New Gloria Gates facility opens

Altoona doctor Zane Gates said he thinks his mother, Gloria’s, spirit “infiltrates all the people” who work to help the foundation that bears her name.

The Gloria Gates Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit that helps children with low-income families, will host a ribbon cutting this morning for its newly renovated after-school facility at Evergreen Manors, and Gates said his mother, though she was not physically present for the renovations, is a “pillar” to the foundation’s efforts.

“She always wanted to make a better life for the kids there,” Gates said. “This building represents that progress.”

Toni Bilik, the foundation’s executive director, said there has been an after-school program at Evergreen Manors, 311 60th St., but before the renovations, the location at the building’s community room was crowded and only had one bathroom for all the children to share.

Between 40 and 50 kids are typically enrolled in the program at Evergreen, Bilik said, but not all of them attend every day. The foundation had to cut back its enrollment to 25 at Evergreen because of the limited space.

The renovated facility, which takes up the space of a four-bedroom apartment, will have five computers, two bathrooms and a breakout study room.

“The kids in the after-school program feel very special that that’s their building,” Bilik said. “They feel ownership towards it.”

The renovations were a part of the total upgrade of Evergreen Manors by Improved Dwellings of Altoona, Bilik said. The entire project cost $200,000, half of which was funded by Community Development Block Grants. The facility was finished in early February.

She said the new location is “a lot more relaxed” for the students, as they have a lot more space.

“You put a lot of kids in a very crowded space and expect them to get their homework done and get along. … It was difficult,” Bilik said.

The foundation also runs similar after-school programs at Logan Hills Apartments, Fairview Hills and the Second Avenue United Methodist Church, Gates said.

The organization would also like to expand the programs into the Penn-Lincoln area in the future, Gates said. A communitywide effort will be needed, though, to make this happen, he said.

“I think it’s very important because the community needs to come together to solve their own problems,” he said. “This is the community’s initiative.”

Bilik said the after-school programs offer an important service to the community because they keep the kids from developing dangerous habits, like drug abuse.

She said prevention may not be the key to eradicating drug use, but it is one of the best available solutions.

“There’s a very obvious problem in Blair County with drug use and crime associated with drug use,” Bilik said. “It’s a heck of a lot easier to get kids in this position where they don’t use drugs at all.”

Gates formed The Gloria Gates Memorial Foundation in 1999. It also offers a summer program for these children, according to its website.

The ribbon cutting will be held at 11 a.m. today at Evergreen Manors.

Mirror Staff Writer Paige Minemyer is at 946-7535.