Midcoast Women Profile: Patricia Estabrook

PATRICIA ESTABROOK 

Co-Founder

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. 

Mentoring on Mondays

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When you were growing up were you lucky enough to have a mentor? A mentor is a person who opens the door to the adult world and lets you know the secret password for entry or at least opens it a crack so you can see inside. Young people who have mentors increase their social skills and are on the path to making better life decisions. Teens who mentor younger students learn about themselves and become stronger leaders.

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Alex Tripp is a teen mentor at the Game Loft. She is a sophomore in high school with a strong gift for writing and an infectious smile. Alex has opened her schedule to become a teen mentor on Mondays for Game Loft youth ages 6-12 and on Thursdays working with the 7thgrade I Know ME cohort at Mount View Middle School. 

At the Game Loft we know that mentoring works. “Jim” is an 8thgrader who until a year ago spent most of his days being reprimanded in the principal’s office. Last year he entered the I Know ME program and was mentored by our staff person, Stephen Colby. Almost immediately “Jim’s” behavior improved and his office detentions decreased significantly. 

Recently “Jim” began working with 7thgraders in the I Know ME second cohort. We are delighted to see that he is modeling his behavior on Stephen’s example and is helping the more rambunctious kids find ways to settle down and join the group. As a result Stephen is more confident in his mentoring, “Jim” is better behaved, and the whole program is improved through mentoring.

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There are many ways to mentor kids at the Game Loft. If you have the time and patience to change the world, please contact us for more information at 338-6447.

Game Loft Kids Learn Art by Being Art

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At The Game Loft we’re working to expose middle school students participating in our I Know ME program to the world of fine art in Maine through a new experiential art program. “I Am Art” encourages youth to learn art by becoming art as they recreate selected Winslow Homer paintings through creative and professional photo-shoots. The program recently received additional grant support from the Maine Community Foundation, which will allow even more kids to participate this coming spring. Photographer Tom Foster worked on location with two groups of kids in 2018 at Yori Farm in Brooks, ME and Birch Point State Park.  The goal was to modernize Homer’s original works “Crossing the Pasture” and “Watching the Ships”.

Young people participating in the program make decisions about which paintings they wish to portray and how to use contemporary props and clothing in their recreations. In addition to acting as models for the photographs, the kids participate in discussion groups and write journal entries about the paintings, their possible meanings, and their personal experiences during the project. The program’s purpose is to enrich students’ understanding of Winslow Homer and his contribution to the culture of Maine. Homer was selected for his accessibility, his Maine themes, and his use of subjects similar in age to participating youth. The kids will also have the opportunity to visit the artist’s studio and gallery in Prout’s Neck, ME where they will get to experience the artist’s original works firsthand after finalizing their own recreations.

The “I Am Art” project will culminate with an exhibition of the young artist’s works during Belfast’s Friday Art Walks in the fall of 2019. All About Games in downtown Belfast will be open to showcase their photography and allow youth to interact with the greater public during these popular open gallery events. This will be an exciting chance for program participants to share and reflect on their experiences with the community.

I am Art” is a part of The Game Loft’s I Know ME program, which engages kids with Maine’s history, geography, economics, people. promise, and challenges while instilling within them a strong sense of self and place.  Programming focuses on field trips, educational enrichment, helping kids become comfortable with themselves and others, games, conversation, decision-making, and travel. The program serves cohorts of 10 youth enrolled in the Mount View School system for six years beginning in 7th grade. I Know ME is made possible by generous grant funding by the Emanuel & Pauline A. Lerner Foundation. Please contact The Game Loft at (207) 338-6447 or info@thegameloft.org for additional information about program offerings.

I Know Me in Action: Tyson Succeeds

 

T05_ActionBuilding trust, thinking sequentially, using the skills of the cohort, and delegating clearly are skills that adult managers often struggle to achieve. For a tentative 8thgrader they are “mountains to scale.”

