CHICAGO (AP) — A Chicago woman has transformed the lives of thousands of teenage boys in one of the most violent neighborhoods in the city by providing a program to keep them off the streets.

Diane Latiker, 62, said she created the “Kids Off The Block” program in 2003, opening her door in Roseland on the far South Side to nine at-risk youths from the neighborhood. Sixteen years and more than 3,000 teenagers later, her door is still open, WLS-TV reported.

“She taught me how to be a leader of my community, first and foremost, and from there gave me a moral foundation,” said Joel Q, a 25-year-old teacher and college graduate.

Latiker said she raised eight children and, before she launched the program, had been looking forward to having an empty home. But her youngest child, who was 13 at the time, brought some friends home who were seeking refuge from gang violence, and the program was born.

“Next thing I know, I have kids sleeping on my dining room floor, homeless kids, I have kids trying to get out of the gangs,” she said.

Latiker removed furniture from her two-flat to free up space and sold televisions to purchase computers to help the boys with schoolwork. “Kids Off The Block” soon expanded to include a summer basketball program. Current participants said Latiker, whom they call “Miss D,” gives them joy and hope for the future.

“Knowing you can come to a place and be safe and have fun and be around a lot of love changes a lot,” said Denzel Russell.

Some of the young men in her program have nonetheless become victims of gun violence. Latiker remembers them with a homemade cinderblock memorial that also references dozens of other Chicago teenagers who have been killed.

And Latiker has also been a target of violence.

“I’ve been between two guns, literally,” she said, describing how someone pulled an AK-47 assault rifle on her “with 50 kids behind me.”

Current participant Daqwon Hargrove said Latiker keeps them all grounded.

“She made me realize I’m going to take some wins and losses, just keep pushing and don’t give up,” Hargrove said.

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