by Joseph H. RADDER
Leonard Lanes heroism as a Buffalo firefighter is well documented. Like the time a back draft in a burning building on Buffalos east side caused an explosion just after he had entered. I thought life as I knew it was all over, Leonard remembers thinking as he was being rushed to ECMC with severe burns all over his body. Then there were the times he delivered babies including a pair of twins and rescued elderly people from burning buildings.
But Leonard Lane is also a hero in another sense. He is a co- founder and president of F.A.T.H.E.R.S, Fathers Armed Together to Help, Educate, Restore, and Save. This is an organization which has performed miracles among inner city youth. F.A.T.H.E.R.S. was instrumental in obtaining a new playground for public school 61, for creating a gun and drug free zone in that community, for getting a new traffic light installed at Leroy and Grider along with new signage and markings for the street to improve traffic and pedestrian safety.
The group has helped police close down suspected drug houses including a corner store that was suspected of illegal activities. They hold events for fathers and children like their annual Fathers Day breakfast and ice cream social to bridge the gap between young and old. They feed thousands of children hot dogs and hamburgers every Saturday during their Dog Days of Summer campaign. They collect and give hundreds of toys for their annual Christmas party where the hungry are fed as well. They assist as security guards, for example, at Sheas during the Martin Luther King celebration and at the Galleria Mall following the malls crackdown on roaming youths. And F.A.T.H.E.R.S. has distributed hundreds of warm winter coats to children which were donated by Colvin Cleaners and WIVB, TV Channel 4.
We do just about everything in schools, around schools, in homes and on the streets (to help solve problems.) Lane says. In so doing, the organization frequently helps to head off trouble which sometimes turns to drug use and violence. The F.A.T.H.E.R.S. street patrol consists of an elite group of strong, courageous fathers who are spirit led. They have clocked thousands of hours in the streets and have had first hand experience in some of the meanest, toughest and most dangerous neighborhoods.
Lane and two other concerned parents started the group in September 2000 when two stray bullets from a shooting on the corner of Leroy and Grider crashed through the windows at School 61s Early Childhood Center. Miraculously no one was hit, but it was enough to motivate Lane and several other parents to spring into action. Their objective ever since has been to do whatever is necessary to stop the violence and protect their children.
Leonard Lane and his associates are working to expand F.A.T.H.E.R.S. to other cities and towns. We are taking one neighborhood, one school at a time, he says, as far as inner city expansion is concerned. However, the word has already spread to Lockport and Tonawanda and Lanes brothers home town in Ohio, where new chapters of F.A.T.H.E.R.S. are getting organized.
Leonard Lane was born in Buffalo in 1959, the middle child in a family of five boys and one girl. His Dad, Elesta Lane, was a hard worker at Republic Steel on the midnight shift. In the daytime he worked a second front job in his own demolition and scrap business.
His mother, Thelma Archie Lane, worked the 4 to 12 shift at Kaufmanns. So the Lane children didnt see much of their parents. We never really had anyone but our brothers and sisters to raise us. he remembers, but without resentment. When Mom and Dad were working, my oldest brother Darrelle was the head of the household. He made sure we were safe and in the house on time and all that sort of thing. His sister Michelle, now Michelle Burns, was the second oldest and helped discipline the younger kids. Elesta Jr., Leonard, Gary and Kevin. The two youngest boys were apparently the ones who got into the most mischief. I can remember one time they set the garage on fire. They kept coming into the house for cups of water but, before we knew it, the whole garage was ablaze. This was probably Leonard Lanes first experience with fire fighting.
He has great memories of his childhood in the Cold Spring area. It was worrisome however, because Lanes formative years were the years of the teenage gangs. One of his objectives with F.A.T.H.E.R.S. is to deter things like that from happening again during his childrens growth years. When I grew up, there was no one on the streets to steer you in the right direction. Now there is. Thats one of the unique things about F.A.T.H.E.R.S. We dont stay behind buildings. Were out there on the streets in high crime, high unemployment areas where kids can come to us for help.
After attending Fillmore Middle School and Kensington High School, Leonard went into military service, serving in the Army for two years. He returned to Buffalo in 1987, joined the Fire Department and married Mary Boyd. The Lanes have five children, one of whom is adopted.
Any conversation with Leonard Lane ultimately returns to F.A.T.H.E.R.S. Concluding our meeting he pointed out a paragraph in the organizations brochure which states: Our purpose is to create a safe environment where our children can learn, play and be nourished while instilling in them the importance of a quality education. With our presence nearby, our children have access to us (fathers) at any time without hesitation, reservation or explanation. Lets adopt a dream for our children. Let that dream be that each child in our community has a father or father-figure positively and actively engaged in that childs life. Lets call on everyone from every sector of our community to make this dream a reality. It begins in our homes. This is a dream for all fathers. It is a dream that our children are worth. We have no doubt that the enegy, enthusiasm, and dedication of Leonard Lane and people like him will indeed make the dream come true.
Joseph H. Radder is a freelance writer.
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