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OJJDP News @ a Glance March 2024

Stakeholder’s Corner: Strategic Partnerships Elevate a City and Its Youth

Photo of leaders and youth participants in Project Imagine
Project Imagine focuses on youth who are affiliated with gangs or at risk for gang involvement. (Photo courtesy of Project Imagine.)

By Robert David, Sr., Coordinator of Youth and Gang Violence Prevention, Danville, VA

I call Danville, VA, the “comeback city.” For more than three decades, Danville was considered a failed place, with social ills inextricably linked to the loss of an industrial economy. Danville had relied for generations on the railroad, tobacco, and textile industries; they dominated the city’s landscape and were ingrained in the fabric of its people. As these industries left, the city lost its identity and many youth floundered. City leaders and community activists focused on managing poverty rather than planning for prosperity. 

Over the past decade, Danville has found its footing and begun reimagining the future. This resilient community is now empowered to tell a different story—one of transformation and generational change.

I became Danville’s coordinator of Youth and Gang Violence Prevention in June of 2018. In October of 2018, I introduced Project Imagine, a multi-intervention educational and workforce development program for young people affiliated with—or at risk for involvement in—gangs. The program asks youth to “imagine” a life beyond crime, and then provides mentorship, consistency, and accountability to help them achieve it. In 2022, the Urban Institute highlighted Project Imagine in Implementing Youth Violence Reduction Strategies, a guide for using research-based strategies to reduce gun, gang, and group violence by youth. 

In 2021, the city of Danville partnered with the Center for Youth and Family Advocacy (CYFA) in Arlington, VA, to integrate restorative practices into the Project Imagine curriculum and bring the BuildStrong Initiative to the city. BuildStrong’s two programs, Promoting Empathy through Equitable Resolution (PEER) and Youth Peer Court (YPC), emphasize youth-led restorative processes and affirm community values. System-involved young people learn to take actionable accountability for harm they cause and become empowered to use their voices for good; the programs help youth to develop and implement plans to reintegrate back to their communities. 

“System-involved young people learn to take actionable accountability for harm they cause and become empowered to use their voices for good.”

—Robert David, Sr., Danville’s Coordinator of Youth and Gang Violence Prevention

CYFA and Project Imagine train youth as PEER and YPC ambassadors, helping them develop the skills they need to build and rebuild relationships after harm has occurred. The PEER and YPC Ambassador Academy programs offer comprehensive educational instruction to Project Imagine youth, teaching them about the legal system, restorative practices, and skills to resolve conflict. The program addresses harm and trauma, helping youth identify the power they have to cope with and overcome both. Participants develop confidence as they learn to de-escalate relational conflict and find ways to repair relationships in their lives.  

I also partnered with CYFA to assist efforts by the city of Danville to address community needs and their root causes. This was a systems-change effort that implemented CYFA’s Integrated Model of Partnership to Achieve Community-Based Transformation (IMPACT) to deliver Danville’s Children and Youth Master Plan—a roadmap for ensuring all young people have the opportunities and resources they need to thrive from cradle to career. 

The master plan provides a structural framework across eight interrelated strategies: safety and security, cognitive health, mental health, physical health, purpose, community, relationships, and environment. It includes action items detailing the scope of work, methodology and timelines for implementation, sector responsibility, and protocols for accountability and reporting. Aspirational but achievable, the master plan provides a model for how other localities can strategically plan for long-term sustainability through a dedicated focus on its most powerful resource: youth.

Date Created: March 27, 2024