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Building trust, thinking sequentially, using the skills of the cohort, and delegating clearly are skills that adult managers often struggle to achieve. For a tentative 8thgrader they are “mountains to scale.” 

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In a recent exercise Tyson showed his new skills as he helped his group build a cardboard bridge that would be strong and flexible. He showed his peers that he had an idea that would work. He described the steps in order and in a way that the group could understand and chose roles for each of the group members. 

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At the end of the afternoon his group completed the task and felt proud of their accomplishments. Tyson was exhausted by his new leadership role but he realized that the next time he will have increased confidence and competence. 

Dear Friend of the Game Loft, 

Let me tell you two things that you already know: life is hard and not everyone succeeds. What makes one person thrive while another falters? Is it intelligence? Luck? Good looks? Personal or financial gifts? Resilience helps us overcome stress and believe that success is possible. I would like to introduce you to Paul Sweetland, Game Loft alumnus and honorary chairman of this year’s Game Loft annual appeal. 

paul sweetlandHi, my name is Paul Sweetland (although my old friends call me “Pete”). I was a Loft kid 20 years ago and I am one today. When I was a teenager in Searsmont, Maine I was isolated, rebellious and lost. Every set-back seemed like the end of hope. Some of my peers who felt the same way chose opioid or alcohol abuse, petty crime, violence, and a dead-end life on a rutted road to nowhere. They were not Loft kids.

Poverty, crime, violence and substance abuse are both destructive and expensive. As Frederick Douglass said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Please consider your gift to the Game Loft as an investment in resilience. 

When I was a teenager I wasn’t smarter, richer, luckier or even better looking than my peers. I had no way of knowing that I would experience things that have broken the spirit of many other people. I guess that the lessons I learned at the Game Loft gave me some inward reserves that kept me going through the toughest times.  I have traveled all around the world and met people from many different cultures but nowhere have I seen a place that taught resiliency better than the Game Loft. I think it has to do with the fact that playing games brings people together and establishes a common ground. Games allow us to forget our stress for a while and enjoy life and other people. I have played backgammon with Iraqi nationals and taught Parcheesi to Afghans. We found a common language and a respite from war through games.

Paul says that the Game Loft helped him find himself and his place in the world. Today he is an active community volunteer who has worked with hurricane disaster relief and runs his own version of the Game Loft in San Antonio for young soldiers and members of the community. 

The biggest lesson I learned at the Game Loft was how to be the best person I could be. That meant being the best player, the best friend, and the best community member. Instead of thinking of my own problems I began reaching out to others. Now instead of a road to nowhere my life extends across the globe. 

A few years ago I established a gaming group in San Antonio. Remembering the Game Loft I suggested that we give the group a name and put it on a tee shirt. Suddenly we had belonging and identity. I used the Game Loft as a model and here are some of the things I helped them discover. 

Don’t give up. Even when you think you are losing there is still hope. That is a lesson that works for games and life. 

Every member of a team is important. I teach this one through Dungeons and Dragons. Nobody wants to play the cleric because that role is the support staff of the Dungeons and Dragons game but without that position the group will fail. Each person and each role is important to the team. Every person has a unique gift to bring to the group.

Life has challenges but success is possible. I have traveled the world and many times I have seen people at their worst. I have an injury that will be with me for the rest of my life. It would be easy to turn inward and to revert to the isolated, angry person I was so many years ago, but I hold within me the hope that the Game Loft imparted to me as a teenager. Now I share with my gaming group the acceptance, generosity, and kindness that I learned at the Loft. By sharing what I have learned I hope the legacy of the Game Loft will grow. Please help the Game Loft build resilience for the kids who will one day shape the world.


Paul Sweetland, “Loft kid”

Paul Sweetland has overcome obstacles in his own life and has raised the sights of his community. As a husband and father, mentor, team member, and volunteer he embodies the vision of the Game Loft. Your gift will help the Game Loft build strong children and youth who will be able to succeed in a dangerous and difficult world. Please be generous. Donations can be made online through the Game Loft website or mailed to 78 Main St.; Belfast, ME 04915.


Patricia and Ray Estabrook, Co-Founding Directors

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Steven Bishop accepts award during Maine Association of Nonprofits’ sold-out Executive Leadership Forum, ‘The Secret Sauce to Boardroom Success: Culture and Dynamics. Photo credit: Camden National Bank

This October, Camden National Bank recognized six outstanding nonprofit board leaders with their 2018 Leaders & Luminaries Awards and $22,000 in grants to the winners’ respective organizations. Since the Leaders & Luminaries Awards began in 2011, Camden National Bank has given $130,000 to 37 Maine nonprofits through its private charitable foundation, The Bank of Maine Foundation. Honorees are selected for a successful use of passion, innovation and resourcefulness to help Maine communities thrive.

In 2018, The Game Loft nominated Treasurer, Steven Bishop, acknowledging his exceptional leadership employing these very distinct traits. Steven first discovered The Game Loft as a kid where he witnessed first-hand their mission to promote Positive Youth Development through non-electronic games and community involvement. As a young adult, Steven learned bookkeeping and used those skills to help The Game Loft succeed through a time of financial hardship. At the age of 22 he joined The Game Loft board. 

3 Ray and Steven in 2001

Steven Bishop with co-founding director Ray Estabrook in 2001.  Photo credit: Patricia Estabrook

Using his newfound skills, Steven went on to secure a junior accountant role at Harvard University, where he is also enrolled as a student. He is the first in his family to attend college, and he will graduate from Harvard in May 2019. Now 30 years old, Steven continues to serve as The Game Loft Treasurer remotely from his home in Massachusetts and remains an inspiring advocate of The Game Loft, who has brought energy, leadership and greater sustainability to the organization.

This year, over 65 nonprofit board members were nominated by the community, and Camden National Bank’s Leaders & Luminaries independent selection committee chose two Emerging Leaders receiving $1,000 each, including Game Loft nominee, Steven Bishop, along with four Grand Prize winners receiving $5,000 each for their respective organizations. The Game Loft is proud to see this outstanding young contributor recognized for his work and dedication to the Waldo County community.  Other honorees recognized this year serve as board directors at Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust, Milestone Recovery, Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, Maine Inside Out, and Hardy Girls Healthy Women.

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From left, Camden National Bank executives are shown here with the 2018 Leaders & Luminaries Awards winners. Pictured (from right) are Renee Smyth, Camden National Bank chief experience and marketing officer; Samaa Abdurraqib, Maine Inside Out board co-chair; Ben Martens, Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association executive director; Brad Babson, Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust board president; Ryan Ciriello, Milestone Recovery development committee chair; Steven Bishop, The Game Loft treasurer; Chelsea Ellis, Hardy Girls Healthy Women board director; and Greg Dufour, Camden National Bank president and CEO.  Photo credit: Camden National Bank

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You can’t have travel based educational opportunities without wheels. On Oct. 23rd our new dedicated van arrived. The kids were both proud and embarrassed to see themselves writ large on the sides of the van. We had told them that they were going to be super stars. Now they know we meant it!

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They quickly took possession of their van and went on our first field trip to the Marsh River Coop.

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Over hot chocolate and pumpkin pie, they had a facilitated discussion and agreed on rules for traveling in the van that were acceptable to everyone – voice and choice in action.

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We came to the mentors’ retreat at Lake Flagstaff this August two by two: two youth, two college students, two adult volunteers and two elders. By the time we left we were one cohesive group. We reflected on the lessons we learned from our mentors and made plans for our own mentoring experiences. 


Gabriel Baldwin, Game Loft alumnus and mindfulness training consultant led the group in various activities throughout the 3-day session at Lake Flagstaff. 


We hiked, swam, played games, laughed and ate great food but mostly we listened. We listened to each other, to the sounds of the lake and the forest, and to our bodies. What we heard was louder than mere words. 


Each member gained an appreciation for nature and for each other. As the sun set over Lake Flagstaff we gave thanks for the many opportunities we were given to serve and to support. 

I Know ME: Expanding Worldviews

Five of the six boys in this re-creation of Homer’s art are I Know ME participants. They “became” subjects in the Winslow Homer painting one afternoon in September. Before we posed them at Birch Point State Park they had never heard of Homer or seen any of his work. Now they will never forget it. The re-creation is an homage to Winslow Homer and not a copy, just as the boys, while assuming the same poses as the originals, have their own thoughts and ambitions as they look out to sea. 

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In the 1870’s Maine artist, Winslow Homer, painted boys on the beach watching ships and thinking about their future. Would they sail away to foreign ports someday? Would they be adventurers, businessmen, explorers, or just clerks watching the world go by? We’ll never know what happened to the boy models in this painting but we hope to expand the lives of Maine youth by introducing them to great art. 

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In I Know ME the youth have experiences that would not have been possible without the program. In the summer of 2019 these boys and others in the I Am Art project will host an art exhibit and will travel to the Winslow Homer studio in Prout’s Neck. If one of the purposes of great art is to make you see the world differently, then the purpose has been fulfilled.  Birch Point, Prout’s Neck, and even boyhood have been redefined by this project. 

End of Year Party 2018

Thank you to everyone who came out to our End of Year Party Friday June 22!  We had a great time enjoying a beautiful evening by the water with great food, games, and, especially, people.


