Eight teenagers were honored on Wednesday for completing life skills training and goal-setting exercises through Project Imagine, a program that gives gang-affiliated teens a future off the streets.
With the latest class of graduates, five classes totaling 31 teens have now completed the program in the last nine months.
Mayor Alonzo Jones thanked the teens for believing in this program. “It’s not easy (to take this step), and sometimes the strongest need encouragement,” Jones said.
The mayor also talked about “T-H-R-I-V-E,” which is an acronym for being thoughtful, heartfelt, results driven, innovative, value and trusted, and engaged.
“That (T-H-R-I-V-E) is what each one of you did,” Jones said. “You thought about your future, you put your heart in this program, you have what (skills) this program imparted, and you are thinking about a new direction now for your life. Value and trusted, here I am talking about believing in yourself no matter what comes your way, and engage in the process (that will lead to success). Jones also encouraged the teens to celebrate their accomplishments.
Councilman Barry Mayo told the teens that if they get knocked down, then get back up.
“The game is not over,” Mayo said. “Life is not easy. What you want to accomplish sometimes is not easy. If you work for it, you will get there. You will make mistakes, but don’t let that stop you.”
He talked about career trades and funding assistance available at Danville Community College. Mayo works at the community college with the TARE, CAPE and SCALE UP programs, which are designed to help eligible students by eliminating barriers to education.
NAACP President Tommy Bennett and Reggie Petty, a program graduate, also addressed the group and their parents.
“You can do whatever you want to do in life,” Bennett said. “You are looking at all of us here who started just like you did. I did not have any direction on which way to go and what to do. This is a dynamite program.”
Petty told the group that the program has made a difference in his life.
“They showed me love,” Petty said. “That is what they are going to do for you.”
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.
Project Imagine is led by Robert David, the youth services and gang violence prevention coordinator for the City of Danville. The idea is that the program creates a positive "image" in the mind of the youth so that he or she can "imagine" a life without gangs or crime.
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, and four completed the fourth class in November.
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.