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Project Imagine, a community violence intervention collaborative to steer youths away from gang activity, last week honored 12 teenagers – its largest class yet – for completing life skills training and goal-setting exercises.
Graduating were Carlos Brooks, Javion Chriscoe, Malia Goods, Justice Gunter, De’shanique Johnson, Jacob Luck, Zakareyea Miller, Treyvan Nickens, Tyron Pounds, Autumn Saunders, Robert Tatum, and Tymeek Torain.
Robert David, violence prevention manager for Project Imagine, commended the graduates for making the decision to change the direction of their lives.
“You took the opportunity to say, ‘You know what, I might have made some mistakes (in my life), but this is the last day. I am going to move forward. And do some great things,’” David said. “That is why we want to celebrate with you because we understand what it took for you to get to this point. We have much respect for you.”
Curtis Artis, assistant violence prevention manager, added, “Today is another great day because we have young people making a change in their lives. I want to thank all the young men and young women for trusting in Project Imagine to help you reach your goals. I see a bright future for this group here. The majority of you have been through some trying times.”
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.
As part of the program, the youths receive strength-based assessments using the Casey Life Skills and Clifton Strengths tools. These tools are used to place youths on a path toward developing healthy, productive lives.
Also, a Project Imagine outreach worker is assigned to mentor each youth for a minimum of one year. Project Imagine staff tag the phrase “your new aunts and uncles,” meaning that they will serve as a support system for the youths.
Deputy City Manager Earl Reynolds encouraged the youths to believe in themselves and that they can succeed in life.
“I cannot give you that (belief), it has to come from you,” Reynolds said. “It comes from your experience in interacting with other people in situations where you have had some success. That success does not have to be monumental but use it to build upon.”
He added, “I made many mistakes in my life. But I had to get up from that. You can do the same thing.”
Since the program’s inception, 21 classes, totaling more than 120 teens, have graduated.
Project Imagine is based on the evidence-based theory of Cognitive Behavior Therapy in that if the youth can implement new information and standards, then he or she can change their behavior. The idea is that the program creates a positive "image" in the mind of a youth so that they he or she can "imagine" a life without gangs or crime.
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, Robert David, violence prevention manager, 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.