In the beginning was All About Games. In 1996 Ray and Patricia Estabrook opened the game store as a way for their son to make money for college. After two weeks on the job their son left the business and the Estabrooks have run it ever since. All About Games was a magnet for kids in 1996 because there was in-store gaming. The space was packed with kids but their presence deterred buyers who had to walk around backpacks and gear just to get to the product. In 1998 All About Games moved to 78 Main Street in Belfast and opened the Game Loft, a 501(c) 3 charity on the second and third floors above the store. To give the non-profit a sense of seriousness the official name was Gamers United. In 2001 the corporate name was changed to New Strategies for Youth dba The Game Loft.
We had a corporate name, a place for kids to meet and play games, and a lot to learn. In 2002 the program became sustainable through a $40,000 annual grant to run after-school services for 12-15 year olds from the Department of Health and Human Services as part of the Tobacco Settlement. The object of the program was to prevent substance abuse (including tobacco) and to promote positive living and community service. In 2000 the Estabrooks won the prestigious Jefferson Award, a national recognition for volunteers. The program was doing well so the Estabrooks retired from 2003-2006.
The Estabrooks returned from retirement in 2006 and have served as its Founding co-Directors ever since. One of the problems that the Game Loft faced in the early years was one of definition. The program was not designed to correct deviant behavior but instead to support personal growth and to nurture young people. In 2008 the Game Loft embraced the theory of Positive Youth Development the principle that guides 4-H and the Girl Scouts of America. The eight principles of this approach range from the establishment of trust and security to helping the young person know that success is possible. It is this approach that shapes all activities and programs within the Game Loft.
In 2009 the Game Loft was merged with Spurwink Services of Portland, Maine. It was hoped that this merger would allow sustainability and a greater ability to perfect the logic models, evaluations, and theories of change. Unfortunately being part of a much larger organization decreased the ability of the Game Loft to truly represent Waldo County. In 2012 the Game Loft again became independent and changed its corporate name again to Maine Youth Alliance dba the Game Loft.
Through the years the Game Loft has become a model for independence, creative vision, and community involvement. Our graduates attribute much of their success in later life to the lessons they learned from peers and adults in the program. If there is one concept that has become clear through the years it is that creativity plus diligence will create success.
The mission of The Game Loft is to promote Positive Youth Development through non-electronic games and community involvement.
Our vision is a community where all people are valued regardless of age; where youth become resources with meaningful roles and responsibilities for positive community change; where disabled youth, juvenile offenders, the bullied, the ostracized, and all who feel voiceless are heard and respected; and where willing volunteers of all ages work to improve the life of their community.
We play well:
- We believe that hard work and commitment bring more success than talent alone
- We believe that doing one’s best is always important
- We believe that through play and work our kids become competent, confident, caring, contributing and connected adults
We play fair:
- We believe that honesty and integrity are essential in everything we do
We play to have fun:
- We believe in the values of teamwork, inclusiveness and mutual respect for all people
- We believe playing games together creates a community of interest where all benefit
The program goals are to guide young people age 6-18 to become confident, competent, caring, contributing and connected adults. Youth who attend the Game Loft’s programs are given opportunities to serve their community and gaming experiences that lead to increased knowledge and understanding of themselves and the world.
The Game Loft is an award winning 4-H out of school time program that for the past 17 years has been serving the educational, emotional, and social needs of youth in Waldo County. The Game Loft is a free program open to all youth, 50 weeks a year, between the ages of 6-18 who are in school or are home-schooled. Currently the program serves 200+ regularly attending members in Belfast and at Mt. View Middle School in Thorndike. The Game Loft’s primary program, offered to all participants, provides friends, food, and safety. Highly trained staff mentor youth and create a safe and welcoming atmosphere. A USDA-approved menu of lunch and snacks is provided daily.
In 2009 it was the Maine After School Network Exemplary Community-based After School program.
In 2011 it was the United Way of Eastern Maine Agency of Distinction.
In 2014 it received the Asset Champion Award from the Healthy Waldo Partnership.
In 2000 the Founders received the 2000 the Jefferson Award for Community Service.
In 2012 the Founders received the After School Champions Award for 2012 from the Maine After School Network.