Our "small foods" potluck fed a big crowd at the City Park Pavilion!


Bradley Arsenault, Marcus Vaillancourt and Jeremiah King receive their certificates of completion for this year's Coming of Age in America program, America Awakening, set in Maine in the 1880s and 1890s. Nic Elkins who joined in late looks on.


Finn Tabox, Zach Barboza, Marcus Vaillancourt, and Jeremiah King are recognized for their service on the Youth Advisory Board.


Gamemaster Chris Donley tells our graduating seniors: Jeremiah King, Zach Barboza, and Alex Dorr, and Marcus Vaillancourt why each one of them is his favorite.


And, finally, Live Action Small World was a BIG success!


We hope you're all well rested from the break and ready to begin a great summer at the Loft starting tomorrow! Our Gamemasters have some exciting RPGs planned along with LAC every Wednesday and programming for our younglings on Mondays.

Please call 338-6447 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with any questions!

As the Loft closes for break and we prepare for summer programming, we're happy to reflect on the successes of our newest program's first season.  In the last month 7th graders in I Know ME have been exploring our own backyard with their first overnight trip to the UMaine 4-H Camp & Learning Center at Tanglewood and an end of the year cookout at Swan Lake.  These "close-to-home" adventures aim to develop the skills and confidence needed to prepare the kids for future trips, including a trip to the Maine Wild Blueberry Fesitval this summer! 

We'd like to share with you the I Know ME program in action with a photo journey below!  Keep an eye out for even more from the I Know ME cohort this summer.

Overnight trip to Tanglewood:


Hiking Mt. Batty...



Reaching the summit!


End of Year Cookout at Swan Lake:

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Passport ceremony, IKME will be visiting every State Park in Maine!

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Braving the June waters and swimming in Swan Lake!

Celebrating 20 Years of Love and Service

Please enjoy following speech delivered by Patricia Estabrook at our 20th Anniversary Pax Britannica Gala & Reception:

This is a love story. It begins with my husband, Ray Estabrook. Shortly before we got married, about 35 years ago, he had a dream. In his dream he saw a plaque that said, “We will love and serve them all.” He asked me, “Can you do that?” I had a son from a previous marriage and I thought he meant that he wanted more children. I was so blinded by love that I said, “Sure!” Little did I know. For 15 years we didn’t have any more children and then we started the Game Loft.

When I first saw all those kids and we didn’t have any money or any time I said to my mother, “What will we do?” And she said, “Just love them.” 

When I first saw all those kids and we didn’t have any money or any time I said to my mother, “What will we do?” And she said, “Just love them.” Now I know you can have service without love but you can never have real love without service. And that was the beginning of the Game Loft. We loved the kid whose mother died shredding the family order. We loved the kid whose family moved away and left him. We loved the kid we kicked out 217 days in a row and welcomed back day after day after day. We served the the bullied, the ostracized, the successful, and the struggling and especially we served the isolated. We loved brilliant Carlos as well as clique we called “the vipers.” And we served them all. Soon we had 100 kids, and then 250 and then on and on beyond counting.

About ten years ago we had a kid at the Loft I’ll call Taffy. Taffy was a real pain. Every day kids and staff and volunteers came up to me and said, “There is a limit, and that kid Taffy has crossed it. Get rid of him.” Taffy teased, he stole, he disrupted games, he bragged, he ate everything in the kitchen, he complained, he whined, he drove us nuts. It was “Taffy, no, and Taffy, stop, and Taffy, leave that alone.” All of us, staff, volunteers, kids, parents, everyone, had enough of Taffy. We kicked him out and let him come back, over and over again because loving and serving him was our mission. And we never wanted to see him isolated and alone.

Then one day we got to the end of the school year picnic at City Park. It is a big occasion for kids and parents and it is our Loft “graduation” party. Taffy was about 13 at the time. All day long he got under everybody’s skin. He was pushing, pushing, pushing everybody. The party was no fun. Everybody was asking me to send Taffy home. I explained the rules again and again until I just gave up. I was so mad that I said, “Taffy, get out of my sight, you are driving me crazy!”

And so he did. He went down the hill and sat on a rock by the water with his back to all of us. And I was glad.

I stood there and watched him sitting alone and isolated and all I could think of was that at last he was out of trouble. After a while I called out to him, “O.K. Taffy, you can come in now.” He sat with his back to me looking out toward Islesboro. O.K., I thought, let him sit. And he sat. Then I noticed the tide was coming in. Well, I thought, he’ll come in soon. But he sat. And then the tide was up to his rock. And then it was around his rock. And I called out, “Taffy, it’s time to come in.” And his rock was getting wet and I called, “Taffy please come in.” But he sat. And then I begged, ‘PLEASE come in?” But he sat and the water kept rising and he was alone on his tiny island. And then I got really worried and I said, “Lord, please bring Taffy back to us. We need him.”

And just at that moment Quin Frazier came over and said, “I’ll bring him back.” And Quin walked down the bank, splashed into the water, and sat down next to Taffy on the rock. I was too far away to hear but I think they sat without talking.  They were together. And the water rose. It was at their toes, then their ankles, then their knees and I was praying. And then, without a word, Taffy and Quin turned at the same moment, splashed through the water and returned to the gazebo and the party started again.

"The dream of love and service that Ray shared with me had grown. It had grown to the kids in the program, the staff, the parents, the volunteers, and the community."

It was at that moment that I realized something about the Game Loft. The dream of love and service that Ray shared with me had grown. It had grown to the kids in the program, the staff, the parents, the volunteers, and the community. It had grown to Trish who served meals, to Tom and Dallas who run games, to the generous staff who give of themselves every day, to Chuck who defrosts the refrigerator, and to Matt who cleans the stairs. All of them, all of you, love and serve. The dream that Ray had all those years ago has grown to become a community where no one is isolated. 

I saw Taffy a month ago. He is a grown man now and lives in another state. He has learned some lessons over the years. He is a member of a community and he volunteers regularly to make sure that no one is isolated or neglected.

And now I want to thank you all for being here. For the love of community you share and the good words you do. Truly you help us love and serve them all.

- Patricia Estabrook

Several years ago Ray and I discovered the State of Maine state park passport program and it changed our lives.

Maine State Park Passport

If you are unfamiliar with the program it is a checklist for visiting all 48 state parks managed by the Department of Parks and Lands of the State of Maine. The parks range from Fort McClary in Kittery to the Allagash Wilderness Waterway in Northern Aroostook County.

Fort McClary

Visiting all 48 state parks introduces you to beaches, historic forts and buildings, mountains, hiking trails, canoe trails, and the depth and breadth of the state of Maine. When we devised the I Know ME program we realized that our kids would benefit from being exposed to all of these wonderful parks and seeing what makes living in Maine such a rich experience.

On February 6 the first group of I Know ME kids visited Commissioner Walter Whitcomb in Augusta to receive their state park passports. A story about their visit was picked up by the Associated Press and circulated nationally.

Commissioner Whitcomb

A goal of the I Know ME program is to help young people confront the problems of the state and answer nagging questions using the resources of government, business, tourism, universities, museums, and people. Engaging with the state parks is one step in this process of exploration.

After visiting Commissioner Whitcomb the group had its first visit to the Maine State Legislature.

Crossing through the metal detector was the first challenge.


Senator Mike Thibodeau welcomed the group to the legislature.



Representative Erin Herbig showed them her office including the “secret passage” to the House floor.



In these days of political cynicism it is important for kids to understand their government and to be able to understand the work they do for the people of Maine.

Each session ends with journal writing. Their journals will be kept from year to year to show the progress these young people are making in the mastery of their state and their lives.


Please “travel” with us as we explore the state including the 48 state parks. Please feel free to make additional suggestions about who we should know, where we should go, what we show do, and how much experience it takes to understand the state of Maine.

No Man Is an Island

I thought you might like to see some of the places we will go in the I Know ME program. In today’s blog we are looking at three islands that are part of the Maine state park system. Can you guess what they are, where they are, and how to get there from here?

The first is a small island that was once the home of Rear Admiral Robert Peary of North Pole fame. His former home is a museum and the grounds and gardens are still maintained for visitors. The park is open only during the summer months because few Maine visitors are ready for the arctic-like temperatures found on a windswept island. This island can be seen from Wolfe’s Neck State Park in Freeport.

The second island is close to Belfast but too far to swim. It is accessible only by boat but no public boat services go to it. How will we get there? Maybe by kayak or row boat or maybe a local friend with a boat will take us. I hear that it is very buggy in August but by September it is a cool and inviting island to explore with campsites that dot the perimeter of the island.

The third island is in a lake and not the ocean. If you climb the mountain on the island you can look down on the site of a former grand hotel. It is too far to swim to get to the island but there is a ferry site from the mainland. If you visit during the winter you could skate or ski across the lake.

Why visit islands? To stress that teamwork and planning are necessary to get to our goals. What are your goals for Maine and for the I Know ME program? We would love to hear from you.

