Summer at the Game Loft in Belfast, ME means anything but long, lazy days for area kids. Every weekday this summer the second and third floors above the game store, All About Games, on Main Street have been teeming with kids crowded around tables, playing games, eating, and laughing with friends.
As a Summer Food Service Program, the Game Loft offers a free USDA-approved healthy meal and snack to all area youth. Kitchen Manager, Natasha Kendall, keeps the menu varied using an array of fresh incoming produce and food donated by area farms and grocers. Inviting veggie platters and a bowl of fresh fruit are always waiting in the Game Loft kitchen to give kids a quick bite to eat.
There are no screens or controllers at the Game Loft, instead kids gather around tables, face-to-face, surrounded by shelves packed with modern board, card games, and role-playing game books at their disposal. You’re not likely see any long, tedious games of Monopoly being played. Titles like Sparkle Kitty and Unstable Unicorns are all the rage today. Younger kids get hooked on trading card games like Pokemon, while teenagers graduate their interests to Magic the Gathering. “Most importantly the games offer opportunities for adult and teen mentors to build relationships with youth,” says Co-Founding Executive Director, Patricia Estabrook. “Our strategy is building resiliency in youth through individual and group mentoring. Adults mentor the kids who in turn are trained to become mentors themselves.”
One example of this was found in the Game Loft’s newest program Sea/ME. The program, managed by Game Loft AmeriCorps Mentor Brian Phelps, used the 4-H Summer of Science curriculum to provide hands-on marine science experiences to elementary school aged kids. Brian supplemented the educational components with fun “pirate activities” to keep the 6-10 year-old participants engaged for the 6-week class. In addition to providing educational summer enrichment for younger kids, the program also served as mentorship training for teen Tyson Downs.
Tyson is entering the 9th grade this coming school year, and according to Brian Phelps the program was, “an opportunity for him to break out of his comfort zone and plan and lead the group’s programming activities.” Classes began with a lesson followed by a fun pirate-themed activity (first they made flags and then pirate hats), next a science experiment relating to their lesson, and finally a marine-themed story time. “The goal is to have Tyson be able to run the program himself by the end of 6 weeks. I’d like to see a complete role-reversal. I want him to be directing me to help him,” said Phelps at the program’s onset. The first week the small group of youngsters learned about water filtration and then moved on to exploring density. Later they took a field trip to local tidal pools for an exciting crossover with the Adventurer’s Guild where they played pirates in a special Live Action Combat game.
Other special programs at the Game Loft this summer included: the return of I Love Food a cooking mastery class taught by Game Loft volunteer Sally Lewis-Lamonica that exposes kids to new, healthy foods and builds culinary and food safety skills; Adventurer’s Guild, now in its third year, a seasonal Live Action Combat (LAC) program open to middle school-aged kids; and Lofts & Legends an all-ages 9+ Dungeons & Dragons community gaming event and fundraiser hosted in August which brought out more than 40 participants and raised $1300 to benefit the Game Loft.
All regular Game Loft programs and membership are free to all youth. The Game Loft serves youth ages 6-18 years old and is a 4-H affiliated Positive Youth Development program. Learn more at www.thegameloft.org.