Relevancy, Need and Population Served
Waldo County is a small rural area near the center of the state of Maine. Waldo County youth are some of the poorest in the state. The state average for students receiving free or reduced lunch in 2014 was 46.8% (statistics from Kids Count Data Book) and for Waldo County 58.4%. This makes Waldo County the fifth poorest county in the state (of 16 counties) behind Washington County, Piscataquis, Somerset, and Oxford. Eligibility for subsidized meals for RSU 20 (covering Belfast and surrounding towns) is 58%. This is a similar level to the states of Oklahoma, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia. In RSU 3 (covering western Waldo County) the subsidized meal level is 69.9% which is comparable to the poorest areas of the country: District of Columbia, Louisiana, and New Mexico. (National Center for Educational Statistics.) In addition, poverty has been rising in Maine over the past fifteen years from 30.3% of students eligible for free and reduced lunch in 2000 to 46.8% in 2014.
Although the Game Loft is accessible to youth of all socioeconomic backgrounds it intentionally reaches out to youth who marginalized by socio-economic factors and who are at risk through one or more of the following: (1) in poverty, (2) school failure, (3) risk of dropping out of school (3) incarcerated parent (4) juvenile police record (5) autism spectrum or other physical or mental disability (6) family identified by local social service community (7) homeless youth.
The Game Loft has a much higher than average population of youth on the autism spectrum) and food insecurity. A higher than average proportions of attendees are at risk of academic failure. There is a legacy of generational poverty throughout Waldo County. Young people are at risk in this environment from three primary factors:
- Kids who are different are at risk from social isolation from their school based peer group;
- Kids who are different are at risk from video game and internet dependency and what might be called technological isolation and,
- Finally kids like this who live in rural communities cannot get to appropriate after school activities and are at risk from rural isolation.
Increasing research is showing that all across America youth are facing isolation in increasing numbers. This is especially true in Waldo County. Gentrification of Belfast and other coastal communities have pushed the poor into isolated enclaves in town or more likely into surrounding rural communities with fewer ways to access services. Many of these kids are diagnosed with various disabilities and perceived as different by their peers. They are isolated, bullied, and shunned. Isolation for youth and adolescents stunts their ability to learn social skills. A lack of social skills decreases school success, tarnishes family relationships, and precludes community involvement. Socially isolated youth do not gain the interpersonal and cultural competence they need to be part of a community. Rurally and socially isolated youth turn to technological solutions to social issues. As a result they have fewer opportunities for planning and decision making, do not understand peaceful conflict resolution, and feel powerless. When youth feel that they have no personal power they see their lives as “something that happens to me”. They feel powerless to control their lives and so make reckless decisions involving their own health and the health and well-being of the community.
Isolation is the first step down the path to greater dysfunction. The basic goals of an effective prevention program such as the Game Loft is bringing kids out of isolation and integrating them into an appropriate peer group and promote community involvement.
|Area Served||Waldo County, Maine|
|Age Group -||
94 Children (0-12)
108 Youth (13-18)
|Ethnic background -||
2 Asian and Pacific American Islander
1 Hispanic or Latino
4 American Indian or Alaskan Native
Logic Model and Theory of Change
The Game Loft program is based on Positive Youth Development as defined by the national 4-H Program and delineated in “Eight Keys to Positive Youth Development” (University of Michigan). The approach used by The Game Loft is sequenced, uses active learning styles, is focused on social and emotional learning, and is explicit about what we hope to accomplish. This so-called SAFE system is widely recognized as effective in out-of-school time programs. (University of Wisconsin 2008) The program methodology uses games as a "trail of bread crumbs" to lower barriers to access and practice inclusivity. Out of over 400 unique drop-ins over the course of a year, 200 youth are enrolled as members (membership is free). Members are tracked for program outcomes in three stages, modeled on the overall logic model of the program:
Under initial outcomes, we work on basic social competencies under the rubric of "Friends, Food and Safety";
Under Intermediate outcomes, we work on pro social behaviors organized around "Belonging, Ownership and volunteering";
Under Long-term outcomes, we focus on "Leadership, Mentoring and Life skills".
