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A graduation ceremony was held today for the second Project Imagine class, with the four members receiving certificates for completing a nine-week work readiness program that gives gang-affiliated youth a future off the streets by providing them with a paid work experience and mentoring while on the job.
The Danville Redevelopment and Housing Authority provided jobs for the youths, who ranged in age from 18 to 21.
Robert David, the gang violence prevention and youth services coordinator for the City of Danville, commended them for completing the program.
“You didn’t quit,” David said. “You stay connected, and you showed that you wanted a better life.”
During the ceremony, David talked about the obstacles these youths face in completing the program.
“It is easy to go back to your comfortable place,” he said. “Sometimes, that is what happens to the youth that we deal with. We put them in a position where they can be successful, but it easier for them to go back to the place where they were than to try to be successful at this level.”
David said that syndrome is why Project Imagine is not just a work program, but also a program that builds relationships.
“Even after these nine weeks, we are going to be talking and staying connected,” he said. “It’s not just a one-time thing. It is about building relationships so they can move forward.”
To supplement the work experience provided, the youths received training on managing money and the availability of classes and additional training programs.
David thanked Danville Community College’s Scale Up program, Telamon Corp., Valley Star Credit Union, and Danville Social Services for presenting programs and providing resources.
The program is a partnership between the City of Danville, Virginia Workforce Center and the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice. The first class began in October and ended in December with five youths graduating.
For this second class, referrals came not only from the local probation and parole office, but also from the Department of Social Services and faith-based organizations. Five youths were enrolled, with one dropping out.
As with the first graduating class, David said success is in the fact that while the youths did not necessarily do everything perfectly during the program, there were no new criminal charges filed against these youths, no new gang-related activity noted, and no probation violations or recommitments.
“Those are the positives we have coming out of this program,” David said.
City Manager Ken Larking presented the graduation certificates.
“City Council is very supportive of this program,” Larking said. “We care about the lives of everyone in Danville. We want everyone to be as successful as they can be. Every young person has a lot of potential. Anything we can do to help support and make that potential a reality, then we are going to be there for you.”