'Kids Off The Block' program seeks community support to survive

'Kids Off The Block' program seeks community support to survive

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

So many young people have been killed in gun violence in Chicago that a memorial wall has run out of space to add the names of new victims.

Now, the organization that started the tribute is running out of money for its efforts to save kids from the gang life, and to get them "off the block."

Diane Latiker and ‘Kids Off The Block’ started building the tribute wall after young Blair Holt was gunned down on a CTA bus in 2007. Latiker wasn’t thinking ahead to how many lives of Chicagoans under the age of 25 would be claimed by violence.

“So I’m not thinkin hundreds. I'm not even there. And as it continued to grow, we rebuilt it again, we rebuilt it again, and I’m like wait a minute, this is crazy,” Latiker said.

Latiker started her program by just letting teens come into her house to get off the block. It was a place to play, talk and be safe.

Also, her open invitation to Thanksgiving dinner has grown into a tradition that feeds hundreds.

“There are teens that don't have any place to eat all year,” said Latiker. “You see em panhandling, you see them beatin the buckets on the street, you see em trying to pump gas at the gas station, but nobody wants to get involved.”

The memorial wall’s bricks look like headstones, and that's proven to be irresistible for people to look at when walking by. Also, camera crews from all over the world have come to Roseland to shoot the memorial.

However, if ‘Kids Off The Block’ is going to stay in business, it's going to have to prove it is more than just a great tribute.

“Without Ms. Diane I don't know where I’d be, I’d probably be really heavy into the streets, probably gang-banging, doing a lot of negative stuff,” said George Barron of ‘Kids Off The Block.’

Latiker added, “I don't care if it's as small as basketball, that can bring them together. That opens the door for us. Cause I can say, hey, how you doing in school? Are you in school? You wanna come play basketball again, lemme help you.”

Latiker has many stories of success, but she has no staff to track the outcomes of the kids that she's taken in off the block. That’s one reason she was denied funding this spring.

"If it wasn't for KOB, I don't know where I’d be. Probably dead or in jail,” said Mel in a video for 'Kids Off The Block.'

And although ‘Kids Off The Block’ was featured in the video announcing the new private fund 'Get in Chicago,' the program didn't get in.

"We applied and we were denied, because of outcomes,” said Latiker.

“Right now I’m in school, I’m trying to finish getting my high school diploma, I graduate in January, but till then I’m just trying to find a job and just keeping kids off the block doing something positive,” said Barron.

Latiker chimed in, “People who really believe in what we do keep us afloat. People who say, ima send you 20 dollars a month because I believe in you. People who say ima send you a hundred dollars because maybe you can buy the kids some food for the day.”

For more information on 'Kids Off The Block,' visit their website.

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