Five teenagers were honored last week for completing life skills training and goal-setting exercises through Project Imagine. The program steers youths away from gang activity, and instead focusing on goals such as having no contact with law enforcement, improving their grades, completing school, and becoming employed.
Graduating from the program were Dre Campbell, Daequan Smith, Daeshaun Smith, Amarvion Thompson, and Tywon Wosley.
Robert David, youth services and gang violence prevention coordinator for the City of Danville, commended the youths for taking this step.
“When you came to Project Imagine, you became warriors because you stepped into an arena that your friends did not want to,” David said, speaking to the graduating kids. “It doesn’t matter what they (friends) say to you because you are the warriors. They are haters. They are not even in the game. You made the decision, ‘I am going to get my grades up,’ ‘I am going to stay off the streets,’ or ‘I am going to do whatever I got to do to be successful.’ You are the warriors.”
David said the Project Imagine staff will serve as a support system for them from now on.
“We tag the phrase ‘your new aunts and uncles’,” David said. “What that means is we create a support system to help you navigate. That is what we do. We are serious about our relationships with the youth and helping them move from one level to the next.”
Curtis Artis, assistant coordinator, thanked the graduates and their parents for trusting the Project Imagine process and what the program has to offer.
“We are raising strong children to be good men,” he said. “Each of you has a strength that people say is a weakness. We are going to show you how to take that strength and turn it into a positive. Watch what the results will be.”
Deputy City Manager Earl Reynolds encouraged the kids to not cling to the past, and to turn their regrets for past actions into something positive.
“Today, you can see, acknowledge, and understand what you did wrong,” Reynolds said. “If you fail, then never give up. ‘F.A.I.L.’ means ‘first attempt at learning.’ Failure is not ‘F.A.I.L.’ ‘End’ is not ‘the end.’ ‘E.N.D.’ is ‘effort never dies.’ If you get ‘no’ as an answer, remember that ‘N.O.’ is ‘next opportunity.’”
Since the program’s inception, 16 classes, totaling 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.