Diane Latiker is the founder of Kids Off The Block, a youth violence prevention program operating on the south side of Chicago since 2003. In an interview held in her home office, Diane reflects on the hundreds of children who have passed through her door in search of help. As she enters the spring of 2017, her plans to expand and update the KOB facilities are finally in reach.
By Peter Rubinstein
It was 2003 when her four boys and four girls became grown; all except one daughter. Keeping her away from the negative influences of Chicago’s South Side neighborhoods felt like one of Diane Latiker’s final responsibilities as a mother before stepping back and allowing her children to forge their own paths.
To maintain the closeness necessary to watch over her, Diane took her youngest daughter and her friends fishing, skating and swimming. Her own mother noticed the respect and admiration the kids showed her, and suggested she arrange a more formal and regular activity schedule for them
“I thought about it, prayed about it a couple days,” she said over the phone from her office. “Then I invited my daughter’s friends into my home.”
It was then Diane learned of the severe struggles faced by the kids that surrounded her own.
“I found out the boys were being chased by the gangs, they were all failing in school, and I just wanted to help,” she said. “That’s how it started.”
Diane expanded her idea into a home-operated organization called Kids Off the Block the very same year. The program quickly became a blend of youth violence prevention and a general source of education, athletics and support. Now in its fourteenth year, KOB has provided opportunities to hundreds of at-risk children on Chicago’s South Side, serving as an essential resource for kids in need of guidance and safety.
After only a couple of months in business, Diane said she often found upwards of 75 children in her home at any one time.
“They were coming to my house day and night. They were even waiting for me on the porch when I would get up in the morning, she said. “They wanted to get out of the gangs, they were homeless kids.”
Despite the danger and violence associated with the area’s gangs, the children that took refuge in Diane’s home told her that they found them to be a source of family and belonging. She recalled one 13-year-old, Maurice, who knocked on her door asking for help to change his life.
“Change your life? You haven’t even lived life,” Diane told him. “He said ‘Miss Diane I’ve robbed, I’ve stealed, I’ve shot at people, and I just want to change from that.’”
He involved himself with KOB’s resources, trading time on the streets for time spent learning and socializing with those also looking to escape life among gangs. Soon, Diane said, he was able to change himself.
Kids Off the Block was forced to move locations in October of 2016 after the ceiling fell in next door and damaged the building. When Diane spoke at a conference in New York, however, she attracted the attention of Victoria’s Secret model Karlie Kloss, who started a campaign to raise money for brand new facilities.
In addition to KOB’s sports, music and tutoring programs, Diane plans to create technology and career preparation centers to give children the tools to pursue a professional path.
But even as she looks to the future, Diane is careful not to forget the reason behind the organization’s initial creation.
A boy who grew up in Kids Off the Block was shot 10 times and lived, Diane recalled. After he recovered, he came back to her home and told her about the critical importance her program played in his journey.
“I remember him coming back saying, ‘if this door wasn’t open I’d be dead or in jail’” she said. “So that’s why I do it. The kids. It keeps me motivated, they do.”