Five teenagers were honored on Wednesday for completing life skills training and goal-setting exercises through Project Imagine. The program steers youths away from gang activity by developing and maintaining relationships with mentors, and by focusing on goals such as having no contact with law enforcement, improving their grades, completing school, and becoming employed.
Graduating from the program were Dallas Adams, Keyon Brooks, Terr’yon Mosley, Damian Tarpley, and Marchello Waddell.
Robert David, youth services and gang violence prevention coordinator for the City of Danville, commended the youths for taking this step.
“You didn’t have to come (and participate in the program),” David said. “You could have stayed home, and you could have been doing whatever you wanted to do. But you took time out of your day to come here and say, ‘I am about to do something in my life that is about to be a life-changing experience. This is going to change everything. I am going to change direction.'"
David said the Project Imagine staff tag the phrase “your new aunts and uncles,” meaning that they will serve as a support system for the youths.
“We are here to help you stay out of the way (of trouble),” David said. “We help you do something else so that you are not out there doing that (gang activity). We give you the opportunity to do things so that when people come to you with some nonsense and try to get you involved in something crazy that is going to take you away from your dreams, we say ‘come on in’ (to our program and activities). We want to keep you out of the way (of trouble).”
Deputy City Manager Earl Reynolds encouraged the youths to stay on a positive path in their journey of life. He shared advice that he learned as a youth.
“A gentleman who ran an after-school program when I was your age would tell us all the time ‘good, better, best. Never rest until your good is better, and your better is best,’” Reynolds said. “It is all about taking that next step and seeing that ‘I am on my way, but I am not there yet.’ Life is a journey. It is not a destination.”
Since the program’s inception, 17 classes, totaling more than 90 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.
David says Project Imagine provides opportunities for the kids, who in turn have the responsibility of taking advantage of it.
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.