THE GAME LOFT – Belfast Age: 71
Life Stage: Reflecting and redirecting.
Year founded/started: 1998
Pursuit:Giving hope and guidance to children and youth.
Motivation: In 1996 my husband and I started a game store called, “All About Games.” The purpose was to give a job to our college-age son. Our son worked the store for a few days, hated it and quit. Ray and I were stuck with the inventory and a store we had leased. We planned to go out of business immediately but within days of our opening, the store was overrun with kids who came to play and who never wanted to go home. Soon it became clear that we were running both a store and an after-school program and the missions were incompatible. In 1998 we separated the store from the after-school program which we named The Game Loft. Running the store and the after-school program kept us so busy that there was no time to make decisions. One day I looked up and 20 years had passed.
Inspiration:The Game Loft is dedicated to our son, Adam. In middle and high school, he suffered because he believed that he was a “square peg” who would never fit into the “round holes” offered by school and sports. When we opened The Game Loft, it was designed to be a place where everyone, square pegs or round, was accepted and helped to achieve their full potential. Over the years I have come to realize that we should have called the organization “The Game Preserve” because we play games but we also help kids preserve their dignity and live in physical and emotional safety within the program.
Path: First there was the definition of our program. We didn’t target kids who were at risk or in rehabilitation. We felt that all kids needed a place to become strong adults and to become fully prepared for life. Discovering the Positive Youth Development model made all the difference for us. We now see kids not as problems to be solved but as people with assets that can be used to make the community better.
But having a vision doesn’t mean that everyone will naturally follow you. In 2003 the board had a significantly different vision for The Game Loft. It was struggling to see a new future and a program unlike anything that had been done before. The board was uncomfortable with the idea that The Game Loft would be an outlier in the community and in the nation. When there was no chance of a healthy compromise, my husband and I retired. Two years later when The Loft was teetering on the brink of collapse, we “un-retired.” It took years to restore the finances, reputation, and mission to kids in the community, but it was worth it. When we returned from our retirement, there were 25 members of The Game Loft; now there are more than 250.
Through all the twists and turns we have endured or triumphed because we have a loyal cadre of volunteers and staff and the support of the community. Of the original five founding members of The Game Loft, four are still active in the program. I believe that the secret of this loyalty is that we always listen to the life stories of our members, volunteers, and staff, and we see their strengths as resources. No matter whether you are 6 or 86, you have something to give and some new insight or strength to share.
Challenge: I was 50 when we started and here I am at 71, with no immediate plans for leaving. Now I am planning my legacy in The Game Loft. Setting a path that I will not walk on is the most difficult thing I have had to do so far.
Midcoast Impact: When we first started The Game Loft, a neighbor said, “The best thing about living in Midcoast Maine is that when you have a good idea nobody stands in your way.” This has turned out to be the case with us.
Resources: The problem with doing something unique is that there are no guidebooks to follow. From the beginning we were charting our own direction and making a new path. When we first opened, we got a grant for $1,000 and we thought we were “in the money.” When that grant ran out, we were left to scramble until the next little bit of money, or volunteer time, or expertise came through. In only a few cases did we receive large amounts of support but fortunately there were many small donors, many generous volunteers, and many good ideas.
Advice: I would recite Robert Browning’s words: “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be… Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!”
Special Place: The Game Loft was created in Belfast and the stream of my inspiration is in that town. Almost every day I walk on the Harbor Walk and across the Memorial Footbridge. As I cross the bridge, I look across the harbor and think, “I am so lucky to live in this place!”
Coffee Mate: Charles Dickens. His ability to pinpoint distinguishing characteristics in just a few words amazes and delights me and I would love to pass that delight on to others.