In 1996, Ray and Patricia Estabrook opened a retail store, All About Games, in Belfast. Shortly after All About Games opened, the Estabrooks found their shop filled to bursting with youth of all ages who wanted to play (or learn how to play) non-electronic games. They tried to incorporate the game playing into the running of their store, but eventually realized their store could not be a business and a youth center at the same time. Instead of just kicking the kids out and going on with their lives, they saw that there was a serious need for a place for the youth of Belfast to go and decided to do something about it. Together with a group of youth and adults, they organized The Game Loft, a volunteer-run community center located in the heart of Belfast. With an almost nonexistent budget, on a wish and a prayer, the doors of The Game Loft opened on February 1, 1998.
By the summer of 1999, the Loft had reached a crisis point. Funds had run out, and the people who were running the Loft were exhausted. Fortunately, the Loft received help from Communities for Children, a statewide organization offering services for Maine youth, in the form of an AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteer. The A*VISTA volunteer researched and wrote grants and took on a number of daily administrative responsibilities, taking some of the load off the core group of volunteers and restoring the Loft's financial solvency. The Game Loft received its first MBNA Foundation Excellence in Education grant, allowing it to offer a year-round program of educational and cultural experiences for its members and the community at large. AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteers continue to be a vital part of the Loft's functioning, helping The Game Loft build its capacity to run itself.
In 2000 Game Loft mentors Patricia and Ray Estabrook won a Jefferson Award for their outstanding volunteer service to The Game Loft and the community. In 2001, Game Loft mentors Patricia and Ray Estabrook were nominated for a Toady award, given to people in the toy and game business who perform outstanding community service for youth. In 2007 The Game Loft received the Number One Exemplary After-School Program award from the Maine After School Network for comunity-based programs. In 2009, Game Loft member, James Knight recveived the Governor's Youth Volunteer of the Year Award.
Throughout the years The Game Loft evolved from an inter-generational program for gamers to game to an after-school program organized around a community of interest based on games. Young people often start to attend the program as early as eight years old and stay with us untl High School graduation. As the years go by these young people progress from program guests, enjoying friends, food and a safe environment, to gradually assuming ownership and experiencing belonging, discovering opportunities to learn and to serve others, finally becoming teen leaders in the program and the community. Our game programs are designed to reinforce and facilitate these outcomes.