tried to help out charlestown kids ever. "ROC" is a huge thing to majority of the children floating around the streets in charlestown. i don't know if u understand completely or not but when Virgil came around he changed the views of 20 of us children completely. when we believed there was no hope in making our lives better VIRGIL came around to prove us wrong, he taught us that the grass was still greener on the other side. when we had family problems we couldn't deal with or had no one to talk to , who other then VIRGIL came just to listen to us. something that we needed the most. he just sat there and listened to our problems and he listened to the troubles of being from an alcohol/substance abuse home. he was there to let us know that it wasn't the end even if we believed it was. he was there to help us see the good over the bad. the STRUCTURE of this program in my eyes was a miracle.
Jamie Byrnes March 28, 2011 at 02:28 PM
virgil was there to lead us into a better direction than we have seen in our lives. he didn't only want the better for us but he wanted the best. when i was in doubt about finishing my high school career, when i believed i couldn't do it anymore, he was there to teach me otherwise. he made sure that i got the high school diploma that i deserved, he was even there in person to see me retrieve it. even beyond that he was there to help me with the overload stress of college. he made sure i went through with new job interviews and even developed "MOVIE NIGHT" in the north end and in charlestown and it opened up a couple job opportunities for the other kids in the group. during the beginning of the organization i attended every saturday meeting. it was my inspiration that we could do this one day at a time there could be fun without alcohol or drugs. being able to get out of charlestown every saturday made life seem so much better, and he did that faithfully, willingly, devotedly, and most importantly just because he loved us individually. for someone like "soxfan" to disrespectfully , ignorantly and directly try to question the leadership of a program like "ROC" just blows my mind. i mean ya he takes us on trips but you don't understand the struggle he goes through just to make sure each child is satisfied at the end of the night. and it wasn't just a trip every Saturday it was more like a new experience. he made one of my lifelong dreams come true.
Jamie Byrnes March 28, 2011 at 02:29 PM
i never believed i was going to see Disney world, until Virgil brought 20 of us kids there. it was the best time of my life. he brought us to see how busy HAMPTON BEACH was in the summer. even now as i work full time i still take some Saturdays off to see the ecstatic faces of the children when they go to the movies or go to the carnival. how there faces light up when there on roller coasters at SIXFLAGS or CANOBIE lake park. how much fun they have even on a two day spiritual retreat up in Vermont. we even got to see how tough life can actually get when we went and helped out at the food pantry or went and helped with "TOYS FOR TOTS". we never realized how fortunate we really were until we seen the faces of the less fortunate. also during prom time virgil helped girls in the group get PROM DRESSES donated from a bunch of people just to make sure that each one of us girls got to go and enjoy a night that was meant to be remembered. not only did he just affect the lives of children in broken up substance abuse homes but he also helped the parents realize there was better hope. he made them feel involved just as he did the children. our parents got to become part of the recovery process. he does all of this for us out of the kindness of his heart, works his behind off in construction just so that he can have enough money to support us every Saturday if we aren't capable of being sponsored enough.
Jamie Byrnes March 28, 2011 at 02:29 PM
Virgil is the reason why I'm growing up to be the young lady i am, hes my inspiration for my desire to open up a group home for trouble young children when i get older. i want to be their security just like Virgil is mine. i want them to have someone to run and talk to when times get tough just like i have VIGRIL. i want children to know that there are wonderful people out there like Virgil and give them some hope on the better future that they can see. you can keep trying to shut us down soxfan but just remember your not only hurting VIRGIL but your hurting the children and families of over 60 kids. thanks for everything you ever did and are still doing for US virgil we love you undoubtedly with all our hearts <3
Cheryl March 28, 2011 at 07:59 PM
Choosing an email address such as yours; Soxfan29, indicates a few things in our part of the woods! To all Sox fans an explanation is not necessary. This is what perplexes me, why you would purposely create doubt. When everyone knows real Sox fans are true believers! I'm sure when Steven met with a few people to listen about real concerns, from real teens, he never in a million years expected it to become a popular program for teens. Within short 5 years he has in front of him a terrific program that adults and teens believe in. Why? Simply stated, because it works. Now that it has mushroomed into a successful program, the real work begins. Applying for grants, being recognized as a potential program that other cities and towns want to implement., etc. I trust all the programs available to kids are applauding ROC and it's efforts. Every valuable, credible program had to start somewhere. I hate to think, perhaps some programs feel threatened that they will not receive their funding as a result of ROC's popularity. There's enough to go around for everybody! I think it's wonderful that a city kid grew up and gave back to the very same streets he walked.
Laura Hanlon March 28, 2011 at 08:26 PM
Colleen Bryan March 28, 2011 at 08:43 PM
Jamie Byrnes March 29, 2011 at 12:57 AM
I am writing this letter, not to fight or put others down. Because, I know none of us are perfect, and we all have trials and tribulations we need to go through. But, a lot of times it strengthens our character and makes us forgiving and compassionate people. I will make it clear when I speak of "Virgil". He puts all he has into making the teens feel loved and valuable. He is always right there when anyone needs him. Alcoholism is a disease, I am fortunate that my mom is a recovering alcoholic for thirty years and at an early age we went to alateen and alanon. We realized we did not cause it and it wasn't our fault and that she always loved us she was sick for a time. Today we are best friends and I am lavished with love. And alcoholism does not discriminate rich or poor, black or white. So as our children got older their father and myself had struggles of our own and sad to say it absolutely affected our children. We are sober now and have chaperone trips with them. Thanks to Virgil. No one can battle this alone. Therefore, I am grateful, I had the program and our children had family and Virgil to help our family, he is a blessings in a lot of ways. His love and support is amazing, He is a great man.and an asset to our family. He is faithful and my son loves and respects him as much as our daughter Jamie. She has a gift from God to express herself. Virgil has touched many teens and their parents. With all the struggling to get the trips ready and sleepless nights.
Carla March 30, 2011 at 08:35 PM
Virgil just keep doing what you do and never worry about what people like Soxfan29 think or believe! Your ROC program is great and will only get better given the responses from all who defended your program above. It seems to me that Soxfan29 may be someone who works for another organization that needs grant money to keep his/her program alive by the tone of his/her statements. Everyone knows the good that you do for so many kids in so many neighborhoods and you never get tired...you just keep going! Your program has helped kids in many different ways and the testament to that is from the responses above. Keep up the good work Virgil and if you need help you know where I am! Excellent, Cheryl it was tough to follow that!!!!!!
Bryan May 19, 2011 at 01:48 AM
Virgil was kind enough to come to my aid a little under four years ago. I had tried on many ocassions to get my "act" together. Virgil took me to DAT for a meeting, introduced me to people and helped me on a daily basis until I could stand on my own two feet. This man doesn't have a selfish bone in his body and his accomplishments simply amaze me. Thank you Virgil.


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