Four teenagers were honored earlier this week for completing life skills training and goal-setting exercises through Project Imagine, a community violence intervention program that steers gang-prone kids off the streets and into completing school and becoming employed.
Graduating from the program were Jayden King-Hannah, Jordan Jones, JaToric Nunnally, and Nyles Stewart.
Robert David, youth services and gang violence prevention coordinator for the City of Danville, commended the youths for deciding to better their lives.
“I want to thank you for making the decision to do something different with your life,” David said. “We know there are a lot of young men out in the community who have not yet made that decision. Project Imagine is here to help you. The only thing that we can give you is the opportunity. It is your responsibility to take advantage of it.”
Tommy Bennett, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, told the youths to not allow anybody to tell them what they cannot do.
“Whatever you want to be, you can do it,” Bennett said. “Reach for the top. Don’t let folks pull you down.”
Since the program’s inception, 13 classes totaling 73 teens have graduated.
Project Imagine started in 2018 to create a positive "image" in the youth’s mind so that he or she can "imagine" a life without gangs or crime. Initially, the program consisted of a nine-week paid work experience and mentoring while on the job with a partnering agency.
The focus now is developing and maintaining those relationships as each teen progresses in meeting their goals, such as finishing school and becoming employed. A Project Imagine outreach worker is assigned to mentor each teen in the program for a minimum of one year.
“We like to think of ourselves as your new aunts and uncles because we are going to be there for you,” David said. “Once you go through Project Imagine, you are family, and that is how we treat you. …. We will be honest, and there is no judgment.”
As part of the program, the participants receive 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 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.