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A ceremony was held earlier this week for 10 teenagers who completed the first phase of the expanded Project Imagine program, which gives gang-affiliated teens a future off the streets by providing them with life skills instruction and work readiness training.
In the first phase, the teens received strength-based assessments using the Casey Life Skills and Clifton Strengths tools that aim to set youth on their way toward developing healthy, productive lives. The teens also underwent goal-setting exercises.
“They are learning things we take for granted,” said Robert David, the youth services and gang violence prevention coordinator for the City of Danville. “As they learn, they develop confidence. Confidence leads to developing self-value and staying off the streets.”
Project Imagine started in 2018 and consisted of a nine-week paid work experience and mentoring while on the job with a partnering agency.
“We have moved beyond the paid work experience concept,” David said. “Some are not job ready. When you place a kid in a job too early, then you set them up for failure.”
The focus now is on developing relationships with gang-affiliated teens and maintaining those relationships as each teen progresses in meeting the goals they established during this initial phase of the program. One of the City’s three new youth services and gang violence prevention outreach workers is assigned to mentor each teen in the program for a minimum of one year.
“The outreach workers are in face-to-face contact with the kids at least twice a week,” David said. “We take a holistic approach.”
The holistic approach also includes a teen’s entire family. For example, Project Imagine has partnered with Head Start, which offers programs that promote the school readiness of infants, toddlers and preschool-aged children from low-income families.
“When we go into a teen’s home, we deal with the whole family,” David said. “If the mother is struggling, then that puts pressure on the young man we are reaching out to. The young man may feel like he has to do some things, including committing crimes, in order for the family to survive. If we can take care of the mother, and then if there are siblings 3- and 4-years old (that need services) too, then that takes pressure off the young man.”
David added, “This collaboration is going to impact so many families who need help but do not know where to go and what services are available. We are going to fill that gap.”
The outreach workers also will help the teens who are ready for work to find jobs or the training they need for the job that want to seek.
The three outreach workers are Curtis Artis, Shakeva Frazier and Chad Martin. They have been in their positions since late April or early May. A $488,595 grant from the U.S Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention made the positions possible. The grant will fund the positions for three years.
The teens in the Project Imagine are chosen from referrals from the police department, courts, schools and parents.
Project Imagine has received national recognition. In 2020, David was named a winner of the Frederic Milton Thrasher Award by the National Gang Crime Research Center. The award recognizes his accomplishments in gang prevention and intervention.
The program also received the President’s Award from the Virginia Municipal League in October 2019.