I walked the tightrope and I didn’t fall off (#20)

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.



Patricia Estabrook

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