How It Happened
Established in 2002 by Ron and Sonia Cunningham, Citizens for the Advancement of Community Development (CACD) works predominantly with youth (those aged 10-24) from critical areas in the region, offering them a wide range of innovative programs that serve their unique needs, develop leadership capabilities, and fosters civic participation. CACD first began to work in Jamaica to deal with the challenges that at-risk youth there were dealing with, such as inadequate social skills, teen pregnancy, delinquency, deficient health care knowledge, criminal activity, and negative peer pressure, to name a few. CACD believed that these issues were failing a generation of youth. They were disempowered, spiritually impoverished, and slipping through the cracks when they mattered!
Creating Real Change
The CACD developed Life Skills Workshops, Employment Training, Community Policing
Initiatives, Healthy School Initiative, Computers and Sewing for skills trade development, and
Our founders, Ron and Sonia Cunningham declare, “it is our vision to develop. Community/Educational Centres in proximity to schools, police facilities, health clinics and other Fundamental structural organizations, which will provide close linkage and coordination of services and supports and addresses community-identified needs and goals.”
Ron believed that such Centres would represent “an important new ‘sun’ on the Jamaican horizon, a ball of light and energy that enables the Jamaican people to grow, flourish and shine. This centre will symbolize the need for communities to grow from within, where ideas are shared, and challenges are turned into positive action.”
After nearly 20 + years in the Banking Sector, Ron left to establish an accounting practice allowing him more flexibility and the opportunity to dedicate more time to community work both here and in Jamaica. Three years later, in 2005, when Jane Creba was murdered in a crossfire gang shooting in Toronto, the tragedy stirred something in Ron. He proclaimed that “although devastating, this crime motivated me to focus on helping the people right here in my backyard, rather than frequently running off to Jamaica to work with inner-city children and youth.” He quickly closed his accounting practice and devoted his “time and effort to serve the cause of the children and youth in the GTA and Mississauga in particular, on a full-time basis.” He recognized the opportunity and the potential and believed that CACD could facilitate real change.
This is where it gets even more exciting! CACD expanded operations and concentrated on creating awareness of the critical issues impacting “at risk” youth in the Toronto, Brampton, and Mississauga areas. CACD sought the help of other organizations to address and resolve crime and violence issues facing youth at the time. CACD forged valuable strategic partnerships to strengthen ties between youth and role models.
Without an official office space location, CACD operated out of the Cunningham’s home for day-
to-day operations and rented school auditoriums, arenas at the YMCA, shared space with
Brampton Neighbourhood Resource Centre (BNRC), Sparroway Village in North York (Toronto
Community Housing), and collaborated with others such as YMCA, Peel Youth Village (PYV),
Churches, and King Bay Chaplaincy, among others to run programs and activities. CACD
leveraged its leadership skills to develop youth crime and violence forums and conferences, to
address issues and engage and build relationships with youth in the community.
CACD emphasized that violence-related issues were a challenge for Mississauga and that real change was needed.
In 2008, CACD was offered a small office at the Mississauga Valley Community Centre (MVCC), with incredible amenities near several middle and high schools. This location was ideal for CACD to thrive! We were able to offer safe, fun, and educational programs to youth in need. The City of Mississauga continued the shared vision. It made more opportunities available for us, and we took advantage of the opportunity to secure a year-round program space for well-needed after-school programs and activities. Subsequently, we expanded our program to 13 middle and high schools with the Peel District School Board and the Dufferin Peel Catholic District School Board.
Impacting Our Youth
CACD programs are structured around Positive Youth Development: Positive Youth Development = Positive Experiences + Positive Relationships + Positive Environments. Positive Experiences: Recognize, utilize, and enhance strengths and promote positive outcomes by providing opportunities, fostering positive relationships, and providing the support needed to build leadership abilities. Positive Relationship: We facilitate interactive group sessions focusing on youth identity development. Positive Environment: Establish a supportive and safe environment where at-risk youth can discuss their beliefs, identity, issues, and challenges they face. Emotional support, companionship, and opportunities for identity development are provided as youth engage in new activities and hobbies.