The city of Danville’s Project Imagine program has been named as one of the winners of the Virginia Municipal League’s annual awards for innovation and excellence in local government.

Local governments of all size populations competed in six categories in the awards program. The league chose Project Imagine as the winner of its category for working with youth.

Project Imagine is designed to give gang-affiliated youth a future off the streets by providing them with a paid work experience and mentoring while on the job. The nine-week training and employment program was implemented through a partnership with the Virginia Workforce Center and the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice.

Robert David, hired in June 2018 as the city’s first-ever gang violence prevention and youth services coordinator, created the program. In addition to a paid work experience the youths receive and can place on their resume, the program provides them with instruction on life skills and available resources that will assist them upon completion of the program.

Two classes have completed the program, with the first class graduating in December and the second class graduating in June. For the first Project Imagine class, two city of Danville departments — public works and park and recreation — provided jobs and supervision. The Danville Redevelopment and Housing Authority provided jobs and supervision for the second group.

The awards, known as Innovation Awards, recognize innovative problem-solving, excellence in management, citizen participation and improved services to citizens.

In announcing the award for Project Imagine, VML judges wrote the training and employment program “acknowledges that young people mired in gang activity or being lured to join gangs often can’t imagine a different way to live their lives.

“Not only do the participants learn valuable skills, they learn the satisfaction of getting paid to do a job that benefits the community. Most importantly, they come to appreciate that the pride that comes with these things can be stronger than any gang membership. A community can help its young people be their best by involving them in meaningful work for the community.”

The league received more than 50 entries, from which judges selected one winner in each the six categories. The awards will be presented on Oct. 8 at the 2019 VML Annual Conference in Roanoke.

Additionally, the President’s Award winner — which will be selected from the winners in each category — will be announced.

The City of Danville won VML awards in 2017 for its use of Facebook Live on River City TV and its “Dan River Twins” children’s book project. Also, the city won in 2014 for its River District Development Project and in 2012 for its Safe & Sound Neighborhoods program.

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