Our Ultimate goals are youth who are Confident, Competent, Caring, Connected and Contributing members of the community. These are known as the 5cs.
The Logic Model shows the relationship between activities and outcomes in both the core program and the special programs.
The special programs are designed to make our outcomes more intentional and to assist young people with academics, work force training and life transitions. They also raise our profile in the community and among donors and supporters. They expand our “service window”, energize our youth, excite our donors and funders and keep our program in the public eye. For funding purposes they are organized into three clusters: Trailblazers, Navigators and Pathfinders each targeted to specific age groups: Trailblazers works on building social competencies; Navigators works on academic competencies and Pathfinders works on life management and transition skills.
Three examples of our special programs are:
Coming of Age in America (A Navigators program emphasizing experiential learning)
Coming of Age in America (CoA) is a program designed by Ray and Patricia Estabrook to teach Maine and U.S. history through role-play. It is designed for high school students and is currently run as an Expanded Learning Opportunity (ELO) for elective credit through Mt. View High School. The course is run for 6-8 students and provides an in-depth look at the technology, sociology, politics, religion, and cultural mores of a small town in Maine during a particular era. Coming of Age in America focuses on the lives and histories of young people growing up in Maine. Each unit begins in early childhood and takes the group to the crisis of its generation. Modules for the Civil War, the 1960’s, and the 1880’s have been run in the past ten years. All of the Coming of Age stories are set in the mythical Norumbega County, Maine setting created by the Estabrooks.
ENCOUNTERS (A Navigators program emphasizing civic engagement)
In 2012 a group of three churches from the Greater Belfast Area Ministerium (First Church UCC, St. Margaret’s Episcopal, and First Baptist, ABC) and the Game Loft came together to establish ENCOUNTERS, a youth program to explore spiritual growth for middle school youth. ENCOUNTERS uses role play, games, discussion, fellowship, and prayer to aid in spiritual development. Its premise is that a person who is active in their church or religion will also be engaged in their community. The role play element of the program is set in the Norumbega County of the 21st century using the Eureka System of role play. The program is funded by the three churches, donors and grants.
Circles of Care (A Pathfinders program emphasizing transitions, mentoring and lifeskills)
In 2013 The Game Loft created a program to help young people make constructive decisions for their lives. Each Circle of Care (CoC) is run like a corporation with a young person as its president. The purpose of the “corporation” is to give young people a sounding board for their decisions in school, in their families, and in their communities. The Circles of Care are made up of community members, an older teen, and a parent. The program receives support from several community programs and local churches. The Circle of Care program engages the community in a transformative and exciting program of helping our young people move from surviving to thriving.
Every aspect of the Game Loft program promotes the eight keys of Positive Youth Development as fundamental to program outcomes: safety, belonging, self-worth, independence, relationships, achievement, and recognition, all of which lead to a belief that a young person has a future and that success is possible.The Game Loft operates during non-school hours, including school vacation and the summer months, offering developmentally appropriate recreation opportunities that enrich academics, promote engagement in learning, build social and life skills, foster healthy family relationships, and guide youth to become caring, competent, confident, connected, and contributing adults.
The Game Loft does not discriminate based on race, color, creed, income, disability, national origin, gender, or sexual orientation. On Mondays the program is open from 2-6 for those ages 12 and under and teen mentors. On Tuesday and Thursday the program is open from 2-6 in Belfast for ages 12 and up, on Wednesday at Mt. View Middle School for multi-ages, and on Friday from 2-8:30, for teens. There are many opportunities for growth within the program including many volunteer opportunities. Youth learn voice and choice through membership on the Youth Advisory Board, 4-H Leadership Club and by participating in and running many Game Loft programs. The Loft stresses community involvement. Over 60 youth contribute over 2000 hours of volunteer service each year. Community involvement is a core value of the Game Loft and promotes civic engagement.
At The Game Loft we have used a variety of measurement tools including the Developmental Assets Profile to assess the well-being of our participants. Youth development research shows that involvement in the program for a minimum of two days or six hours a week increases assets and improves functioning.
The Game Loft is affiliated with 4-H and is a non-traditional 4-H club. Some of the most extensive research on youth development is currently being performed through 4-H. The Game Loft uses those research findings to ensure that our programs embody the most current thinking in the field of Positive Youth Development.
