2024 All-America City – Danville, VA

Located in south-central Virginia on the border of North Carolina, Danville’s history is economically defined by its past as a southern mill and tobacco town. The collapse of these industries, occurring shortly after the turn of the century, left the city grappling with double-digit unemployment, a high poverty rate, and significant health challenges among its citizens. But today, Danville stands as a beacon of resilience and transformation. No longer bound by its industrial past, the city has evolved into a thriving hub for local businesses, industry, entrepreneurs, and innovators, fostering economic growth and job creation. In an unwavering commitment to building a brighter future, Danville strives to create a city where every citizen can discover opportunity, security, and an enhanced quality of life. 

Grass Roots Empowerment and Action Training (GREAT) 

Although the Danville police department had already begun engaging the community and building trust with residents through the development of personal relationships and neighborhood outreach, the murder of George Floyd added a new dynamic, one that called for a deeper understanding of the city’s most diverse and economically challenged neighborhoods.   

The police department collaborated with a diverse coalition of grassroots activists and clergy to create a new training for Danville officers. The Grass Roots Empowerment and Action Training (GREAT) consists of training modules and immersive experiences that delve into Danville’s civil rights history and facilitate meaningful dialogue within marginalized communities, addressing issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, and income disparity. During the course of the training, officers hear directly from community leaders and residents about what matters most in their community. 

Familiarizing officers with the needs and assets of communities inspired the requirement that each police training class develop a service project. Service projects have included providing Thanksgiving dinners to residents of a housing complex and establishing school resource stations to provide students with toiletries, shoes, clothing, and other items. 

In addition to GREAT, Danville’s Police Department has implemented various community engagement programs.  

  • Buses and Buddies: Officers greet students getting off buses, fostering positive interactions and providing supplies. 
  • Community Overwatch: Officers visit housing complexes, providing fresh produce with a local food pantry. 
  • Convenient Conversations: Officers engage with shoppers at convenience stores, answering questions and offering resources. 
  • H.E.A.R.T. walks: Officers and partnering agencies visit areas after traumatic events to provide support and address concerns. 
  • Lunch Buddies: Officers join students for lunch, providing an opportunity to address concerns and build relationships. 
  • Pass the Perspective: Group meetings where officers educate citizens about personal safety and listen to citizen concerns. 
  • P.E.A.C.E. Community Center: Police-operated youth and community center providing a safe space for interactions and tutoring. 
  • Positively Pretty: Program teaching health, hygiene, self-esteem, and confidence building to middle and high school-aged females. 
  • Youth Police Academy: Three-week summer program introducing children to police department divisions and activities. 

These efforts have contributed to a 35-year low in violent crime, reflecting the success of community-oriented policing strategies. 

Student Voices on School Board 

Danville students wanted to have a role in how policy decisions were made for their schools and advocated to have representation on the school board. The school board agreed, ushering in a new era by appointing four teenagers as student representatives. 

Principals from each of the two Danville high schools nominate two students who receive final approval from the school board. The students must be rising seniors and serve a year-long term.  

As representatives, these teenagers act as liaisons, bridging the gap between the student body and the board, and offering insights and perspectives crucial for informed decision-making. Their responsibilities include attending regular open meetings and undertaking assignments, such as research and data collection, as directed by the board. 

The student representatives serve in an advisory capacity and do not vote or attend closed meetings. The school division provides the meeting agenda and other public materials to the student representatives in advance of each open meeting.  

For Danville, this moment signifies not only a step toward greater inclusivity but also a recognition of the invaluable perspectives that students bring to the table. 

Heart the Park 

Recognizing that existing parks didn’t meet all the needs of all residents, the Danville Parks and Recreation Department launched the “Heart the Park” campaign to bolster neighborhood park benefits by bringing residents into the planning process. 

The first community event took place at Doyle Thomas Park, located in a low-income neighborhood a few blocks from the downtown area. The event featured a scavenger hunt for hearts in the park, prizes, tennis demonstrations, a participatory art display, music, s’mores, and a fire pit.  

At the event, Parks and Recreation staff showed residents illustrated examples of park additions or improvements that work toward goals that community members have already identified for the parks. Participants gave feedback and signed up to be a part of future planning activities. 

City partners and local organizations co-hosted the event and showcased how they are available with support and resources for healthy living and community building.  

Two more “Heart the Park” events took place at neighborhood parks located in the western and southern sections of the city.

Following the kickoff events in the three neighborhoods, Parks and Recreation staff continued throughout the year to share information and seek input on park improvements. Suggested improvements included things such as new swings, sidewalks, basketball court renovations, event lawns, bike racks, and picnic shelters.  

With new information in hand, the Parks and Recreation Department worked with Virginia Tech to produce park renderings and cost estimates of the resident-proposed amenities. The projects are awaiting funding. 

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