Sunday, October 13, 2002

Dodging danger

Dad fights for sons' successes

Shawn Jones now believes he has a good chance at averting a disaster.

The 35-year-old bank employee is a single father raising two adolescent boys in a rough stretch of Cincinnati's West End neighborhood.

Mr. Jones is like most parents. He'd like to shield his kids from the world's dangers while helping them to become responsible, decent young men. He'd also like to help keep their dreams alive.

The older boy, Rashawn, 13, wants to be a lawyer when he grows up. Shantel, 11, is planning a career in public relations. Both youngsters reflect their fathers' influence; they say they want to help people.

But first, they have to dodge some bullets.

One afternoon last May, the boys got off their school bus at Findlay and Linn streets during a drive-by shooting. Someone fired several rounds into a group of people nearby. That time, no one was injured.

A beast unleashed

In August, at a corner near their apartment, again shots rang out from a vehicle driving by. This time, two people were hit, a young girl and a man in a wheelchair.

Both have since recovered, and the boys see the victims, their neighbors, regularly, Mr. Jones says.

So far, no one has been punished for either crime.

The experience has made the boys nervous about going to school, their father says.

The family has lived in the neighborhood of mostly multi-family buildings since 1994. But crime has gotten “drastically worse” in the past several years, says Mr. Jones. He says he hears gunshots almost every other night.

“As soon as it gets dark, the beast is unleashed. If you're caught out there, you're subject to getting shot.”

Mr. Jones, a University of Cincinnati marketing major who is completing his junior year with night courses, says he has adopted his neighbors' strategy. That is, his kids don't play outside anymore.

He relies on the local Boys and Girls Club, a corps of generous sports coaches and activities at the Findlay Street Neighborhood House to help his boys focus their energies. They also attend church.

More than self-help

“Taking care of my sons is the most important thing,” he says. “I ask God to give me strength. I keep it real with them. I let them know there's consequences to everything they do.

“If I can keep them in school and give them something to do ... I'm trying to show my boys that education is the key.”

It's not the only key, he knows. A parent must give children a safe place to live and real role models to counter the examples that drug dealers and gangbangers can set in a neighborhood.

That's why this proud father has asked for even more outside help, from Habitat for Humanity.

His efforts at self-sufficiency and self-improvement may not be enough to keep his boys safe, he says.

Habitat, with corporate sponsor Aveda-Fredric's Corp. in Fairfield, is coming to this family's rescue.

In June, about 150 volunteers and Mr. Jones started building the family a three-bedroom home on donated land in Hyde Park.

Mr. Jones has logged more than 370 hours of sweat equity.

The requirement is 500, but Habitat officials predict he'll far exceed that. They've poured the driveway and are painting the home's interior.

Unbidden, Mr. Jones rattles off the names of dozens of people he wants to thank for helping him. Next month, perhaps by Thanksgiving, Mr. Jones and his boys will move in.

The boys will enroll in new schools, he says.

Presumably their bus stop will be bullet-free.

E-mail or phone 768-8395.

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