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New hope for Chicago community 'plagued by violence'

September 30, 2011 -- Updated 1352 GMT (2152 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Diane Latiker was named one of the top 10 CNN Heroes of 2011
  • Latiker is reaching out to young people in her troubled Chicago neighborhood
  • Her nonprofit, "Kids Off the Block," has helped more than 1,500 youths

Editor's note: Voting for the CNN Hero of the Year continues through December 7 at CNNHeroes.com. The winner will be announced at "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute," which airs December 11, live at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT.

(CNN) -- Surrounded by gang violence in her Chicago neighborhood, Diane Latiker opened her home to area youth and started a community program called Kids Off the Block.

Since 2003, Latiker's nonprofit has taught valuable life skills and provided recreational activities to more than 1,500 young people.

CNN recently asked Latiker for her thoughts on being chosen as one of the Top 10 CNN Heroes of 2011.

CNN: Where were you when you got the call that you'd been selected as a Top 10 CNN Hero?

Diane Latiker: I was just finishing up a meeting at Kids Off the Block. I cannot explain the feeling when they told me about my selection. Euphoria hit me smack-dead in the head!

I was elated and felt so honored. I couldn't help but feel humble, as I know there are so many others like me who are giving their lives to help others. I cried and cried. Thank you all so much!

CNN: What do you hope this recognition will mean to Kids Off the Block?

Latiker: This honor validates that organizations such as ours are needed and appreciated. I hope being a Top 10 CNN Hero will give us the platform to further our mission of saving youth.

Our community is plagued by violence, hopelessness and negativity. CNN has replaced all that with hope. Our organization's staff, volunteers, youth and the community -- all of us here -- will share it, and it will make the world a better place for generations to come.

CNN: How will you use the $50,000 award that you receive for being selected as a Top 10 CNN Hero?

Latiker: I want to buy this (building) that we're in right now. We're growing with so many kids. Buying the building will help us serve thousands of young people.

CNN: What do you want people to know most about your work?

Latiker: What I want people to know is that the work that I and so many others do can literally be the difference between life and death for a generation that seems to have lost all hope. Deciding eight years ago to open my life to others has enriched not only my life, but the lives of hundreds of young people. This proves to me that giving hope to others is the key to changing lives. For that I am grateful.

I know I'm only one person, but I believe in the power of one. I really do. I believe that I can do things and I can change people. And it's been working. If I can make a change in a generation, then my community's going to get better -- because they're going to be the ones that take it over.

Read the full story on CNN Hero Diane Latiker:
Grandmother helping Chicago kids 'off the block'

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