Project Imagine wins top award from VML

The Virginia Municipal League has named Project Imagine – a program designed to give gang-affiliated youth a future off the streets – as the winner of its President’s Award, which is the top award for innovative solutions by a local government.

Outgoing VML president and Roanoke council member Anita James Price selected Project Imagine as the best of the six category winning entries announced last month.

“Project Imagine has served the City of Danville well in providing hope to its youth by helping them ‘imagine’ they can have a better life, that they can be connected to their community,” Price said. “This project is building future productive citizens, which is what every community wants to achieve. Congratulations!”

The award was presented to city officials last week during the VML annual conference in Roanoke.

Robert David, who serves as the City of Danville’s coordinator for gang violence prevention and youth services, created Project Imagine. He implemented the nine-week training and employment program through a partnership with the Virginia Workforce Center and the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice.

As a former drug-free Mr. Universe bodybuilder and four-time world champion powerlifter, Robert David is no stranger to awards, with numerous trophies, belts, and medals to show for his prowess.

But to David, those awards pale in comparison to this one.

“To empower youth and to give them hope is my life’s work and my passion,” said David, who worked with youth in North Carolina and California in various roles – juvenile court counselor, community gang liaison and probation/parole officer – before joining the City of Danville in June 2018. “Working with youth is what I do. So, this award means a lot. I will take this award over any.”

Local governments of all size populations competed in six categories in the Virginia Municipal League’s awards program. The VML awards, known as Innovation Awards, recognize innovative problem-solving, excellence in management, citizen participation, and improved services to citizens.

More than 50 entries were received. Judges last month chose Project Imagine as the winner of its category for working with youth. The category winners were presented their awards at the conference.

As outgoing president, one of Price’s final tasks was to select the President’s Award winner from among the six category winners.

In addition to a paid work experience that the youths receive and can place on their resume, Project Imagine provides them with mentoring while on the job, 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.

A third class is scheduled to begin on Oct. 21. The Danville Redevelopment and Housing Authority again will provide the jobs and supervision.

David also hopes to expand the program by securing funds to hire outreach workers whose will role will include guiding the youths who complete their nine-week training and employment.