The 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.