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Four teenagers were honored Thursday for completing life skills training as part of the City of Danville’s Project Imagine program, which strives to give gang-affiliated teens a future off the streets.
With the latest class of graduates, four classes totaling 23 teens have now completed the program in the last six months.
Speaking at yesterday’s ceremony, Robert David, the youth services and gang violence prevention coordinator for the City of Danville, encouraged the teens to not let past mistakes define them.
“You got a set of instructions with some bad information, and you followed those instructions, and in your heart, you thought it was right,” David said. “We are not trying to make you anything. We are trying to let you become who you are. How do we do that? It’s by giving you some different instructions on how to do some things and how to handle situations differently.”
Going forward, David said, “We don’t expect you not to make mistakes because that is part of learning. It’s the getting up when we fall that strengthens us.”
As part of the training, 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.
“It looks like you learned something, but you also gave us something,” David said. “As much as you come to make changes, we get just as much by seeing you change. We don’t take it lightly that you showed up and worked hard.”
Deputy City Manager Earl Reynolds encouraged the teens to take what they have learned and use it to not only better themselves but the community as well.
“The important thing is that you have a purpose, and you have a focus, and you apply that to your everyday life,” Reynolds said. “What will help the community is what ‘I am as a person. Am I willing to give back to the community?’ The question is, do you have the desire? Do you have the heart? That starts right here. You are so important, more important than you will ever know. We are depending on you.”
Project Imagine gives gang-affiliated teens a future off the streets by providing them with life skills instruction and work readiness training. The program started in 2018 and consisted of a nine-week paid work experience and mentoring while on the job with a partnering agency.
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 youth services and gang violence prevention outreach workers is assigned to mentor each teen in the program for a minimum of one year.
Ten teens were in the first class, which completed their training in early June. Four teens finished the second class in late July. Five were in the third class in September.
The teens in 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.