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LEADERS TO GATHER, LEARN AT CONFERENCE

In North Buffalo, Sarah and Michael Degnan run an anti-crime community organization that they started after their son was beaten up.

On the East Side, Rosa Gibson transforms intimidating vacant lots into community gardens to deter crime and beautify neighborhoods.

And in Riverside, Michael Campbell and Patricia Webb organize events and activities that unite and strengthen the diverse residents of Schaffer Village public housing project.

These Buffalo community leaders -- and others in the county -- will be honored Saturday for their dedication and drive to create safer neighborhoods during the United Neighborhoods conference, "Into the Light -- Neighborhoods Rebuilding the City of Light."

It's the agency's first countywide conference and its fourth year organizing a conference in Buffalo. The resource agency, at 1020 Main St., provided more than 600 block clubs last year with services ranging from free meeting rooms to a computer training center to educational workshops and speakers.

Shakoor Aljuwani, director of United Neighborhoods, said the agency's overall focus is to strengthen neighborhoods by giving members the skills they need.

"The only way the city will be rebuilt (is for us) to be empowered to start the work," Aljuwani said. "It's a proactive approach -- you see something wrong in your community, you do something about it."

The conference, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. in Erie Community College City Campus, will offer local speakers and more than 15 workshops on community building and safety. Workshops will cover time management, accessing the media, grant writing, graffiti abatement and crime watch. And following the attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., a disaster preparedness workshop has been added to the conference schedule.

Aljuwani said about 300 representatives from area block clubs are expected to attend.

The agency aims to network block clubs and highlight the accomplishments of local community groups, such as the Degnans' Zero Tolerance for Violence organization, through the conference.

Tickets for the conference are $10. For information, call 882-7814.

e-mail: esapong@buffnews.com

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