CLEVELAND (AP) _ Nineteen-year-old Lloyd Purnell says he's a good father to both his young sons. That wasn't always true.

He says he enjoyed 3-year-old Christopher, but he never felt at ease around 1-year-old Marcus, who he says cries a lot and has been spoiled by the boys' mother, Trenace Chambers.

Purnell says Marcus' crying strained his relationship with Ms. Chambers, and their different child-rearing methods made him back away from both children.

The couple's relationship _ they now consider themselves best friends _ might have crumbled if not for The Institute of Responsible Fatherhood and Family Revitalization.

The program, established 12 years ago in inner-city Cleveland, is one of thousands of mentoring efforts in black communities across the country.

It's also one of the most successful. Now based in Washington, D.C., it has expanded to Milwaukee; Nashville, Tenn.; San Diego; and Yonkers, N.Y.

The institute, which has a paid staff but takes its strength from a team of volunteers, has one goal: to help the black community reclaim itself.

Its mission is to assist at-risk black males _ those with drug-dependency, joblessness, jail terms or other problems _ and families break the cycle of drug use, crime, violence and teen-age pregnancy.

Founder Charles Ballard says he wanted to bring young, black fathers back into their children's lives. The hospital worker was disturbed by fathers, particularly teen-agers, who did not recognize their responsibility to their offspring.

``In the mid-70s ... more women were coming in to get services without the father of the child. The fathers were not showing up for the delivery,'' Ballard said.

``There was no expectation on their part to be involved in the pregnancy or to be involved after the child was born.''

Once men began to get involved in the institute, there was a noticeable shift in their roles in the community as well as how they related to women, Ballard said.

Mustafa Shabazz, executive director of Alkebulan Inc., a Columbus intervention and prevention program opened in November, says social service agencies have failed to help black families because they haven't won their trust.

``Our program was designed to keep families together. We need an agency that will give Africans in America a strong foundation,'' Shabazz said.

Another group, The 50 Men & Women of Toledo Inc., was founded to ``create an awareness that there is a group of men and women who care, who will share and interact with you and dialect and give you guidance in any area you need it,'' said James C. Caldwell, president and founder.

``We strive to say to black youngsters that you can make it and you have got to persevere and keep your eye on the goal, whatever that goal is.''

The 50 Men & Women works to redirect energy. Members _ bankers, lawyers, teachers and social workers _ pay a $500 annual membership that pays for scholarships.

``Black youngsters need to look at things in a very positive way. There is someone to share and care and help them when they need it,'' Caldwell said.

Ebony Boys in Columbus, a church effort to help inner-city boys, has taught 11-year-old Vincent Martin more than arts and crafts.

``If you want to solve a problem, you don't have to have a gun,'' he said. ``You can just talk.''

Although Purnell and Ms. Chambers are no longer a couple, they credit the Institute for Responsible Fatherhood for helping them develop a healthy relationship as parents.

``We learned to compromise,'' Purnell said. ``It's gotten better to the point that, instead of arguing, we just talk it out.''

``I see myself as a good father, but there is always room for improvement,'' he said.