Game Loft Programs Calendar
Major Annual Events
Youth Volunteer Awards – last Friday in October: celebrates the community involvement part of the mission
End of Year Party – third Friday in June: celebrates the non-electronic games part of the mission
Board Annual Meeting – second Wednesday in September: election of Board officers
Board Annual Retreat – within 60 days of annual meeting: Board engagement in strategic planning
Arts in the Park – second Fri/Sat in July: Community fund and friend raiser
Waldo County Public Speakers’ Tournament – around end of February: community event in collaboration with 4-H
Pax Britannica – spring 2016: community wide program and gala event
Historical Miniatures Game – occasional Saturdays: sponsored by Maine Historical Wargamers Assoc.
Magic Tournaments – occasional Saturdays: fundraiser for Youth Activities fund
MHWA Game Days and Huzzah– occasional Saturdays: road trip to Bath, Me to participate in Maine Historical Game Day programs and in May for the annual convention in South Portland (these are youth activity events)
Searsmont Memorial Day Parade – Memorial Day: Game Loft marches in parade with costumes giving younglings a chance to volunteer
Cedar Street Plant and Yard Sales/Unity area pancake breakfast and car wash – early June: community fundraisers to support youth activities fund
Foyers – quarterly: private dinners for key stakeholders and donors to share our goals and vision
4-H Collaborative Events and programs
CWF trip – early July: Two Game Loft leaders go to Washington DC as ambassadors as part of the Citizen Washington Focus (CWF) program
Regional Public Speakers Competition – March: Game Loft Public Speaker’s Bureau kids can compete
4-H leadership Club – monthly meetings: leadership development program; members of youth advisory board are selected from club members
Game Loft Speakers Bureau – on going: A program of the Leadership Club that trains Loft members to speak in public about the Game Loft
Game Loft Programs Calendar
Summer Programs – The Loft is closed for the last week of June and first week of July; summer programs are offered daily, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday 1-6, Friday, 1-8:30 and on Wednesdays at Mount View Middle School from 1-3. Summer programs include: Regular non-electronic games programs, full service kitchen and snack supported by USDA, Summer Food Service program (SFSP), enrichment activities and the Live Action Combat (LAC) program.
Program Seasons – September-June: The Game Loft divides the school year into five programming seasons of six weeks each. Each season offers a mix of the four basic non-electronic games, trading card games like Magic: the Gathering, role play games like Dungeons and Dragons, board games like Ascension and miniatures games like Warhammer as well as the full service lunch and snack program supported by the USDA CACFP food reimbursable program. The Game Loft is a registered “soup kitchen”.
Break Weeks – October-June: The Game Loft has “break weeks” inserted between program season for special games, “one shots”, enrichment activities and even movie nights. These are opportunities for kids to try new things and for volunteers to pilot new projects.
SPECIAL OR CONTRACT
Trailblazers – as determined by contracts: These are special game based programs for middle school age youth delivered to fulfill grants or contracts. Examples are the Hobbit program or ENCOUNTERS.
Navigators – as determined by contracts: These are special game based programs for high school age youth delivered to fulfill grants or contracts. Examples are Coming of Age in America (COA) run as an expanded learning opportunity (ELO) and Mount View on Wednesdays for elective credit.
Pathfinders – as determined by contracts: These are programs for teens that use the Game Loft approach to help our Lofters prepare for life transitions and adulthood. They include the 4-H leadership club, Public Speakers Bureau, the Circle of Care program and other Lifeskills training programs.
Monday: age 6 to 5th grade focusing on social activities such as role play games, Pokemon Club and board games
Tuesday: 6th to12th grades with a special emphasis on transition kids age 11-12.
Wednesday: age 8 and up at Mount View Middle School from 3-5:15 pm. Birthdays celebrated monthly.
Thursday: teens, 6th to 12th grades
Friday: teens, 6th to 12th grades in two periods, 2:30-5:30 and 6:00-8:30. A meal prepared by community volunteer “celebrity chefs” is offered from 5:30-6:00. Birthdays celebrated as needed.