In a room festooned with "Operation Our Town" signs Wednesday, grant awardee Toni Bilik of the Gloria Gates Memorial Foundation described a recent trip through Wilkinsburg, a Pittsburgh suburb.
"I came home and saw the next day on the news that a 15-year-old boy and a 17-year-old boy had been shot and killed in that Wilkinsburg neighborhood," Bilik said.
"In Altoona, it would be devastating," she said. "If it was not for Operation Our Town, we could be there."
The countywide anti-drug partnership awarded prevention and treatment grants for a fifth year Wednesday, handing out $80,000 to 12 groups aiding Blair County children and parents.
Operation Our Town has long focused grant money on children's groups, Executive Coordinator Shawna Hoover said.
"The prevention programs aimed at children are the best programs you can find," Hoover said.
This year's grant recipients include Study, Overcome, Achieve, Reward, a project to help Altoona students go to college; the Hollidaysburg YMCA's Saturday night family program; and Big Brothers Big Sisters' youth mentoring system.
Operation Our Town grants have helped turn youngsters to rehab programs instead of juvenile punishment, said Molly Wink of the Blair County Juvenile Probation Office.
"Not only are we dealing with the youth - we're dealing with the family," Wink said, describing households in which even 2-year-olds are exposed to frequent drug use.
With new drug trends like bath salts, she said, getting kids medical help instead of jail remains important.
"We've spent many nights, many days at the hospital with the kids," Wink said.
The anti-drug coalition is set to begin another round of grants in 2013, Hoover said. Last year, the group handed out $371,000 to aid both the nonprofit and law-enforcement sides of the drug war.
With the 12 organizations' representatives gathered for a group photo after the grant presentation, an audience member noted that not everyone had smiled for the camera.
"You should all be smiling at getting money," she said, laughing.
Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.