Seven teenagers were honored on Tuesday for completing life skills training and goal-setting exercises through Project Imagine, a community violence intervention collaborative that steers gang-prone kids off the streets and into completing school and becoming employed.
Graduating from the program were Iunta Barksdale, Semaj’ Jeffries, Stanford Lipscomb, Ta’Shon Nash, William Stamps, Jayden Whitaker, and Torian White.
Robert David, youth services and gang violence prevention coordinator for the City of Danville, commended the youths for deciding to move in another direction and pursue something greater in their life.
“I know you have heard enough negative stuff about yourself,” David said, speaking to the graduating kids. “Whatever you have done, we don’t care about that. We are worried about where you are going. You have made a decision to do greater things and pursue your dreams. This is the first step.”
David said the Project Imagine staff will continue to help each kid.
“As we call ourselves, we are your new aunts and uncles. You are with us until you don’t want to be with us anymore. We are about helping you be the best of who you are, regardless of your circumstances. Everybody makes mistakes. We don’t hold that against you. But what we are going to hold against you is your potential. That is the pressure we are going to put on you.”
Deputy City Manager Earl Reynolds told the kids that they have potential to do great things.
“You need to unleash it,” Reynolds said. “Once you make the commitment to do that, your whole world will change. … And you will be able to change the life of others in a positive way.”
Since the program’s inception, 14 classes totaling 80 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.