The Game Loft Announces New Board President

Board President Joe Ferlazzo at the Game Loft’s ‘Pax in Our Time’: Community Learning Event

The Game Loft is pleased to announce the appointment of our new Board President, Joe Ferlazzo.  Joe was born in Brunswick, ME and attended Bowdoin College.  He is a longtime Game Loft supporter and former board member.  Joe currently resides in Newburyport, MA, fulfilling his role as Board President via telephone calls and monthly visits. 

In April, Joe joined us for our annual Community Learning Event: Pax in Our Time. We sat down to chat with him about his new role and history with the Game Loft.

What is your connection to the Game Loft?

            I’ve known Ray and Patricia since high school.  When Ray started his first game store in Newburyport, MA, I was one of his first customers.  We’ve been friends ever since.  I’ve helped The Game Loft as a friend and consultant over the past 20 years on issues concerning finance, board development, and long-term strategy.

What is your background?

            I worked in the technology industry for 25 years, first as a business consultant to large Fortune 500 companies and then as a founder and manager of, and adviser to, start-up companies.

What are some of the other non-profits you’ve worked with?

            I served on the board of the Newburyport Art Association (600 members) for seven years and as their interim Executive Director for one year while the organization was in a state of flux.  This has been the most intensive experience I’ve had with non-profits.   I’ve also consulted with smaller non-profits.

What are your goals for the Game Loft?

            To ensure financial stability and sustainable growth.  To attract new board members: more people with more diverse experiences and community representation.  Helping the board to manage assets and advising on executive operations so that programs are run effectively.

What is it like to Chair the board remotely?

            I’m able to do it because I have the flexibility to spend a lot of time and energy working with Ray and the board.  I can travel regularly and make conference calls.  So far, the biggest challenge has been the 3-hour drive!  It all works because Ray and I have good communication.  The longstanding relationship helps. 

Why the Game Loft?

            I’ve always been impressed by the manner in which Ray and Patricia developed the Loft from a simple after school program to a set of programs tailored to mentoring and helping kids grow and develop into adults.  It’s especially important for the community here given the area’s rural poverty.  I’ve watched kids who were socially undeveloped grow and become meaningful contributors not only to the Game Loft but to the community as a whole.

Mastering Pax Britannica

One of the purposes of the Pax Britannica event is to bring together people from across generations to discuss the origins of World War I, a topic that has baffled scholars for generations. Last year Donovan Aldus, a 7thgrader, took his first plunge into the world of Pax Britannica. 

Donovan attended the United States culture party in 2018 hosted by Dan and Rio Greeley (pictured to the left, Donovan is in green). “It was pretty hard meeting all those new people and being part of the event. I didn’t know what I was doing most of the time,” he said.

What a difference a year makes. Donovan in 8thgrade both attended the 2019 Pax Britannica game but was also the treasurer for his team, the Germans. “It was much better this year. I knew what I was doing and I had a real role. I balanced the books for the German team and that is a big job.” Donovan didn’t understate his responsibility. Treasury tracks for Pax Britannica resemble an IRS form and they have baffled many adult players. “I’m good at math” he said proudly. He was also supported and supervised by his team members, Game Loft alumnus Andrew Knight and AmeriCorps member Brian Phelps (pictured with Donovan below.)

Two of our principles are to: (1) Give kids the chance to achieve mastery in a difficult area and (2) know that success is possible. Donovan is gaining confidence and competence and looks forward to tackling Pax Britannica again next year. 

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.

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