-Partircia Estabrook

(Co-founder and Director)

Answers to the previous quiz:

Quiz 1

1. Easton and Eastport are ten miles from each other. 

      True or False

2. The largest naval defeat in U.S. history before Pearl Harbor was:     

    a. The battle of New Orleans    

    b. The Penobscot Expedition  

    c. The siege of Lake Erie

3. How many Maine state parks are managed by the Department of Conservation?    

    a. 10    

    b. All including Baxter State Park    

    c. All except Baxter State Park    

    d. 48

4. A ploye is a lie.   

      True or false

5. Two former Maine governors were Kings.   

      True or false

6. Where is Curtis Island and does it go all the way to the bottom?

    Just off the coast of Camden. Yes, it goes all the way to the bottom but tourists may not know that.

7. This man was called by his enemies, “… the Continental liar from the state of Maine.” Who was he?

    James G. Blaine

8. Aroostook County is bigger than:    

    a. Rhode Island    

    b. Connecticut    

    c. Rhode Island and Connecticut combined    

    d. Mississippi

9. The Whoopie Pie Festival is held annually in Dover-Foxcroft.   

      True or False

I Know ME is gaining steam. On November 29 there will be an informational meeting about the program at Mount View Middle School at 6 PM. If you know a 7th grader at Mount View who might be interested please contact Stephen Colby at 338-6447 for more information. Seventh graders and their families who are not able to make the meeting can still apply. Please contact Stephen for more information.

One of the many fun activities the I Know ME kids will be doing this year is “adopting” a food festival. The ultimate decision about which festival they should attend is up to the kids but we would like your opinions as well. Here is a list of just a few Maine food festivals. Which one do you think they should attend or should we add your favorite to the list?

  1. Wild Blueberry Festival in Machias
  2. Whoopie Pie Festival in Dover-Foxcroft
  3. Moxie Festival in Lisbon
  4. Red Hot Dog Festival in Dexter
  5. Clam Festival in Yarmouth
  6. Lobster Festival in Rockland

Kids will do more than enjoy great food and entertainment, they will also be volunteering at the festival to help organizers achieve success and understand the need for community involvement at all levels.

The Game Loft is pleased to announce the start of the I Know ME program. Funded by the Lerner Foundation and based on the Trekkers Youth Development Principles, I Know ME is a program of relationships and broadening horizons. The Game Loft will guide ten youth per year for the next six years in a program to learn about the state of Maine and to engage with Maine’s history, geography, economics, people, promise, and challenges. The young people in the program will be studying all facets of Maine through trips and other after-school adventures.

Here is a little quiz to see how well you know Maine. Over the next six years we will be sharing our adventures with you and a few challenges as well. One person who correctly answers this week’s questions will receive a Game Loft tee shirt and will be entered to win our 2018 grand prize. Good luck!

Quiz 1
  1. Easton and Eastport are ten miles from each other. 
      True or False
  2. The largest naval defeat in U.S. history before Pearl Harbor was:     
      a. The battle of New Orleans    
      b. The Penobscot Expedition    
      c. The siege of Lake Erie
  3. How many Maine state parks are managed by the Department of Conservation?    
      a. 10    
      b. All including Baxter State Park    
      c. All except Baxter State Park    
      d. 48
  4. A ploye is a lie.   
      True or false
  5. Two former Maine governors were Kings.   
      True or false
  6. Where is Curtis Island and does it go all the way to the bottom?
  7. This man was called by his enemies, “… the Continental liar from the state of Maine.” Who was he?
  8. Aroostook County is bigger than:    
      a. Rhode Island    
      b. Connecticut    
      c. Rhode Island and Connecticut combined    
      d. Mississippi
  9. The Whoopie Pie Festival is held annually in Dover-Foxcroft.   
      True or False
Quiz 2
Why should Game Loft kids study Maine for six years through trips, volunteering, interviews, exploration, and games?   
  1. To understand their home    
  2. To gain mastery of an important topic    
  3. To be able to talk knowledgably with adults    
  4. To become better citizens     
  5. To explore new areas of interest and to raise aspirations    
  6. To help gain academic and social skills    
  7. To bond with peers and adults    
  8. All of the above

The answers to these quizzes will be in our next blog. Each month the I Know ME blog will chronicle the places we have been and the things we have learned. If you have suggestions about the places where we should go, the people we should meet, the history we should encounter, the problems we should address, or the volunteer opportunities we should explore please contact us through this BLOG.

The I Know ME program is sponsored by the Emanuel and Pauline Lerner Foundation and is based on the Trekkers model for Positive Youth Development.

Fairy GodmotherIt was several years ago, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon when Ray and I were planning to paint our front steps. We had gotten out all the paint and brushes and were just reviewing our plan when two Game Loft kids appeared on our deck. Both kids had been Lofters for some amount of time but they had never been particularly close until on this day they had a common mission. They were united by their family problems and little else. Marta’s father was dying slowly at home and the family was consumed with worry and there was no time for anything else in their lives. Jonah was “couch-surfing” meaning that he had no real home but moved from relative to friend, sleeping on couches and moving on when he wore out his welcome. They were “different” from lots of kids in more stable situation but today they wanted to fit in. They wanted to go to the prom like “normal” kids and they had only one problem that they could see, the prom was that night.

At the Loft we form what we call an “alternate kinship group.” These two kids had come to us to be not only substitute parents but miracle workers. They knew that I have a sizeable collection of costumes in my closets and they wanted to borrow something that would pass as prom attire. Well, you know Cinderella had a fairy godmother who could be pressed into service at a moment’s notice but in real life the process is more arduous. I found Jonah a tuxedo and a shirt that was more-or-less pressed. Marta wanted to borrow a dress she had worn for our Pax Britannica game the month before. Jonah needed dress shoes and socks and Marta wanted something for her hair. It took all afternoon but we did it. I suggested they arrive after dark to make a good entrance (and to be less obvious about their ill-fitting clothes.)

Prince CharmingThey went to the prom. It wasn’t a disaster and it wasn’t the day that changed everything. It was just an ordinary prom date for two almost ordinary kids. For once that year they were doing something “normal.” They even had a pre-dance meal at McDonald’s with money Ray slipped to Jonah at the last minute.

The front steps didn’t get painted that year. I’m not sure what has happened to them in the years since then.

For those of you who like to look back stage, here is a glimpse of our inner-workings. In social services there is a huge push by funders for collaboration. It sounds like a wonderful idea to get much more “bang for the buck.” You are supposed to work with other organizations to deliver quality service to more people using fewer dollars. That is a wonderful theory and once in a great while it works and last month it worked for us. I cannot stress enough how rare that was in my experience.

The possibilities for failure in collaboration are endless. Here are some of the things that keep me awake at night. The first thing is getting everyone to agree to the same mission. That sounds easy, right? Wrong. One program may want healthy kids through good nutrition while another wants to promote good mental health. A third program says that the Game Loft should be teaching creativity through art projects and a fourth would like encourage STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Stitching all of those programs together is a quilter’s nightmare. The first thing we have to do is stick to our mission which is to “promote Positive Youth Development through non-electronic games and community involvement.” That rules out all kinds of programs that depend on classroom style lecturing and programs for “identified youth” who fit into a narrow demographic group.

Then there is the problem of creating a program that kids will actually want to sign up for. We give kids the options of what they would like to do and when the programs sound uninteresting the kids refuse to become involved. Many programs in the community have been designed by well-meaning adults who want to teach kids. In our experience kids want to participate, enjoy, experience, and sense new concepts in a context of recreation. Didactic learning is for school time. Getting our kids to try new things that seem in any way like school work is a difficult task.

So if we find a way to put the various programs together into a game concept that will intrigue kids we have the potential for a winning collaboration but we are far from successful. Then you must coordinate schedules, rules and policies, food, transportation, parental expectations, and evaluations. Each program comes with its own iron-clad rules that must be observed. By the time you get an agreement from all parties the list of forbidden activities far outweighs those that are acceptable. And if you get to the point where all of the conditions are met you must hope that no one gets sick, that no vehicle gets a flat tire, or that all the paperwork will be signed and in the right hands. Collaboration is the word that strikes fear into the hearts of all well-meaning after school providers.

But once in a great while everything comes together and it works. I don’t know how to re-create this alchemy but I am grateful when it happens. The Game Loft has been very fortunate to have received a grant from National 4-H Council and the WalMart Foundation to run a series of health and education programs for kids in grades 4-8. We created a hobbit program that had the kids role playing hobbits who were withstanding a siege in their little hobbit-hole. They had to do some creative thinking, problem-solving, outdoor hiking and mock combat, and nutrition lessons hobbit-style. Last month we opened up one of the programs to our friends at RSU 20’s Searsport afterschool program. This meant cooperation with the University of Maine, another afterschool program, Tanglewood 4-H Camp, and the Game Loft staff and volunteers. Having a success in a program like this is like trying to land a model rocket on the moon— once I might have said it was impossible.

So I would like to thank a couple of first-rate behind the scenes collaborators. The first is Joyce Weaver from Waldo County 4-H. Joyce has been a champion for combining 4-H and afterschool programs for years. Thanks, Joyce and collaborator Barb Baker, for making this happen. The second is Mariko Brown from RSU 20 Searsport after school program. She made this whole effort work seamlessly. The final big thanks goes to the Tanglewood 4-H Camp who make magic in the woods of Lincolnville. Here are some photos of the kids from RSU 20 as hobbits.



When I started writing this blog I was so excited to dive in and tell the stories of kids that I postponed writing the background of the program. Now, 18 blogs later, I think it is time for me to introduce the Game Loft.

