Clarkston-based organization CDF Action is a model for community-driven change.

November 9, 2023

With partners like United Way of Greater Atlanta, Georgia Piedmont Technical College, and Scottdale Early Learning, CDF Action focuses on asset-based community development.

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting Clarkston, you know that it’s earned its title as “the Ellis Island of the south.” Since the 1990s — when refugee resettlement programs designated the city as an ideal place for displaced individuals and families — Clarkston has amassed a hugely diverse population that continues to grow.

Founded in 2010, CDF (Clarkston Development Foundation) Action has made tremendous strides in unifying the city’s residents. In addition to developing and running a handful of their own programs, CDF Action facilitates the City of Clarkston-appointed Clarkston Early Learning Task Force, which identifies and addresses barriers to equitable early care and learning for all children.

“Our vision is a vibrant and inclusive community where early care and learning matters and where residents have a voice alongside partners to ensure that children, families, and community thrive,” says Roberta Malavenda, Executive Director at CDF Action.

According to our Child Well-Being Outlook: Insights for Impact Report, 79 neighborhoods within Greater Atlanta have both low and declining child well-being. Although they are considered areas of low child well-being, the neighborhoods that make up Clarkston are either stable or improving despite factors that should indicate otherwise, such as language barriers and low-income levels. CDF Action’s consistent work within the community for over a decade has without a doubt improved the quality of life for residents, and they’re doing it simply by engaging residents in the right ways.

Malavenda puts it modestly, “It’s not CDF Action. We’re the catalyst. We’re the mobilizer. We bring people together.”

In August 2013, CDF Action hosted a series of dialogues over a three-day process where residents spoke about their dreams, the gaps that act as barriers to these dreams, and actionable solutions to fill the gaps. Although they speak different languages and have different customs, Clarkston residents found that they shared the same top priority: educating their children.

After identifying this as their main area of focus, residents landed on an idea for a part-day early learning program with multilingual teachers. Residents also expressed a desire to be these multilingual teachers.

This led to a partnership with Georgia Piedmont Technical College and the development of the Enhanced Childhood Development Associate Program where refugees and immigrants work toward their CDA certificate — a requirement to teach in Georgia’s early learning programs.

Currently, CDF Action is working with other groups to implement CDA programs both inside and outside of DeKalb County. These groups have residents from countries like Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Somalia, and Sudan that have completed CDA certification and are working in early learning programs.

Another CDF Action program is the READY School initiative, which is funded by United Way and run in partnership with Scottdale Early Learning. There are currently two DeKalb READY School locations that provide free, multilingual half-day early learning education to primarily refugee and immigrant children. In addition to teaching in English, the schools provide education in Arabic, Amharic, Somali, Dari, and Farsi.

“Without the READY School, a lot of these parents would not have enrolled their kid in pre-k because they don’t know about it, so it’s also an access program,” Malavenda notes.

Incredibly, the program doubles as a workforce development program. All current READY School teachers are former READY School parents who have either earned or are in the process of earning their CDA certificate.

CDF Action also manages a Learning Space — an early learning program developed by United Way — where they can further their mission of involving community in education. As one of 15 Learning Spaces, CDF Action’s location in Peachtree Creek Apartments offers free, once-a-week activities and engagement for young children and their parents. The developer of Peachtree Creek Apartments has recently developed two more federally subsidized complexes, and Malavenda plans on utilizing the complexes for another READY school or Learning Space.

In 2022, we invested over $78,000 into CDF Action, $30,000 into Scottdale Early Learning, and over $14 million into programs and initiatives that champion change for the community by the community. Investments like these aren’t possible without your support. Help unlock the potential of children, families, and communities today by donating to the Child Well-Being Mission Fund

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