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.