Who we are: The Game Loft is an after-school program for youth ages 6-18. We play all kinds of non-electronic games. Our mission is to “promote Positive Youth Development through non-electronic games and community involvement.” So what is Positive Youth Development? It is a model for service used by 4-H, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and Girl Scouts. It has 8 basic tenets that are:

  • Security: Youth feel physically and emotionally safe.
  • Belonging: Youth experience belonging and ownership.
  • Acceptance: Youth try new things.
  • Independence: Youth discover self.
  • Relationships: Youth develop quality relationships with peers and adults.
  • Values: Youth discuss conflicting values and formulate their own beliefs.
  • Achievement: Youth feel the pride and responsibility that comes with mastery.
  • Recognition: Youth expand their capacity to enjoy life and know that success is possible.

That’s what we try to do every day with every kid.

We want every kid to become an adult who is caring, confident, competent, connected and contributing. In other words, the kind of adult you want to know at home, in your neighborhood, and running the world.

We have a vision for the Game Loft as 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 have been promoting this mission and these values for 17 years. The proof of our success is the young people who have graduated into adulthood from this program, their families, and the quality of the staff we have been able to attract.

Today I wrote a job description for a new AmeriCorps VISTA worker. This is a one year position that will help us deliver more and better service to western Waldo County. I often ask you for your time, talents, and money but today I ask you for a referral. If you know a man or woman over the age of 18, preferably a college graduate, who would be proud to share our ideals, please send him to our web site or have that person call Ariel Levangie at the Loft 207-338-6447 for more information about being a VISTA worker. It could be the year that changes his or her life.

PYD Model of Change

My grandmother was the cook in the house when I was growing up. She was a traditional good, thrifty German-style cook but the meals were a little repetitious. On Sunday we had a roast and then the next three days we had leftovers. We had beef three days in each week and pork for two days. I was 17 before I tasted pizza. The only pasta we ever ate was elbow macaroni and that was in the form of macaroni and cheese. We ate out twice a year and each time I was cautioned to order something safe like the roast chicken. When I was in high school and she was in her late 70’s a revolution occurred in our kitchen. Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking began to be televised and our home and the entire United States started to understand cultural diversity.

I cringe when I think of those bygone days when everyone lived in a cultural food ghetto. If your family was German you ate potato pancakes, roast pork, and vegetables boiled into submission. If you were Italian you ate only Italian dishes. My mother went to school in the South and never overcame her distaste for collards. I grew up thinking that British food was “mushy” and Italian food was “stringy”, the Chinese lived on chow mein and Africans had no cuisine at all. Thinking that your own food was naturally superior and healthful was the accepted cultural outlook. There were as many prejudices about food as there were about ethnicity and skin color.

Friends of mine who are black bought a house in the 1960’s in a previously all-white neighborhood. One day they caught their neighbor staring through the dining room window as they ate dinner. When my friend invited the neighbor, Violet, in she remarked, “I am just amazed! You eat with knives and forks just like the rest of us.” Violet’s amazement was just a little more pronounced than my family’s reaction when we had dinner at the home of a Jewish family and they served hamburgers. They ate the same kinds of food as we did, what a surprise. Yes, we were all that provincial and closed-minded.

Today people eat out more and they are far more adventurous when it comes to food. At the Loft we support the new gastronomy that lets you travel the world on one plate. Recently the celebrity chefs were from a local restaurant and the kids ate a Portuguese dish with pork and clams. I hear it was not only delicious but also ground-breaking. The kids who thought they would never eat anything “weird” loved it. They made one small step in getting to know how other people live when the walls of their self-imposed culinary ghetto began to crumble.

Once you learn that sushi is not poison you might become more interested in Japan. If you eat Polynesian food and love it you might want to know more about Pacific culture. Maine is a wonderful state and I would not want to live anywhere else on earth but I want our kids to see the options in the world. I want them to embrace their own culture and the lives of others. Once a former Game Loft member said to me, “I’ve been to Toledo, I never have to travel again.” I know that was an isolated comment because that young man married a girl from Ireland and visited her family there. We are working at the Loft to open the world to our kids and to prepare them to enjoy all it has to offer.

Thank you Mark and Anita at Captain A.V. Nickels Inn and Mermaid at the Homeport for serving our kids a traditional Portuguese dish with pork, clams, and calamari in a perfectly seasoned tomato based sauce. It was spectacular!!!

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Our son went to a preschool program that had the slogan, “I am lovable and capable.” Those are valuable concepts for a kid to embody whether s/he is three or eighteen. It is a sentiment that we try to capture at the Game Loft. Being lovable is easy when you are three. Little children are messy, smelly, and adorable. By the time they become teens they are still messy, often smelly, and sometimes a long way from adorable. To really love them you have to aim your love at the place between the adorable childhood they are leaving and the respectable adults they are becoming. Sometimes that feels like we are taking a shot in the dark. Little children are considered capable when they use the bathroom without prompting or pick up their toys under the watchful eye of an adult. We expect so much more from teens, sometimes forgetting how much they have learned in so short a time. Now that I have reached an age when I worry about the toll that over-exertion can take on my body I am grateful for teens who are becoming capable, in fact, I love them.

This has been an exceptionally snowy winter. The climate folks warned us that global warming could lead to heavy snow accumulations and they were right. For those of you out of town be happy because we are buried in snow and our teeth are chattering with the cold. Snow drifts are over my head and getting to the bird feeder is like an arctic expedition. What would we do without the band of Game Loft snow shovelers?

The Loft has been shoveling out elderly and disabled folks in Belfast since my neighbor first asked for our help. That was a huge break-through because formerly she had distrusted and disliked kids. She saw them as violent and threatening but when the snow blocked her door she had nowhere to turn. It shows personal strength to completely change your perspective and Elizabeth Minor was strong. She died last year and I still miss her. I am glad that she was spared the anxiety of dealing with the snow this winter. But she left us a legacy, and that is the idea that Game Loft members shovel snow. They realize in this act that they are capable of work that others cannot do.

When I asked Brian how much snow he had moved this year he said, “More than I ever thought possible.” My calendar says that spring is coming in two days. The snowdrops will have to force their way through ten inches of snow and the crocuses are still sleeping under the snow drifts. I am hoping that we have seen the end of shoveling because Brian left the roof rake in our gutter where it is frozen solid. One point for lovable, zero for capable.

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Lincoln graphic

Last week I told you about Sol, the young man with a crushing burden of family and school problems. I knew that Sol would be a success if he could summon the courage to attend the Second Annual Waldo County Speakers’ Tournament held on Saturday. This has been a hard winter for all of us in Waldo County. The mountains of snow and the unrelenting cold temperatures have made us discouraged. It is in times like this that we cling to the little things as signs that everything will work out all right in the end. I should have known better.

Last week Sol learned that his family is being evicted from their home. With ten people in the household and very little money it will be difficult for them to find a new place. That insecurity was probably the last straw for Sol and last week he dropped out of school. Over the weekend I held onto the hope that he would change his mind. I thought that if only he could attend the speakers’ tournament and have a success that it might be enough to give him hope.

When we opened the doors at 11 we learned that things can always go wrong. The first thing was that Ray had misplaced his Loft keys and Mike had locked his inside the Loft. I don’t carry Loft keys and all the rest of the staff was out of town. We could see the supplies we needed from the back window but there was no way to get inside. Finally Ron Tufo, our handyman extraordinaire and troubleshooter, arrived and gave Ray his keys. Then we learned that a third of the kids we had planned on were sick and would not be attending. That left us with five participants, 10 quarts of melting ice cream, and about 30 adults. The show went on.

I waited by the door for Sol from 12:00 to 1:00. No Sol. I felt like a kid waiting for Santa. If only Sol would show up it would prove that things would be O.K. The program began. No Sol. Every shadow that passed the window seemed to me to be Sol showing up. It wasn’t. We erased his name from the list of presenters. He never arrived.

There is so little we can control in the lives of youth. We can’t control their families or their school experiences. We can try to help them make friends but new friendships can burst like a soap bubble. We create opportunities for success but the kids have to walk through the door. Sometimes we have huge successes and other times we just keep on offering what we have to give and hoping for the best. We won’t give up on Sol even though his future seems pretty bleak right now but maybe success is closer than we think.

By the way, the kids who did make speeches were terrific. Gerald Womack won in the Junior Division and Ravi Weaver won in the senior division. Congratulations to all the kids who participated, we are so proud of you. Ravi and Jon Landers will be going to the regional public speakers’ tournament on March 28 in Orono. Good luck to both of them.

Ravi Weaver and Jon Landers

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Jumior category: Gerald Womack, Zack Woehler and Kirk Stillman

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“The way you overcome shyness is to become so wrapped up in something that you forget to be afraid.” — Lady Bird Johnson

It is estimated that 75% of all people fear public speaking and some studies show that people fear public speaking more than they fear death. On Saturday the Game Loft will co-host the second annual 4-H public speaking tournament for those brave kids who might say, “Give me oratory; don’t give me death.” For the most part these are not extraverted kids who long to be on the stage. Few of them participate in theater and many of them are shy. The reason they participate in this event is that they are so enthusiastic about their subjects that they want to share their ideas.

shy kid

Right now we are working with a young man we will call Sol who is feeling overwhelmed by his fears. He is afraid (and with some justification) that his family will fall apart. Sol is afraid that he can’t cope with the demands of school, and he is worried that his future does not have much promise. Those are some heavy burdens for a kid to carry. He has two options: to fail or to succeed and at this time I don’t know which one Sol will choose.

