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Danville, Virginia Leadership: Project Imagine among nation’s model programs making community impact

The City of Danville’s Project Imagine program is among 14 youth antiviolence intervention efforts across the nation highlighted by the Urban Institute in its recently released guide for localities that want to reduce youth gun and gang violence.

Danville was the only city with a population of less than 100,000 to be included in the guide, which also features programs in major cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and Houston.

“When you talk about gang violence prevention, these big cities are the names that pop up,” said Robert David, the youth services and gang violence prevention coordinator for the City of Danville. “They have been doing this for a long time. To be recognized says a lot about the work we are doing here.”

Danville’s Project Imagine program gives gang-affiliated teens a future off the streets. The program began in 2018 and consisted of a nine-week paid work experience and mentoring while on the job with a partnering agency. 

Since then, David has hired three outreach workers, and the program’s focus has shifted to life skills instruction and mentoring. Teens receive strength-based assessments using the Casey Life Skills and Clifton Strengths tools to guide them toward developing healthy, productive lives. An outreach worker is assigned to mentor each teen in the program for a minimum of one year.

David said the program can be a model for cities of Danville’s size that struggle with gang violence.

“Many cities have no clue how to begin fighting youth violence,” David said. “When they reach out to see what other cities are doing, it is hard to for them to relate to the programs you see in bigger cities. But they can take what we are doing and use it for their area.”  

The Urban Institute is a private, nonprofit organization that carries out economic and social policy research. In 2018, it received funding from the National Institute of Justice and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to develop a research-based practice guide to reduce youth gun and gang/group violence.

The guide provides practical recommendations on tactics, approaches and methods for successful implementation of youth antiviolence intervention strategies. With input from a group of subject-matter experts advising the project, the National Institute of Justice, and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Urban Institute identified 14 innovative violence reduction interventions.

A companion guide provides details on each of the 14 programs. The cities closest in population to Danville were Richmond, Calif., New Haven, Conn., Cumberland County, N.J., and Stockton, Calif. Rounding out the list were New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Baltimore, Denver, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Oakland, and San Francisco.

Project Imagine has previously 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.

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