Robert Leathers was doing his best to infuse life back into the Capitol View Apartments.
The tenant count was up; the buildings had been renovated; and the place was starting to feel more like a community, said Leathers.
But while he could see things shaping up around the south Atlanta complex that he owned, he still worried about the children. Many were coming home to empty apartments with no one to look after them and nothing to do.
“It would’ve been easy,” Leathers said, “for one of them to end up with the wrong crowd.”
The father of two didn’t want that to happen. He wanted youngsters there to have a safe place to study or just play until their parents returned home from work.
So, Leathers decided to convert an empty basement in one of his buildings into the Capitol View Classroom. That was in 1996.
Since then, he’s scoured the city for library books. The Atlanta Public Schools has donated some computers, and he’s purchased some himself. He solicits community volunteers to come tutor the children, mostly Vietnamese refugees like his office manager, Thiet Cao, who helped build the center.
Over the years, the space has become more than just a place for the children. Parents come for English as Second Language classes, and the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities hold summer camp there.
It’s a far cry from the smelly basement that Leathers and Cao had to shovel mud and other debris out of before they could pour a new concrete floor, paint walls and haul in tables, chairs and bookcases.
Now, every year, Leathers purchases school supplies and book bags for children in the complex who need them. And every year, at Halloween and Christmas, the 64-year-old landlord dishes out candy and helps prepare a special holiday dinner.
His heart smiles every time he hears about one of the children graduating from high school and going off to college. And even though it means losing a tenant and income, he’s just as happy when their parents get good jobs and are able to buy big houses in other neighborhoods.
“He does so many things for us,” said Cao.
Those things, though, Leathers just as soon not talk about.
“It makes me uncomfortable,” he said, “Nancy and I have been truly blessed all our lives. Sometimes, when you do things for other people, it just comes back to you.”