On Saturday Sol may choose to speak about the role of the Game Loft in his life. He may reflect on the support he has been given and the strength he derives from the friendships of his peers and elders. He may talk about the way his life has changed in the past few years since he has begun attending the Loft. He may talk about the exhilaration he feels when he wins a game or the pride he feels in having friends. He might, for those few moments on stage, get so wrapped up in his message that he forgets his daily fears. If that happens we will have had a little victory. But that victory is not guaranteed. Sol may choose not to be with us. He might stay home with his electronic toys and his family issues and he might retreat into his old patterns.

Sol knows that failure is a possibility because he has seen the members of his family fail so many times. A year or so ago he wondered why he should try to grow up since the adults around him seemed so miserable most of the time. The pattern of failure is familiar in his household but the pattern of hope is new. Becoming wrapped up in the promise the Loft has given him is like learning a new language. It is difficult to learn the words but even more difficult to think and act in that new “language” of success.

On Saturday I will be waiting at the door of the Belfast Free Library for Sol to enter. If he gets there, if he shuffles to the front of the room, if he opens his mouth and looks at the audience, if he makes a speech no matter how halting or tentative, it will be a sign. It will say that no matter how difficult the new language of success may be that he is willing to immerse himself in it. It will show that he has faith in what we are offering through the Loft. It will be a reward to all of us who have worked with Sol. Please send your good thoughts to all the kids who are struggling to find the best in themselves.



“Elle” is half child and half woman. Right now since she lives between the two she is awkward and nervous but someday she will be lovely. One minute she is laughing with her friends and the next minute worried that her laugh is too loud or that the joke wasn’t all that funny. Laughter lights up her face and then it clouds over with self-consciousness. She has no idea of how beautiful she is and that innocence makes her even more beautiful. Boys haven’t noticed her yet and she is afraid they never will. Part of her wants to rush into adulthood while another wants to cling to the familiar and safe. At fifteen she hates the word “wait.”

Years ago I studied folklore and I am always amazed by what folk tales have to tell us. One of the Grimm stories is about a girl who falls asleep just before she reaches womanhood. Her guardians put her in a glass casket where all the world can pass by and see how lovely she is. She will sleep undisturbed waiting for a lover’s kiss to awaken her. That’s where “Elle” is now. She is suspended between childhood and womanhood and she is lovely. But as we know from folk tales there is always a wolf or other wild beast waiting to take advantage of the innocent.

I worry about kids like “Elle” who are naïve and vulnerable and worried that their chance will never come. Recently a colleague from Nevada sent me an email with a warning about the dangers of social media and young people. He was concerned about strangers stalking them when they reveal too much about themselves. I researched the topic and found that while there is a threat it is not from strangers lurking in the virtual “bushes.” Research studies have found that the real threat to innocent kids like “Elle” is from the “friend of a friend” they meet through social media. The vulnerable kids can be seduced by the attention they receive. They are anxious to fall in love and are flattered by the attention they receive from slightly older admirers. These admirers offer romance to the vulnerable. They push the young person into a relationship they are not ready to handle. Many of these relationships are illegal because of the age difference between the parties.

At the Loft we do everything possible to ensure the safety of our kids. We encourage friendships but discourage exclusive relationships. We encourage face-to-face contacts between peers rather than electronic communication. We try to channel kids into age appropriate activities with peers or carefully screened adult mentors. We try to keep “Elle” and her friends protected from the world until they are mature enough to find the prince or princess of their dreams.

Sleeping BeautyAs you read this I am visiting the New York International Toy Fair. If you see the photos on the news I am one of the hundreds of tiny shoppers on the display floor. We will be back next week with ideas about great new games and puzzles. In the meantime our excellent staff will be manning both the Game Loft and All About Games.

What would you do if one day you woke up and found that seemingly overnight you had turned into a monster? Hair was sprouting in unexpected places, you felt a deep rage without understanding its causes, and you heard the call to leave your family and join your pack? That is the theme of the role play game “Werewolf” and it is also a metaphor for adolescence. Somewhere around the age of 13 physical, mental, and emotional changes transform our lovable kids into “monsters.” No one understands them except for the members of their “pack.” If you are a parent or an adult who loves teenagers you have seen all of this in one form or another. It is a great time of loneliness for kids and desperation for parents.

Imagine being alone in the world - ugly, unlovable, rejected by your once devoted parents, frightened, isolated, and angry. It’s pretty scary stuff. Where can you turn? When the desire to retreat from an alien world hits many kids turn to alcohol or drugs as a way to block out their pain. The lucky ones turn to the support of peer groups that can nurture them as the werewolf pack nurtures its kindred.

The analogy only stretches so far but at the Loft we are the “pack” that creates safety in numbers and peer-to-peer support. Bill Yori was one of the first gamers to join our Werewolf game in the early years of the Loft. He was no more or less monstrous than his peers. His “fangs” and “claws” were similar to all the other adolescents we have seen over the years. His isolation was painful but not unique and if he had hair sprouting from unexpected locations he was discreet enough not to show it in public.

Bill and his fellow werewolves acted out their rage in stories of valor and solidarity. They shot imaginary bad guys and won the respect of their friends. They knew it was play but they were living in the metaphor. Their characters learned how to take decisive action and somehow that translated into the reality of their lives. Their characters took responsibility for their actions and so did the players. Their characters felt suffering and loss but learned how to endure and so did Bill and his friends. By trying out independence and courage they learned what those words meant. When Bill’s mom died his friends, his “pack”, was there for him.

Bill went to college and came back to Waldo County. After years in the corporate world he has recently gone back to UMO to complete his engineering degree. He is still a gamer and still loyal to his original “pack.” I’m not a big fan of scary subjects, the world is scary enough for me, but I have met and befriended a number of “werewolves.” Somehow they all were transformed from monsters to friends and neighbors of the decidedly human variety. Back then Thom Roberts ran the Werewolf game for Bill and his peers and now he is doing it again every Friday night at the Game Loft for another generation of werewolves. There is a tremendous reward for all of us when we are able to see kids struggle and survive the painful transition from monsters to mentors.

photoGame Loft alumnus Bill Yori at a recent career day event

10th Anniversary 254The Loft has been surveyed more times than I can count and still the researchers can’t find the secret of what makes this program so great. Try as they will, the kids come out “average” on every measure except that even they, the outsiders who have had so little contact with our kids, know that they are anything but “average.” Years ago I started my own surveys that are unscientific but revealing. I asked the kids what makes the Game Loft work. James Knight (no relation to Andrew Knight of the previous story), put it this way, “food, friends, and safety.”

Now let me tell you a little about James before I go on. When James gave me these three words he was a junior in high school. He was a success story by anyone’s definition--- smart, charismatic, kind, and decent. He was athletic, a member of the Lego robotics team, the lead in the school play - you get it, just an all-around great guy. I haven’t seen James in years but I would bet he is all of that and more today. James fit in with every crowd and I am sure that nobody ever considered bullying him. So when he said, “food, friends, and safety” I understood the first two but bleated out, “safety?”

The worry about safety seemed like an inner-city concern far from our little nest in Waldo County. I thought that we had no danger here but I was wrong. James explained to me that schools, no matter where they are, don’t feel safe to kids. They may be safe from earthquakes and fires and missile strikes but they are not safe places. A safe place is where you can be yourself without fear of ridicule.

Fear of ridicule keeps us all in a confined space but it does more than that to adolescents. It keeps them from growing into the people they were meant to be.

Fear breeds conformity in all the worst senses of that word. Fear makes us small and tense. We watch other people expecting them to devastate us with a word or a look. Holding all of that in makes kids testy or depressed and turns some people to bullying. Fear of ridicule pollutes our schools, our families, our clubs, and our lives.

You know that bumper sticker that says, “Dance like no one is watching.” It implies that you can be goofy or inept or clumsy and no one will care. I don’t live in that kind of world and neither do you and it doesn’t exist at the Game Loft either. Of course there are judgments at the Loft because we are human but at the Loft we can dance as though we are among friends who will forgive and forget our clumsiness. We can try and fail and still be safe.

For James safety existed in a number of different settings but for a lot of other Loft kids that isn’t the case. The ridicule they endure is a form of torture.

For many kids there is no island of safety but for our kids there is the Game Loft.

“To Esme with Love and Squalor” by J.D. Salinger is one of my favorite short stories. It begins with, “Just recently, by air mail, I received an invitation to a wedding…. It happens to be a wedding I’d give a lot to be able to get to….”

Just recently I received an invitation to a wedding that I will give a lot to get to. The wedding is the first of a group of friends who met at All About Games and continued to be friends when the Game Loft opened. That group includes: Andrew Knight, King and Steven Bishop, Carlos LaHoz, Bill Yori, Paul Belden and James Sweetland. The wedding is for Andrew Knight and will be a kind of reunion for the earliest Game Loft members.

