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How It All Began!
Posted by Diane Latiker of Kids Off The Block on Aug 5, 2013
I am a mother of eight, and in 2003 the only one left at home was my youngest daughter Aisha. She was 13 at the time and she had nine friends. Every summer they would play on the block, boys and girls ages 13-15. I knew that I had to keep up with her, so I started taking all of them fishing, swimming, to the movies, everywhere I could to keep them off the streets. My mom, Evangelist Ruth Jackson watched me with the kids and said to me one day "why don't you do something with the kids, they like and respect you". I didn't want to do it, but didn't want to say that to my mother. I prayed about it for three days, and on July 15, 2003 Aisha and her friends were outside playing. I walked outside and called them together. I asked them what did they want to do with their lives. They started jumping up and down, saying they wanted to be doctors, lawyers, singers, rappers, basketball players, etc;. They looked so sincere and excited.
I then asked them if I started "something" in my house would they participate. Mind you, I had no clue as to what I was starting. I knew nothing about organizations, EIN numbers, programs or nothing, but I did know at that moment that I was hooked and wanted to do something to help them. That same day I brought them into my house, I listened to them as they each told me their stories, of course I thought I already knew Aisha's. They shared with me the issues they now face as teenagers. The boys being approached by gangs, the girls being approached by boys/men about sex. They all shared some issues like fatherless homes, fear of violence, failing in school, poverty and a sense of hopelessness when it came to their community.
When they were done, I felt compelled to give them everything I had in me. I began to help with homework, encourage them to think positive, and I even would write them corny raps and invite their parents over to listen to them on Friday nights in my living room. It was so awesome to see how proud they were to perform in front of their parents and how proud the parents were that their child was doing something good. I was hooked, I wanted to do more, but how? I was just a mother, a parent, a 46 year old grandmother. This is where my faith came in, I started to pray and ask GOD to guide me, teach me how to help. I started reasearching what other organizations were doing and what was needed to effectively help these young people.
The deeper I got involved, the more I knew this is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, so I quit my job! As I began to help them, they would tell other kids about it. I started seeing kids I didn't know. Kids in gangs, drop out kids, homeless kids, and some just wanted a safe place to go. Suddenly there were 20, then 35, I moved into my dining room. Then there were 40, 50, 60, I moved into a small bedroom, got donated music equipment. Then there were 75! The kids would come everyday, day and night. Some wouldn't have anywhere to go and they would sleep on my floor. I would feed them, wash their clothes, take them to school and pick them up. I would attend every meeting I found to get them help from others. I would talk to them for hours to learn what their passion was and seek out the resources for them to persue that passion.
At first my husband didn't like it, he asked me if I was crazy. I think I was, and still am! I love helping the young people!! I begged him one time could I sell the family tv so I could get some used computers, I wanted to help the kids more with their homework. He said "NO"! I kept asking him so much that threatened to divorce me. I think my passion was to strong, one day when he went to work I sold the tv. He came home and said that's it, I'm divorcing you. I love my husband dearly, but for some reason I couldn't stop. I cried and told him I wouldn't do it again, "I hoped".
From that point on he has stood by me 100%, I am so grateful to him! Right after that we got our first interview with WTTW Channel 11, we were so excited. I got a real big surprise on that day, as I was watching my daughter Aisha talk about how she felt about what her mother has done, she let the interviewer know that she didn't like her mother letting all these kids into "her home". She said I was "her" mother and she was jealous. I stood there with my mouth open, I had no clue she felt that way. After the cameras left, I hugged my daughter and explained to her that no one could ever take her place, and that I needed her to help me help them. She has been right beside me every since, she mentors and guides the youth who come to the programs. I am so proud of her!
I must give kudos to my Mom, she has stood with me since she said those words to me that changed my life! She is my Mentor, guidance counselor prayer warrior, and she believes in me and the vision I have to give young people a chance/choice for success.
Ten years and thousands of young people who have given me the opportunity to have a small part in their lives, I must say I'm just getting started. I love what I do and will continue to seek out opportunities, resources, and tools to help every child, teen, and young adult who ask for my help!
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