Our Story

CityKidz was founded on a big dream to see a future free of child poverty – a future where all children have equal opportunity to thrive and achieve their full potential.

Though CityKidz has grown and changed over the years, our mission to serve vulnerable children and their families has never wavered, nor have the values guiding us on this winding journey. Through faith, hope and love, we seek to transform lives and end child poverty, one child at a time.

Origins

It all started with a child.

In the fall of 1990 while attending college in Peterborough, Todd Bender met Shawn, a seven-year-old boy who attended a youth drop-in centre where Todd volunteered.

Shawn was a small boy who needed someone in his life, someone who noticed him, someone who accepted him for who he was, someone who really cared about him.

Todd became that person.

For months, the two would meet at the centre to play games and hang out. They would talk, play cards, make crafts, and watch movies together – with Shawn soaking up every ounce of the positive attention he never got at home.

It was through his time spent with Shawn that Todd saw his life’s purpose: to care for and attend to the heartfelt needs of vulnerable, fragile, and precious children wherever they may be.

Beginning with Shawn, Todd embarked on a mission that has since transformed thousands of lives.

Be part of our story!

Join us in our journey to transform the lives of vulnerable children, wherever they may be.

Highlights

  • 19901990Todd meets Shawn

    While at school in Peterborough, Todd meets seven-year-old Shawn who inspires him to dedicate his life to loving and caring for Canada’s most vulnerable children.

  • 19911991Todd arrives in Hamilton

    As the children’s pastor at Crossfire Church, Todd organizes neighbourhood programs, events, games and activities for local children.

  • Crossfire Kids Club Debuts

    Crossfire Kids Club – CityKidz earliest predecessor – begins as a Saturday drop-in program in the gym of Sir John A. MacDonald high school.

  • 19921992Crossfire Moves to the Tivoli

    Crossfire acquires a five-year lease on the Tivoli Theatre on James St. N. and in October of that year, Crossfire Kids Club holds its first Saturday session in the historic theatre.

  • 19931993Kids Club Grows

    Just a year out from its founding, Crossfire Kids Club now has multiple bus routes serving over 300 children thanks to the support of over 50 volunteers!

    Though it is still known as Crossfire Kids Club, this is the year that CityKidz as we know it – it’s core structure and model – takes shape.

  • Home Visits Program Launches

    Inspired by visits to Metro Ministry in Brooklyn NY, Todd and Crossfire volunteers begin visiting the homes of children attending Kids Club, letting them know when the next Saturday program would be and what they could expect.

  • Operation Christmas Compassion

    The CityKidz team begins distributing stockings and warm meals to children during our Christmas show.

  • 19961996CityKidz gets its Name

    After a brainstorming session with several dedicated volunteers, Todd’s Saturday children’s program is officially renamed CityKidz.

  • Jr. Leaders Join our Ranks

    Former CityKidz Saturday participants are given the opportunity to volunteer at our Saturday programs and receive mentorship through the new Jr. Leadership program.

  • 19971997CityKidz Leaves Crossfire

    CityKidz is growing and Todd decides it is time for him to take this dream to the next level. With love, respect and excitement, CityKidz leaves Crossfire to grow as its own independent ministry.

  • 19981998CityKidz enters the Playhouse

    On June 28, 1998, Todd and Tina buy the Playhouse theatre, the space that will become the home of CityKidz for the next 20 years.

  • 20052005Operation Birthday Child Takes Shape

    We begin surprising children with a special present to celebrate their birthday.

  • 20072007KinderKidz Pilot Project Launches

    Tina Bender pilots KinderKidz, a program for pre-school children on Saturdays.

  • 20102010Summer to Remember Sends Children to Camp

    Building on a generous partnership with Canadian Tire, CityKidz starts sending children on life-changing adventures to summer camp.

  • 20142014CityYouth Becomes an Official Program

    With the completion of our Youth Studio, Wednesday evenings belong to our youth. CityYouth mentorship sessions launch to complement our Jr. Leadership program.

  • Roadmaps to Dreams Program Initiated

    Looking for a way to engage our older youth, one of our CityYouth mentors proposes Roadmaps to Dreams as a pilot project.

  • 20152015Education Fund Supports Program Graduates

    Thanks to the generous investment of the Weston Family Foundation, CityYouth and Roadmaps graduates can receive scholarships to support their post-secondary education.

  • 20182018CityKidz Studio Theatre Opens at Burlington St. Headquarters

    We say goodbye to our beloved Playhouse theatre and bring our CityKidz Saturday program into a new, custom-built studio theatre, bringing all of our programs under one roof.

  • 20202020Adapting to Change

    The coronavirus pandemic forces CityKidz to put its regular, in-person programming on hold and find new ways to engage, celebrate, and support our children and families.

  • CityKidz Cares Project Launched

    In response to the challenges of COVID-19, we begin adapting, innovating, and experimenting with new ways bring faith, hope and love to the CityKidz community.

Original red bus

What’s Next

For all the challenges 2020 threw our way, it also gave us a unique opportunity to learn, grow, and innovate. Reflecting on the successes and lessons of 2020, we look to the future with hope and determination to renew our shared mandate, increase our impact in the Hamilton community, and establish a sustainable model for future growth.

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Whatever your time, whatever your talents, you can make a transformative difference in a child’s life.

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