In the Salinger story a World War II airman meets a 13 year old school girl in England whose friendship allows him to get through the war with his, as she says, “F-A-C-U-L-T-I-E-S intact.” Salinger points out that it is through friendship we get through the rigors of life.

When we met this group of young men Ray and I were “recovering parents.” Having only the one child meant that we didn’t know what we were doing and we made a lot of mistakes. After our son left for college Ray vowed that he would never talk to anyone under the age of 30 again. I felt from the experience of parenthood that I was a failure as a mother and as a woman. It was a pretty grim time for us. Like the airman in the story we were shattered. We had no intention of running an afterschool program but sometimes you get what you least expect.

When we founded the Loft all of the men I listed above were in the 7th grade, they are now in their 30’s. At a recent meeting with several members of that group I asked them how the friendships they had made at the Game Loft had shaped them. James Sweetland told me that those friendships came at a crucial part in his development when his identity was forming. The friends he made then, both peers and adults, helped shape him. His friendships affirmed his values and gave him a reasonably safe environment that helped him become a resilient adult. He also established an identity as a gamer at that time which helped him find a constructive hobby to shape his time.

It has been my privilege to know and to game with all of these men through the years. Andrew is a behavioral health professional; King is head chef at Street and Company in Portland; Steven works for Harvard and studies at Harvard University; Bill returned to college this fall to finish his engineering degree; Paul farms, Carlos is a manager at an IT firm in Boston; and James lives in the Philippines with his girlfriend and two sons. They are fine men who are contributing to the life of their communities and generously remember the Loft.

That Game Loft friendship helped us as much as it helped the boys. Through their love and acceptance we were healed. Their friendship, now almost twenty years old, has put us back together as people and reassured us that we have something to give to young people.

You may be pleased to know that Ray and I have emerged with our “F-A-C-U-L-T-I-E-S intact.”

If your F-A-C-U-L-T-I-E-S are intact please consider a gift to The Game Loft.

I have been watching friendships bloom and thrive at the Loft since we started the program and still it is a mystery to me. I know that we prepare the groundwork like a gardener prepares a seed bed. We establish rules to keep kids emotionally and physically safe, we provide common experiences for growth, we give lots of room for talking about everything and nothing, and we strive to be consistent yet innovative. Those are the things that we do, but why does it work? I have no idea.

I know that the Loft friendships work even when there are disparities in background, class, school achievement, aspirations, and abilities.

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John as the underling  and Nathan as the King during Pax Britannia (playing Italy in 2007)

I know that safety is a big component in creating friendships. If you can discuss your opinions without fear of ridicule you have set the groundwork for friendship. At the Loft there is lots of room for varying opinions and for members to change their opinions over time. We expect change and welcome it. We don’t expect that kids will have the same values as adults or that all people will share a common perspective.

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Ryan and Noah during Road to the White House (2008)

I know that in school there are many gradations of what is acceptable. People are judged on things they can’t control like size, shape, clothing, and ancestry. One step out of line and you are a laughingstock. At the Loft we are less concerned about personal appearance.

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Lyta, Rebecca, Madryn, Jesse and Taran demonstrate proper recyling for the City of Belfast

I am aware that it’s not the way you wear your hair that makes for Game Loft popularity.

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Damion shows oiff a new style at the Game Loft Wild West party (2007)

I believe that the adventures of the mind that happen at the Loft go a long way toward the creation of friendships. Whether it is live chess or battling imaginary creatures in a Dungeons and Dragons game you have shared a bit of yourself that is seldom seen in other places.

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Live Chess game at City Park (a long time ago - maybe 2004)

I have seen that friendships develop when we are called upon to exercise the best of our abilities and when we are praised for our work. Sharing those victories with our friends increases and enhances friendships.

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Laithe and Devlin make theri presentation at the 1st Waldo County Speakers' Tournament (March 2014): the 2nd annual tournamernt is Feb. 28, 2015 - mark your calendars


I realize that all of these things create friendship. To maintain friendship they must be practiced over time. Over time we share ourselves, we forgive each other, and we treasure the qualities that we first admired. At the Loft we value each other as we are today and as the people we will become. We remember the past, enjoy today, and welcome tomorrow when all the mysteries of friendship may be revealed.


Amber in 2007

In October we took a group of kids in grades 3-6 out of the mundane world and into the world of their imaginations. For one week they became hobbits on the trail of adventure. In reality they were still kids who have to ask permission from adults to go to the bathroom but in their imaginations they were warriors who could right wrongs and bring back prizes of great value. Feeling the threat, returning with the prize, was more than a game, it had reality because it was experienced by the group of friends. They shared a common experience and spoke the same language that brought them closer together.

Lone hobbit on the trail of adventure

The world seems to be full of danger when you are alone.

All kids have imaginations. Since all kids like to play together why do we go to such lengths to create a fantasy world for them to play in? The reason is that the more real the experience becomes the more they get to understand themselves and each other. The participants left the door of the Game Loft as kids and returned as heroes. They shared anticipation, fear, determination, courage, and respect. They bonded with each other over a common understanding and they included us in the story. For a time we were together united against a common enemy, proud of our solidarity, and brave in the face of overwhelming odds.

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True friends share the burdens of life.

All of this is an investment. We invest our time and creativity to create a vibrant world for kids. We share the things that are important to us and to them. This sharing breaks down the walls that exist between adults and kids, hobbits and humans, and the “what is” from the “what might be”. The friendships that are created enrich everyone in the group. This investment comes at a big cost in time, dollars, and imagination. We are rewarded, however, with the memories and the mutual respect that would have been impossible otherwise.

“A person is only complete when he has a friend to understand him, to share all his passions and sorrows with, and to stand by throughout his life.” Nishan Panwar


“Birds of a feather flock together.”

Adolescents need friends in order to survive like plants need sunshine. We take that for an understood fact without fully understanding why. In her fascinating book The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn out the Way They Do, Judith Rich Harris explains that during the growing up phase we turn from our families as our central focus of identity and see ourselves through the lens of our friends. Our primary identity becomes who we are in the peer group. If our peer group is “the brains” we tend to read more or if we label ourselves as being part of the “stoners” we do everything possible to fit with the expectations of that group. Part of our group identity is biologically determined. Kids who mature physically early, who have good reflexes and strong bodies, and who enjoy competition will be more natural athletes and will identify as “jocks.”. It will be more difficult for kids who don’t have those characteristics to break into the peer group that values those traits. Kids in that group will copy the behavior they see around them and will conform, to one extent or another, to the standards of the group, even if it a negative or anti-social peer group.

When a kid does not have a peer group  he or she is vulnerable. There is no set of expectations that help him or her shape behavior. These kids are more susceptible to bullying; they are more lonesome; their behavior becomes erratic and their identities become confused. Kids without a peer group are not only isolated, they are lost. Like a plant starved for sunshine they become socially stunted because they fail to understand the social cues that are expected of them. It takes years for rejected adolescents to recover and some never do.

The Game Loft is not a solution for every kid but it works for lots of kids. The typical Game Loft kid has a pattern just as the typical athlete has another. Many Game Loft kids are introverted. That doesn’t mean they are quiet (just ask our staff about that) but that they thrive in smaller groups with more time to reflect on their experiences. Game Loft kids tend to live in a world of possibilities. Sometimes teachers find them “day-dreamy” and their peers may think they are out-of-step. They are often very bright and interested in new ideas. They have a respect for knowledge, sometimes spending hundreds of hours learning the complexities of strategy games. Many Loft kids think about how things could be improved like: games, the world, their lives, and other people. Others are more laid-back as long as their beliefs are not attacked, then they become intense. Not every Loft kid fits this pattern but the majority do.

For many kids who come to the Loft this is their first experience with finding others who value their world outlook. We make a huge effort to accept every kid and to value their beliefs. When this happens a formerly isolated kid begins to grow like a plant placed in a sunny window. There is a life-giving element to finding your own group. These kids become stronger and more resilient merely by the fact that they have found a personal identity.

For the next three weeks I will be focusing on stories of kids in our program who have found their peer group and how it has improved their world. As one boy said a decade ago, “I used to think I was weird, now I know I am unique.”

Please consider a donation to The Game Loft. We are a 501(c) 3 tax deductible charity. Your gift will help change the lives of Maine kids.

Food is more than important at the Game Loft, it is vital to our program. When you walk through the door at 2:15 you can’t stop yourself, you sniff the air. The wonderful mix of aromas says someone has been cooking all morning in preparation for the day’s meal. When you enter the kitchen you see wheels of fresh fruit and vegetables cut into portions and arranged attractively on plates. Take some. Take a lot, the fruits and vegetables are here to nourish you. The water is fresh and cold in the dispenser. The entrée is bubbling on the stove. And behind it all is Scootch, our dear friend, waiting to serve you. Who could resist this kind of welcome? The bounty is here every day--- fresh, inviting, appealing. It was made by loving hands and is offered to every kid who comes through the door. Take a deep breath because that is the scent of love.

