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Seven teenagers were honored recently 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, seven classes totaling 48 teens have now completed the program in the last year.
Among the most recent graduates were Jaysiah Clark, Tavion Cobb, Omarion Hairston, Aleesah Mays, Natassja Plunkett and Darius Smith.
Since the program’s inception in 2018, 11 classes totaling 63 teens have graduated.
Project Imagine also has added to its program a leadership level called “community ambassadors.” The initial group was introduced at the recent graduation ceremony. They are Destiny Barksdale, Tylia Gibson, Jamarie Gwynn, Christian Pickney, and Christian Robinson-Hooks.
Robert David, youth services and gang violence prevention coordinator for the City of Danville, said the ambassadors have experienced the gang lifestyle but turned away from it, and they recognize the value of the Project Imagine program and how it can become a positive influence in a person’s life.
They have helped recruit gang-prone youth to the Project Imagine program.
“They have become part of our decision-making process,” said David, who directs Project Imagine. “They have a seat at the table.”
David said the goal is for the community ambassadors to use their experiences and leadership abilities by serving on other boards and commissions, especially those dealing with youth issues.
Deputy City Manager Earl Reynolds said the ambassadors deserve a round of applause.
“They are trailblazers for the other young men and women who want to step away but need to see that there is a better life at the end of the tunnel,” Reynolds said.
Project Imagine started in 2018 with the aim of creating 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.
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.