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DADS STAND TALL FOR SAFETY AT THEIR CHILDREN'S SCHOOL

When Leonard Lane's 8-year-old daughter came home last year with the news that two stray bullets had crashed through two classroom windows at her school, Lane couldn't control his anger.

"I was very upset and very frustrated," he said. "This was happening right outside of the school, and no one seemed to care."

No one was injured in the incident at Early Childhood Center School 61, but Lane said hearing about it stirred something inside of him.

"It brought the father out of me," he said with pride.

His desire to protect his daughter and the other School 61 children gave birth to FATHERS, an organization of African-American men who are working daily to curb the violence in the community surrounding the school at 437 Leroy Ave.

When students arrived at school the day after the Sept. 29 incident, the 11 members of Fathers Armed Together to Help Educate, Restore and Save were there to greet them, safely escort them into the building and direct traffic. They also were present at recess.

But the men didn't stop there; they wanted to see sweeping changes in the community. They called a meeting Nov. 6 with city officials, including Mayor Anthony M. Masiello, to address their concerns about crime and drug dealing on the corner across from the school and other community problems. The men said they were always concerned about the level of crime around the school.

"It just wasn't safe in that area," said Craig Eldridge, a landscaper.

Out of the meeting came a new playground for the pupils and the neighborhood children, increased police presence and a plans to make school grounds safer, including school street markings and a traffic light at the intersection of Leroy Avenue and Grider Street.

"The shooting was negative, but we made it positive," Lane said.

And many are noticing the positive changes in the community.

Lane, 42, said membership has grown to more than 100 because other fathers in the community have been galvanized by the results.

Patricia Evans, principal of School 61, said the FATHERS group's ability to get elected officials involved has been a catalyst for many successes at the school. She said illegal activity during school hours has dissipated with the men's presence. The school's teachers held a luncheon last week to thank the fathers for the difference they have made.

"They are out there every morning at arrival and dismissal time," she said. "They are a good example of what can happen if a group of people come together for a common cause. They are committed."

Masten Council Member Antoine M. Thompson said as FATHERS continues its work in the community, the men are providing much-needed black male leadership. Thompson works closely with the organization on its various initiatives.

"They are doing a tremendous job," he said. "It sends a positive message to the community that all black men aren't in jail or on probation, and we need more black men to step up to the plate."

Some men in Lockport have been inspired by the FATHERS group. Leonard Thomas said a similar organization will be formed this summer in that city.

"They have done a lot of good in that school," Thomas said. "For it to come out of a tragedy, it says leaps and bounds about their character."

Lane said the organization will branch out into other schools in the fall and will work on initiatives that include job training and educational programs. He said the overall goal is to get fathers in the city to play an active role in their children's lives.

"We want to see fathers in every school in the City of Buffalo and change the atmosphere of the area where the schools are located," he said.

Eldridge, 39, whose daughter attends the school, said the months that the fathers have been at School 61 have made students and parents feel safer.

"We want to make sure what happened in September never happens again," he said.

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