Scootch, our kitchen manager is leaving at the end of December. She will add the Game Loft to her long and varied list of accomplishments. In her lifetime she has been a river guide, a congressional aide in Washington, a radio announcer, a mother and grandmother, a consultant in solid waste management, a youth worker, a writer, a story-teller, and a baker’s assistant. There are probably many more things that she has done, and done well, over her long career. Stop by before she leaves. She tells stories brilliantly and has a storeroom of them in her mind. At the Loft she organized our kitchen and pantry and created systems for our food service. She helped us become members of the USDA food services programs, CACFP and SFSP, which meant learning “bureaucratize” and translating it for the rest of us. She supervised kitchen volunteers and made lots of new friends for the Loft, but most of all she nurtured and nourished our kids

I met Scootch when we were doing the 1960’s project called “Days of Rage”. We had asked community members to come forward with their memories about life in the 1960’s. Scootch called in response to a newspaper article I had written. I was immediately mesmerized by her voice. She has a mellifluous voice. It is a smoky voice that insinuates itself in your mind and makes you smile long after she has finished speaking. It is the voice that got her a job reading pork belly prices on the radio in her native Idaho where an angry listener called the station to complain that “she reads the stock reports like she was selling French lingerie.” Feeding the kids is not at all like slopping the hogs. The hogs will eat anything, the kids are picky. The hogs need to be fattened up, our kids need to be carefully fed according to the best nutritional standards. The hogs don’t care who throws the slops into the trough. Our kids love to know that they matter and that the presentation of their food was carefully considered. Bad manners are routine for hogs but Scootch has taught our kids that respect and gratitude help flavor the meal for everyone.

When Scootch turned 69 recently she took some time to re-evaluate her life. As Samuel Johnson said, it was “a time to be in earnest.” After her retirement from the Loft she will be able to more fully embrace her jobs as grandma to Henry and bakery aide to her daughter, Anne Saggese. We are creating a cookbook for Scootch with the favorite recipes of the friends of the Game Loft. Please contribute a recipe and a memory for our dear friend.

One of the lesser-known Christmas carols was written by Maine’s own Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and is called “I heard the bells on Christmas Day.” Unlike some other Christmas carols it is a story that begins with Longfellow’s own sense of loneliness and loss at Christmas. The country was in the midst of the American Civil War and Longfellow had suffered great losses. It was hard to call up the joy that Christmas is supposed to bring.

I am grateful that this country is not in a war like the Civil War nor is my life full of loss, but if you have seen me recently you know that I am teetering on the brink of exhaustion. It is the Sunday before Christmas and I wonder how I will get through until the 25th. Ray and I stumble home from our jobs at the Loft and the store and eat whatever we can find. This week it has been smoked mackerel and crackers and we have fallen into bed with alley-cat breath. Our house, while never orderly, is in extreme chaos. Our Christmas tree is still tied to the roof of our car and might still be there until New Year’s Day. The Christmas cards are unwritten and I haven’t had time to read the greetings we received. There are no cookies baked and the kitchen floor crunches when you walk across it. The presents are wrapped with care in the store but who knows when we will get around to even shopping for ourselves. Sometimes it all seems like too much. I wonder when I will get some “Me time.” I get angry and petty and wonder why we do this. These are not dire problems but they add up. There is a note I left for Santa on the refrigerator that says, “What I really want for Christmas is a nap!” I could also use an attitude transplant.

I worry that with all these trivial issues I will lose sight of the real joy of Christmas. Will my bad attitude squelch the beauty of the day and the season? I want to love every minute of this but I am tired. I want to get really excited about watching Loft kids dressed as shepherds at First Baptist Church but I know that I will be wishing for a hot bath instead. When Ray asked for a Snickers bar for Christmas all I could think was, “One more person is asking me for something I can’t do.” When I should be sharing the peace with the Christmas congregation I will be daydreaming about how I can stay in bed all day on Christmas and avoid all human contact. And the worst thought will be that I will be wishing for January 6 when the whole process is over and then we face sweet January when nothing much happens. Then I realize that I am at war with myself. I want the joy and excitement of Christmas but I don’t want to pay the price to make it happen not only for me but for others. Maybe Scrooge wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe he was just bone tired.

Then Christmas comes and I hear my own personal bells. I guess these are Game Loft bells. They come in the voices of our alumni who come home for the holidays. I hear them ringing through the updates: “Montana” “living in Portland” “started a business” “student at Harvard” “taking photos all over New York” “going to graduate school” “love the South” “making jewelry that I sell at craft fairs” “working for what I believe” “engaged” “ski all winter long” “my own invention” “bought a house” “wife and baby doing well” “writing a book” and through all of these words I hear that our work has been worthwhile. The kids who came to us to play Pokemon or D&D are now young men and women who are a credit to their communities. They are involved, respected, contributing, and still hold high ideals.

And the words of Longfellow come to me through the lips of our alumni. These “Christmas bells” say:


“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

‘God is not dead, nor does He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,

The right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.’”


Thank you to all who have made the Loft possible for the past 16 years: the staff, volunteers, donors, friends, families, and especially the kids. Your voices ring in my heart.

Merry Christmas.

 Lille has style, panache and attitude. She lights up a room when she enters. Sometimes she is boisterous, other times withdrawn. She is 14 and brings with her all the fragility and bravado of that age. When Ray met her for the first time she was playing in a Magic: the Gathering card game tournament and holding her own with the boys. He was so impressed that he immediately called me to come to the game to meet her. Although she can be flirtatious she can also face the world without using a boyfriend or an adult to shield her. Then there are the ears. Lille participates in cos-play which is a form of role-play that enters daily life. She wears cat ears every day and sometimes cat whiskers as well. The ears are her outward sign of her inward creativity and sensitivity. Piercings, heavy makeup and hair dye don’t detract from her looks, they anchor her in who she is and her time and place in life.100 5093

Don’t you hate it when your favors get called in? That happened to me last December. When you own a retail store that sells games and toys December is very busy month. There are two words that describe December for Ray and me: work and sleep. When we are not doing one we are doing the other. But when Joel Krueger of the First Church in Belfast, UCC asked us to help with his live nativity play we felt obliged to accept. Joel is a friend and a partner in our ENCOUNTERS program and has helped us many times.

It was a Friday evening and the church slowly filled with people. Joel waited for volunteers to play the parts and Ray was selected to be a wise man and I was a shepherd, or to be more precise, a shepherd’s grandmother. The minutes ticked on and no volunteers arrived to play the holy family. Joel started to pace. No, I would not, at age 66, play the Virgin Mary. Then Ray had a brainstorm and called The Loft. Would anyone come to the church and help with the nativity play?

In five minutes the doors flew open and about a dozen kids rushed in. Lille and her boyfriend were recruited to play Mary and Joseph. Destiny played an angel and Sage a shepherd. When Lille climbed up on the stage I saw that she was wearing purple fuzzy leg warmers under her costume and they stuck out about 8 inches from the bottom. Her lip ring caught the light on the altar. Her cat ears formed a frame for her face that was more contemporary than a halo. I saw her in all her glory and there was a lump in my throat. She was beautiful, contemporary and timeless all at the same time. When Ray presented his wise man’s gift Lille leaned over and whispered, “I hope there are Magic cards in there.”

The pageant ended and our kids rushed back to their dinner and games at The Loft. I sat in the foyer thinking about great events. Each is unique because they are set in time and place but some are so universal that a kid in purple leg warmers can teach you about a virgin from two millennia in the past. I thought about how fragile Mary must have felt and how much courage she displayed and then I wondered about Mary’s taste in clothes.

That was the Live Nativity 2013. Well, as you know, once you have a success you are called upon to do it again and so we did. The Nativity pageant is outside on a Friday night and most of our kids are over 15 who attend on Friday evenings. They are way past the aaaawwwwwwwwww stage one usually sees in Nativity plays but they can still pull your heartstrings. Lille arrived a bit late bursting through the door saying, “I’m here! Where’s my costume, I’m the Virgin Mary.” Brash perhaps, but enlivening, she is our nominee for Mary for a new age. Zach played Joseph with fake beard and glasses who looked like a nervous matzo salesman anxious to get back to the factory. But it was the angels who stole the show. Ray recruited two older kids, Brian and Bradley, to be angels with MacKenna, by saying they could stand in the church belfry three storys above the audience. As they were suiting up I heard Bradley ask, “Does my tattoo show through the arms of this angel costume?” Talk about angels with dirty faces! When I looked up to the spotlights on the belfry I was awestruck. The angels were tall and a bit frightening as divine messengers should be. Mary had transcended her daily cares. Joseph was more of a real person than I had ever imagined. And all the rest of the Loft and ENCOUNTERS kids made me proud to know them. To use a phrase from Fr. Bruce Ritter, “Sometimes God has a kid’s face.”


Christmas is always a busy time for us. In addition to running The Game Loft we also do our busiest season of the year at All About Games. I hate to add anything else to the mix because I just get over-tired and crabby. I’m not quite Ebeneezer Scrooge or the Grinch but close.

Last year a family needed our help and we responded. We recruited a seeming battalion of church ladies from First Baptist Church of Belfast and St. Margaret’s Episcopal to bake, sew, teach, and buy for three kids and their mom. We hoped that a full Christmas would make up for the previous year when poverty and depression trumped the Christmas season and the kids got very little. We started out last year by taking the kids to “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” a play produced by the Maskers in Belfast. While there our friend Tom Foster took photos of the kids to share with their father in prison.