In a recent exercise Tyson showed his new skills as he T03_Actionhelped his group build a cardboard bridge that would be strong and flexible. He showed his peers that T02_Actionhe had an idea that would work. He described the steps in order and in a way that the group could understand and chose roles for each of the group members.

 

At the end of the afternoon his group completed the task and felt T01_Actionproud of their accomplishments. Tyson was exhausted by his new leadership role but he realized that the next time he will have increased confidence and competence.

 

The Game Loft’s Annual Appeal

Dear Friend of the Game Loft,

Let me tell you two things that you already know: life is hard and not everyone succeeds. What makes one person thrive while another falters? Is it intelligence? Luck? Good looks? Personal or financial gifts? Resilience helps us overcome stress and believe that success is possible. I would like to introduce you to Paul Sweetland, Game Loft alumnus and honorary chairman of this year’s Game Loft annual appeal.

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paul_sweetlandHi, my name is Paul Sweetland (although my old friends call me “Pete”). I was a Loft kid 20 years ago and I am one today. When I was a teenager in Searsmont, Maine I was isolated, rebellious and lost. Every set-back seemed like the end of hope. Some of my peers who felt the same way chose opioid or alcohol abuse, petty crime, violence, and a dead-end life on a rutted road to nowhere. They were not Loft kids.

Poverty, crime, violence and substance abuse are both destructive and expensive. As Frederick Douglass said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Please consider your gift to the Game Loft as an investment in resilience. 

When I was a teenager I wasn’t smarter, richer, luckier or even better looking than my peers. I had no way of knowing that I would experience things that have broken the spirit of many other people. I guess that the lessons I learned at the Game Loft gave me some inward reserves that kept me going through the toughest times.  I have traveled all around the world and met people from many different cultures but nowhere have I seen a place that taught resiliency better than the Game Loft. I think it has to do with the fact that playing games brings people together and establishes a common ground. Games allow us to forget our stress for a while and enjoy life and other people. I have played backgammon with Iraqi nationals and taught Parcheesi to Afghans. We found a common language and a respite from war through games.

Paul says that the Game Loft helped him find himself and his place in the world. Today he is an active community volunteer who has worked with hurricane disaster relief and runs his own version of the Game Loft in San Antonio for young soldiers and members of the community. 

The biggest lesson I learned at the Game Loft was how to be the best person I could be. That meant being the best player, the best friend, and the best community member. Instead of thinking of my own problems I began reaching out to others. Now instead of a road to nowhere my life extends across the globe. 

A few years ago I established a gaming group in San Antonio. Remembering the Game Loft I suggested that we give the group a name and put it on a tee shirt. Suddenly we had belonging and identity. I used the Game Loft as a model and here are some of the things I helped them discover. 

Don’t give up. Even when you think you are losing there is still hope. That is a lesson that works for games and life. 

Every member of a team is important. I teach this one through Dungeons and Dragons. Nobody wants to play the cleric because that role is the support staff of the Dungeons and Dragons game but without that position the group will fail. Each person and each role is important to the team. Every person has a unique gift to bring to the group.

Life has challenges but success is possible. I have traveled the world and many times I have seen people at their worst. I have an injury that will be with me for the rest of my life. It would be easy to turn inward and to revert to the isolated, angry person I was so many years ago, but I hold within me the hope that the Game Loft imparted to me as a teenager. Now I share with my gaming group the acceptance, generosity, and kindness that I learned at the Loft. By sharing what I have learned I hope the legacy of the Game Loft will grow. Please help the Game Loft build resilience for the kids who will one day shape the world.

Sincerely,

Paul Sweetland, “Loft kid”

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Paul Sweetland has overcome obstacles in his own life and has raised the sights of his community. As a husband and father, mentor, team member, and volunteer he embodies the vision of the Game Loft. Your gift will help the Game Loft build strong children and youth who will be able to succeed in a dangerous and difficult world. Please be generous. Donations can be made online through the Game Loft website or mailed to 78 Main St.; Belfast, ME 04915.

Sincerely,

Patricia and Ray Estabrook, Co-Founding Directors