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Five 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, six classes totaling 36 teens have now completed the program in the last 10 months.
Graduating on Wednesday were Maryah Barksdale, Brandon Coleman, Dilier Coles, Christian Pinckney, and Cameron Walton.
Mayor Alonzo Jones thanked the teens for participating in this program.
“We believe in you,” Jones said. “When you go home, put that certificate somewhere where you can see it every single day so that you can always review that accomplishment.”
Councilman Sherman Saunders talked about the importance of being a leader by serving as an example for others.
“A leader is anyone who knows right from wrong, and because they did not do wrong, someone watching them didn’t do wrong,” Saunders said. “Remember, someone is watching you. Be a leader for them.”
TaQuan Carter, a 24-year-old volunteer in the program, encouraged the graduates to learn from their mistakes, as he had to do in his life.
“You are going to make mistakes in life, but you can learn from each one,” Carter said. “Don’t keep making the same mistakes because after a while, you will not keep getting second chances.”
Also speaking were City Manager Ken Larking and NAACP President Tommy Bennett.
Project Imagine is directed 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.
“We work with kids who sometimes have been thrown away and given up on,” David said. “We work with them. That is Project Imagine. That is what we do.”
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.
“These assessments tell these teens what they are,” David said. “Many times, with young people who have had pitfalls, everybody is telling them what they are not. These assessments tell these teens what their strengths are and what they can be.”
The teens also underwent goal-setting exercises.
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.
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.