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Six 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 Hayden Crane, Amarion Hairston, Jhymier Harper, Jayshawn King, Naszir Wilson, and Cameron Wimbush.
Robert David, youth services and gang violence prevention coordinator for the City of Danville, commended the youths for deciding to better their lives.
“The most powerful thing any of us can do is to make a decision to go in the right direction,” David said. “Many times, we take that for granted. But when you are a young person, making that decision every day can be the difference between life and death.”
Deputy City Manager Earl Reynolds talked about enduring difficult times.
“Yes, it (life) is tough,” Reynolds said. “It is hard. Sometimes you are going to feel like ‘what’s the use?’ ‘Why am I going through all of this?’ ‘I could be just like everybody else.’ You don’t want to be like everybody else. What you want to be is you.”
Since the program’s inception, 12 classes totaling 69 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.
“This (graduation ceremony) is not the end,” David said. “Their journey with us continues. We are going to be with them, not just checking in on them, but working with them and knocking down barriers they face to success.”
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.