Citizens for the Advancement of Community Development (CACD), led by founder Ron Cunningham, hosted the inaugural Re-Union Dinner at the Red Lobster located in the Mavis and Burnhamthorpe Road area.

The organization, which was founded in 2002, offers a series of local programs and activities to transform the lives of youths throughout the city, most prominently in high-needs communities. Ron, along with his wife, Sonia, have dedicated themselves to giving youths the best possible start for their working lives, via courses and programs that promote leadership skills, connectivity, practical thinking and creative solutions.

For CACD board member Emily Stanionis, who joined the organization last year and was a graduate of the group’s leadership program, the choice to help other youths was a no-brainer.

“I felt it was my calling to help children in this line of work,” said Staninonis, who originally took part in the program in 2011.

Stories about gun violence and calls for community safety initiatives have taken centre stage in the media over the last several months, with politicians at all levels working to bridge the gap with local

organizations and funding to address key indicators for crime, including a lack of social skills and low level of education, coupled with negative peer pressure, that entangle youth in gangs.

Earlier this year, participants in the organization’s annual general meeting stated that, in the context of the Ontario government’s mandated Community Safety and Well-Being Planning, the programs and the results of CACD can affordably deliver better youth outcomes.

For William, a student who joined the leadership program in 2017, having access to a high-quality leadership program taught him essential life skills – and kept him off the streets.

“Ron gave me direction in life, which kept me PWN Staff Photo calm and collected,” William said, noting that his success in the program helped him gain entry to college and spurred him to pursue a career as an electrician.

Others, like Anishba Sohaio, who was in the leadership program in 2014, said that the people she met through CACD are lifelong friends, and that the program helped her pursue a post-secondary degree at Ryerson University.

Leadership is important in the lives of youth, she explained. “It’s not just about acting, it’s about helping people.”

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