Chicago — After raising eight children of her own, Diane Latiker wouldn’t have imagined being where she’s at today – continuously giving young people from Chicago a safe space for new opportunities through her non-profit organization.
In 2003, she founded Kids Off The Block, a nonprofit organization on the South Side that provides young people with positive alternatives to gangs, drugs, truancy, violence and the juvenile justice system.
Latiker will admit that she didn’t initially plan on helping the nine children — who were some of her youngest daughter’s best friends — in her living room in the summer of 2003. She said after speaking with her mother about the kids, she made the decision to get more involved.
“I thought I knew these kids because they grew up with my daughter, but I didn't know them,” she said. “Once listening to them, I found out that the gangs were trying to recruit the boys and they were all failing in school.”
From here, Latiker tried to find any way she could to help the kids, so she started off by inviting the kids over to her house to help them with homework. Soon after, she sold the family TV for $600 and used the money to purchase used computers and printers.
“The next week, I had kids come into the house who I didn't know, knocking on the door asking for help,” she said. “There were kids who wanted to get out of the gangs and who wanted to go back to school. It was really amazing that these kids who didn't know me were asking for help.”
In almost three months, Latiker said there were more than 75 kids in her home, day and night. The organization has grown over the past 17 years and has served more than 3,000 young people in the community.
Dominique Daily said she first met Latiker in high school for a school project on the memorial the organization created in 2007. The memorial features hundreds of stones, one for each person killed by gun violence in Chicago since 2007.
Daily said she helped Latiker with raising money for the memorial after one of her Julian High School classmates, Blair Holt, was killed on a bus while shielding a friend from gunfire.
“The kids appreciate her for that, just being a listening ear, and we need individuals like that so that our young people are heard so that they can make better decisions can notice that there’s something bigger than just being on the streets,” Daily said.
Over the years, the organization has expanded and now operates out of a separate building a few doors down from her home.
The organization is currently raising funds for a new Tec Center to provide parents with the ability to educate their children. Other than technology, the center will house an arts program, music program, clothing design program and more.
“Society tries to have this perception of young people that they won't make it,” Latiker said. “We want them to make it. Through the center, we will be able to serve 250 to 300 young people aged 15 to 24 every year thanks to this technology center.”
While she’s inspired tons of young people in her neighborhood, she’s more grateful for the lessons the kids have taught her.
“Right now, it’s more important to support young people, than it has been in years,” Latiker said. “The violence is up; the virus is up. The focus is on so many other issues, rightfully so. There are a lot of important issues, but I just don't want the young people to be forgotten.”