Citizens for the Advancement of Community Development (CACD) was
founded in 2002 by Ron and Sonia Cunningham as a grassroots
organization that works with youth from “high priority
neighbourhoods”, between the ages of 10 and 24, offering them a wide
range of innovative programs that serve their unique needs,
develops leadership capabilities, and fosters civic participation.
CACD first began to work in Jamaica, as a response to the myriad of
challenges that at-risk youth were facing such as: a lack of social skills,
teen pregnancy, delinquency, lack of health care/awareness,
criminal activity, negative peer pressure, etc. CACD believed that these
issues were creating a generation of youth that were disempowered,
socially and spiritually impoverished, and that they were falling through
the cracks of the community.
Consequently, CACD developed and delivered programming in Jamaica
that focused on Life Skills Workshops, Employment Training,
Community Policing Initiatives, Healthy School Initiative
(Health Promoting Schools), Training in Computer and Sewing for
skills trade development, and Leadership Training.
As articulated by the founders, Ron and Sonia Cunningham, “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 address community-identified needs and goals”. We will begin with a pilot or model
centre to focus particularly (but not exclusively) on the involvement of youth in leadership activities
and campaigns for the betterment of the community and the Jamaican society at large.
This multi-faceted centre is intended to 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
be symbolic of the need for communities to grow from within, where ideas are shared, and challenges
are turned into positive action”, said Ron.
In 2002, Ron left the Banking Sector where he had worked for over 20 years, to start his own
accounting practice when he would have the flexibility and opportunity to devote more time doing his
community work both here in Canada and in Jamaica. However, in 2005, something changed – Jane
Creba was murdered by a crossfire gang shooting in Toronto and this tragedy struck a chord with Ron.
“Although devastating, this crime motivated me, to focus on helping the people right here in my own
backyard, rather than frequently running off to Jamaica, to work with inner-city children”. “I ended
my accounting practice and devoted my time and effort to serve the cause of the children and youth
in the GTA and Mississauga in particular, on a full-time basis”.
Consequently, we expanded our operation and concentrated our efforts on bringing awareness to the
major issues affecting “at risk” youth, predominantly in Mississauga. We approached the Mayor of
Mississauga, among others and mobilized influential figures and collaborated with other organizations
to address and resolve crime and violence issues facing our youth here in the Mississauga area. We
worked to strengthen ties between youth and role models; such as local politicians, law enforcement,
community leaders, school boards, sports and media personalities, among others.
Not having an office space, we utilized my home office as a base for administrative functioning 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 other organizations, such as YMCA, Peel Youth Village (PYV), Churches, and King
Bay Chaplaincy, among others to run programs and activities (workshops on leadership, mentoring,
life skills, parenting, dance, sporting events etc.) and utilized our well-developed organizational and
leadership skills to develop youth crime and violence forums, conferences, to address issues and
engage and build relationships with children and youth.
After much challenges and difficulties, we succeeded in winning the support of the Mayor of
Mississauga, transforming the perspective that violence-related issues were not largely a Brampton
and Toronto issue but also a challenge for Mississauga. Thus becoming a game changer in our quest to
making meaningful changes difference in the lives of "at-risk" youth in Mississauga. In 2008, the City offered CACD a small office at the Mississauga Valley Community Centre (MVCC), home to a
swimming pool, fitness centre, basketball court, hockey arena, program rooms, and in close proximity
to a number of middle and high schools.
This location was ideal for us to build on the work we were doing, that of, providing safe, fun and
educational programming for children and youth in need. Here again, we were able to use our
relationship building skills to influence the MVCC to provide additional amenities and to engage in a
partnership to enhance the programs and activities offered. The City convinced of our goal to build a
violence-free Mississauga, on the construction of an indoor basketball court and program room
facilities, we were awarded the opportunity to secure a year-round program room (facility) to conduct
our after-school programs and activities, focused on the specific needs and issues of the youth. This
effort enabled us to expand our program to three (3) middle schools and ten (10) high schools, with
the Peel District School Board and the Dufferin Peel Catholic District School Board.
The programs offered today are structured around Positive Youth Development:
Positive Youth Development = Positive Experiences + Positive Relationships + Positive Environments.
Positive Experiences: In this regard, we recognize, utilizes, and enhances young people’s
strengths and promotes positive outcomes by providing opportunities, fostering positive
relationships, and furnishing the support needed to build on their leadership strengths.
Positive Relationship: We strongly believe that interactive group sessions facilitate youth
Positive Environment: By providing a supportive environment where teens can openly discuss
who they are and what they believe. Specifically, peers are provided with emotional support,
companionship, and opportunities for identity development, such as trying new activities and
To address the main issue of youth violence we utilized the approach of Crime Prevention Through
Social Development (CPTSD). However, a full array of programs were developed on a holistic basis
serving children and youth ages 10 to 24 years of age and providing program; such as, After School,
Leadership and Empowerment, Youth Justice and Crime and Prevention, Health Promotion, Internship
for Colleges and University and Targeted High School Programs, along with numerous events and
activities. Further, these programs, activities and events enable participants to experience improved
academic achievements, self-confidence, social networking and interpersonal behavior, volunteering
opportunities, community participation, learn about different cultures, and reduced misconduct and
However, currently, with funding cuts, CACD works primarily in Mississauga and service to weekly
participants (After School, Leadership and Empowerment, Health Promotion, Youth Justice and Crime
Prevention etc.) is about 500 per year; however, we impact the lives of about 1000 per year through
our activities and events (yearly health fairs, concerts, luncheons, black history month event, celebrity
server night etc.). Unlike the earlier stage when we worked predominately across the GTA and
Jamaica and serviced on a regular basis over 1,000 participants per year.