After dropping out of high school and having seven kids by age 25, Diane Latiker decided to turn her life around. Now she's helping Chicago teens do the same.
In 2003 Latiker, now 54, started Kids Off the Block, a community organization that helps teens steer clear of gang life. It began simply: She noticed the rampant violence affecting her neighborhood and invited teens into her three-bedroom home for a safe place-to do anything from homework to sharing their hopes and dreams.
Latiker, also a grandmother of 13, lives in the Roseland community, where the murder rate is 3.5 times higher than the national average.
"Young people lash out when they're angry about their environment," Latiker says. "They're angry because dad isn't there, a parent is on drugs or they've been left with their grandparents. They just want someone to listen to them, and I do."
Part of Kids Off the Block's mission is to take kids out of their environment, to show them gang life isn't the only option. "Some of these kids just don't ever leave their block," she says. The group has been to 21 cities so far and arranges in-city outings to museums, the movies and skating rinks.
In 2010, the organization finally moved out of Latiker's home-at one point, she had 75 teens in her house-to its own space at 116th Street and Michigan Avenue. There, youth ages 11 to 24 can get tutoring, career development, mentorship and participate in drama, music and sports.
"There seem to be a lot of programs for younger children, but there wasn't much intervention for older youths, though they're the ones who need help the most," Latiker says.
Kids off the Block is funded through private donations, yet in the past year its funding has been cut in half. Latiker does not pay herself a salary and all programs are led by volunteers.
"Our youth need more resources, more things to do, more programs like KOB," a Kids Off the Block member said in a video on the organization's website. "We're looking for change but we can't do it by ourselves."
To help, visit kobchicago.org