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The City of Danville today kicked off a new program designed to give gang members a future off the streets by providing them with a paid work experience and mentoring while on the job.
The nine-week training and employment program, called Project Imagine, is being implemented through a partnership with the Virginia Workforce Center and the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice.
“The motto of the City is ‘Reimagine That,’ but we have to give these youth a vision first,” said Robert David, the City’s gang violence prevention and youth services coordinator. “In order to have a vision, you have to be able to formulate one. Through this program, this group will be able to ‘imagine’ that they can have a better life, to ‘imagine’ that they can be productive citizens, and to ‘imagine’ that they can be connected to this community.”
David added, “What better way to empower youth than money, and in the process of getting that money they get work experience, they have mentors, and they are exposed to a life that they have never been exposed to because now they are working in the community. There is a level of pride and a level of satisfaction with that. You cannot put a dollar sign on what they are going to experience — to work for the City and be able to bring money back home to their mother. No gang is stronger than the ability to make your mother proud of you.”
The first class includes five teenagers ages 17 and 18. David said all five have been identified as being involved in gang activity to some degree. They have been assigned jobs within the Public Works and the Parks and Recreation departments.
City Manager Ken Larking addressed the group during an orientation session held today.
“We want you to be able to make a positive difference in the community, and we appreciate you taking this first step to do that,” Larking said. “We are looking forward to your success as you work together with city employees and make something great out of your lives. Thank you so much for your willingness to do that. We are excited about this program.”
The teens will begin their jobs on Monday, Oct. 15. They will be paid $10 an hour, with funding provided by the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act program. This program was created by Congress in 2014 to help youth and those with significant barriers to employment to get into jobs and careers and help employers hire and retain skilled workers.
Larking said Project Imagine has the support of City Council as an intervention strategy to reduce gang violence. He encourages other employers in the city to consider participating in the future.