From NIne to Thousands:
One Woman's Passion to Help Youth on the South Side of Chicago
It all started with the desire to ensure her daughter graduated high school and has snowballed into helping thousands of children in Chicago. Diane Latiker founded Kids Off the Block 19 years ago to empower the youth in her community of Roseland. Now in its nineteenth year, Kids Off the Block has impacted lives well beyond the boundaries of the South Side community. Diane opened her doors to our program 12 years ago, and since then she has inspired countless students with her dedication and tireless work for her community.
CC: Hi Diane, let’s kick things off by sharing who you are.
DL: My name is Diane Latiker. I am the founder and president of Kids Off The Block (KOB).
CC: KOB has been around for almost two decades now. Can you share a little bit of how it began?
DL: So we started it in my home with nine kids from the neighborhood and my daughter Aisha. She was 13 years old, and I wanted to ensure she graduated high school and went to college. So I started hanging out with her and her nine friends and taking them around the city. My mom saw how the kids liked me, respected me, and said I should do something with them.
And so I decided three days later that I initially didn’t want to do it (laughs) to invite them into my living room and listen to them. I realized they needed help but needed the kind they wanted, not what I thought they needed. And that’s how it started, and next thing I know, there were kids in the community that heard about it and started knocking on my door that needed help to get out of gangs, homeless kids, and kids that wanted to return to school.
CC: KOB originated in Roseland; how far has KOB reached today?
DL: Right now, we have kids from different communities across Chicago. The west side, Riverdale, Gary, Indiana, Richton Park, and many other communities. I believe we’re doing something good, because when young people like something they tell other young people. It’s just like a good advertisement (laughs).
I’m honored and humbled that they allow us into their lives, whether it's basketball, music, mentoring, or even going on trips out of town. I’m really honored that they allow us to make an impact on their lives.
"First of all, our interns from the Chicago Center have been awesome and extraordinary. They have blended in when they get here, and the young people gravitate towards them. They may think they're just coming somewhere to work and do what they can, but then they become family."
All About Me
CC: The Chicago Center has been partnering with you for a little over a decade now. How did you get introduced to the Chicago Center?
DL: Scott Chesebro (laughs). I don’t know how he found me, but one day he called and said, “We would like to bring some students to talk to you.” He’s probably going to kill me because I remember this! He brought the first set of students out here to talk to us, and we’ve been seeing students for at least eleven or twelve years.
I fell in love with all the young people he was bringing. The things they were doing in the world just inspired me, so I wanted him to bring more students, and he did. I built a relationship with Scott, his son Lane, and everybody else I’ve met at the Chicago Center. It’s been a great relationship!
CC: You currently have an intern with you, Kendrick Rhines from Alma College. Diane, how have Chicago Center interns impacted Kids Off The Block?
DL: First of all, our interns from the Chicago Center have been awesome and extraordinary. They have blended in when they get here, and the young people gravitate towards them. They may think they're just coming somewhere to work and do what they can, but then they become family.
The interns I’ve had, I know who they are, and they know who we are and continue to stay in touch. Because they feel it too, they believe in what we do, and we believe in them because they come in and immerse themselves in the mission; it’s no longer just a “job.” You know what I mean; they really become a part of our community. I am very grateful for the opportunity to have interns from the Chicago Center join the KOB community.
Hear from our current intern...
CC: Diane, every time you meet with Chicago Center students, you take the time to learn about each of them. Why is that so important to you, and what do you hope students take away from their conversations with you and interactions with Kids Off the Block?
DL: It’s very important for me to hear what their goals are and the things they want to do to help and inspire the world. Knowing where they’re coming from and where they want to go. When they come to me, a stranger, which I am to them. They don’t want to sit and hear everything I’m doing; they want to know that I’m interested in what they’re doing.
Also, for a selfish reason, I want to hear what they're majoring in, and most of them, if not all, are trying to help the world be a better place. So when they leave, they inspire me to keep going.