Relevancy, Need and Population Served
Waldo County is a small rural area near the center of the state of Maine. Waldo County youth are some of the poorest in the state. The state average for students receiving free or reduced lunch in 2014 was 46.8% (statistics from Kids Count Data Book) and for Waldo County 58.4%. This makes Waldo County the fifth poorest county in the state (of 16 counties) behind Washington County, Piscataquis, Somerset, and Oxford. Eligibility for subsidized meals for RSU 20 (covering Belfast and surrounding towns) is 58%. This is a similar level to the states of Oklahoma, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia. In RSU 3 (covering western Waldo County) the subsidized meal level is 69.9% which is comparable to the poorest areas of the country: District of Columbia, Louisiana, and New Mexico. (National Center for Educational Statistics.) In addition, poverty has been rising in Maine over the past fifteen years from 30.3% of students eligible for free and reduced lunch in 2000 to 46.8% in 2014.
Although the Game Loft is accessible to youth of all socioeconomic backgrounds it intentionally reaches out to youth who marginalized by socio-economic factors and who are at risk through one or more of the following: (1) in poverty, (2) school failure, (3) risk of dropping out of school (3) incarcerated parent (4) juvenile police record (5) autism spectrum or other physical or mental disability (6) family identified by local social service community (7) homeless youth.
The Game Loft has a much higher than average population of youth on the autism spectrum) and food insecurity. A higher than average proportions of attendees are at risk of academic failure. There is a legacy of generational poverty throughout Waldo County. Young people are at risk in this environment from three primary factors:
- Kids who are different are at risk from social isolation from their school based peer group;
- Kids who are different are at risk from video game and internet dependency and what might be called technological isolation and,
- Finally kids like this who live in rural communities cannot get to appropriate after school activities and are at risk from rural isolation.
Increasing research is showing that all across America youth are facing isolation in increasing numbers. This is especially true in Waldo County. Gentrification of Belfast and other coastal communities have pushed the poor into isolated enclaves in town or more likely into surrounding rural communities with fewer ways to access services. Many of these kids are diagnosed with various disabilities and perceived as different by their peers. They are isolated, bullied, and shunned. Isolation for youth and adolescents stunts their ability to learn social skills. A lack of social skills decreases school success, tarnishes family relationships, and precludes community involvement. Socially isolated youth do not gain the interpersonal and cultural competence they need to be part of a community. Rurally and socially isolated youth turn to technological solutions to social issues. As a result they have fewer opportunities for planning and decision making, do not understand peaceful conflict resolution, and feel powerless. When youth feel that they have no personal power they see their lives as “something that happens to me”. They feel powerless to control their lives and so make reckless decisions involving their own health and the health and well-being of the community.
Isolation is the first step down the path to greater dysfunction. The basic goals of an effective prevention program such as the Game Loft is bringing kids out of isolation and integrating them into an appropriate peer group and promote community involvement.
|Area Served||Waldo County, Maine|
|Age Group –