The play was a huge success especially with Laithe, age 8 at the time who had heard it read in school. The next week it wasn’t difficult to persuade Laithe to actually be in a nativity play so we trooped over to First Church for their live nativity. The participants were few so Ray and I were recruited to be a wise man and a shepherd’s grandmother. Laithe, a shepherd, was holding tight to a sheep puppet named Grace that he borrowed from one of the good ladies of St. Margaret’s Church. Laithe bathed in all the attention and while Ray escorted the Game Loft kids home I stayed for refreshments with Laithe.

They created the word “winsome” especially for Laithe. With his round face and unsophisticated manner he is charming without effort. He piled his plate with goodies from the reception area and used a dozen creamers to flavor his hot chocolate. Most of the adults had left by this time but a group of older women still manned the refreshment table. In the still room Laithe’s voice piped out saying, “You know, Patricia, someone here sure knows how to cook!” Since he had sampled every offering on the table all the ladies beamed with pride. He was right, of course, they were great cookies.

Then Alan Shumway of First Baptist said to Laithe, “If you would like to do this again you could come to my church on Christmas Eve and be a shepherd.” Laithe jumped at the chance. I was perhaps a little less enthusiastic. Christmas Eve is a very busy day at the store and the end of three solid weeks of extreme busy-ness. Laithe’s family lives out of town with no car so I knew my services would be needed for transportation if nothing else but I wanted time for myself, time to rest, time to decorate my own tree, time to listen to Christmas carols and go to my own church. I did not want to be a sheep in a Christmas pageant. Was that asking too much? I looked at Laithe who was experiencing warmth, a full stomach, fame, and true happiness and I was not proud of myself.

Then Laithe leaned over to me and said quite confidentially, “How old do you have to be to get to be Joseph?” He had a career track in mind and all I had was a bad attitude. “At least 13,” I said thinking that Joseph really should be as tall as Mary. “Patricia,” he asked, “would you come and see me in nativity plays until I can become Joseph?” Who am I to back down in the face of a miracle? Of course I agreed and now I’m on deck to watch or participate in the next year of nativity plays. On December 12 we will do it all again.

If running the Game Loft were only about finding a place for kids to play and giving them a hot meal it would be an easy job but we are really about making improvements in kids’ lives. We are making good memories that might erase some of the pain that so many of them experience every day. It is about helping the marginalized, the forgotten, the abused or abandoned, the bullies and the frightened to overcome their obstacles. It’s about setting the stage where miracles can happen.

I hope to see you at First Church UCC in Belfast this Friday at 5 PM. I hope that I am in the audience and not playing a sheep because some things are just beyond the call of duty.

Please consider a donation to The Game Loft. We are a 501(c) 3 tax deductible charity. Your gift will help change the lives of Maine kids in poverty.

Just in case you thought I was kidding about playing a sheep, here is a very unbecoming photo of me in my “woolies” in 2013.

Stephen hated the school cafeteria. That’s where the bullies hung out at lunchtime and targeted him. He was a pudgy, shy 7th grader and an easy target for bullies. In his 12-year-old mind school was torture and the torture would go on forever.

One day Damiene Roberts, an older boy, saw Stephen sitting miserably at the lunch table and invited him to The Game Loft. Stephen trudged up the stairs to The Game Loft expecting to be bullied in a new setting. Instead he was met by the host on duty who offered him a hot meal. He stood in line with the other kids and found a seat in the Great Hall. He ate a full lunch and nobody bothered him. He was just another kid. He was O.K. Then he was invited to play a game.

Food means more than ingesting calories. Homemade food, lovingly prepared, graciously served, and eaten in the company of friends feeds more than the body. Every year kids like Stephen learn what it means to be nourished rather than just fed. Food, friends and safety are all intertwined. Without one the others are less nourishing.

We can tell that our kids have gotten the message when they take a training course and become volunteers in our kitchen helping our kitchen workers feed other kids. Each year more than a dozen kids volunteer to take a six week training course in food preparation and safety. First they learn mastery and then they share with others.

Damiene stayed with The Game Loft through high school graduation. He broke all the rules, gave us gray hair, and was cherished by the staff and Game Loft members. He still thinks of The Game Loft as part of his home when he returns from various tours of duty in the U.S. military. He’s quieter now and more thoughtful. He started his life protecting others and continues to do so.

Stephen, once round and shy, is now a slender, graceful, athletic young man. He is currently studying at the University of Maine and working as a part-time employee of The Game Loft. One of his great skills is his ability to bring in the marginalized kids and make them feel welcomed and valuable.

These are two success stories. In this business you count successes wherever you find them and you treasure them like rubies because they are precious and rare. Success doesn’t mean that once a kid has found friends, food, and safety that his or her life will always be free from challenges. I wish that were the case. At the Loft we are not building stone walls that will stay in the same place for a long time. We are dealing with that most fragile and transient of all things, adolescent life.

Today they sit around our table and tomorrow they are gone.

Many years ago one of our volunteers said, “I wish I could keep them just as they are right now. I never want to see them grow up.” That was one of the most frightening things I have ever heard in youth work. At the Game Loft we want kids to grow up. We want them to embrace the beauties and terrors of adulthood knowing that they have the strength and resilience to make it. Life is very hard and heartache is inevitable. But the triumph of the human spirit rises above all the suffering.

Please consider a donation to The Game Loft. We are a 501(c) 3 tax deductible charity. Your gift will help change the lives of Maine kids in poverty.

Loft Class of 2013 Graduation party

My husband, Ray, and I founded The Game Loft 16 years ago to get the kids out from under our feet in our store, All About Games. We did not have a greater mission or more elevated purpose, those came later. In the beginning we just wanted a little peace and quiet in the sales room.

About ten years ago we started to examine the success of the program. I asked Jon, a tall, humorous, autistic kid what made The Game Loft work. He ticked three things off on his fingers and said, “Food, friends, and safety.” When I asked whether games were important to the success he said they were not as crucial. “Games bring us all together, but without the other three nobody would keep on coming here.”

Jon knew quite a lot about the absence of friends, food and safety in his life. He understood what it was like to sit alone in the lunchroom in school staring at a plate of congealing food with no one to talk with. Food, no matter how carefully prepared and how nutritious, cannot nourish the soul if it is not shared. Jon ate his cafeteria food doggedly because at home there might be no dinner at all. His mom’s depression made going to work the only task she could accomplish in a day. At night she retreated to her bedroom and watched movies and cried. Jon and his sister foraged in their kitchen and ate separately in their rooms.

At The Game Loft Jon ate a meal with friends and laughter. In those early days the food was far from the high standards we meet today. Then Spanish rice seemed like a treat and kids made Kool Aid and served themselves. Washing the dishes was a “sometime affair.” Today we have a Kitchen Manager and a corps of volunteers who prepare a hot, nutritious meal that meets USDA guidelines. Local farmers and The Belfast Co-op supplement our fresh produce aided by a local restauranteur and The Good Shepherd Food Bank. Our kitchen is spotless and our kids are grateful and well-mannered. The only thing that is the same today as it was when Jon attended is that the meals are shared with friends and sprinkled with laughter. Serving food to 25-40 teens per day is expensive and time consuming but it is worth it for kids like Jon.

Jon explained that safety is not absence of fear from physical attack but the freedom to be yourself. Jon was quirky then and he still is. He has an insightful mind that helped us see what was in front of us all the time. Like the hundreds of kids who have attended The Loft. Jon attended college and now has a job and a circle of friends who sit around his kitchen table sharing his interests and appreciating his humor and wisdom.

Please consider a donation to The Game Loft. We are a 501(c) 3 tax deductible charity. Your gift will help change the lives of Maine kids in poverty.

At The Game Loft we have all been told at one time or another that we are not “enough.” We’re not smart enough or old enough or thin enough, or athletic or straight or wise or experienced or rich or educated or privileged or loved or “cool” enough. We are not “hot” enough or powerful enough, or well-connected enough. We are just not enough. But just when we are worried about not being enough we are told that we are “too much.” We are too immature, too isolated, too rural, too geeky, too Asperger’s, poor, ugly, slow, weird, freakish, nerdy, needy or just plain “too much to deal with.”

But at The Game Loft we are O.K. today.

The Game Loft is a 4-H program that reminds us that kids are not training to be citizens, they are citizens today. In the same respect we at The Game Loft are not waiting to become “enough” for other people. We are O.K. today.

We hear a lot about kids who “have not reached their full potential” which is another way of being not enough. But I maintain that none of us have reached our full potential while we are still alive. I have not reached my full potential, I am going to be better, but I am O.K. today.

Thank you for your interest in The Game Loft. Every week I will share stories about our kids and our program. I will be the first to admit that this quirky, homemade, idiosyncratic program is not enough for some people. It may not have reached its full potential. It hasn’t been professionally reviewed. All of that is true but we are still making a difference in kids’ lives.

Many of us at The Loft have come together through our love for non-electronic games. We are in the process of learning how to create a community. We have a common vision that is: “community where all people are valued regardless of age; where youth become resources with meaningful roles and responsibilities for 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 the community.”

If you have not yet achieved your full potential, if you have ever felt “not enough” or “too much” we understand. Please join me on this blog for Stories from The Game Preserve and be prepared to be inspired by kids who are thriving despite huge obstacles and who are O.K. today.


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