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.