The Game Loft recently received a $25,000 grant from the John T. Gorman Foundation in aid of its work supporting students while promoting positive youth development through non-electronic games and community involvement.

Patricia Estabrook, who started The Game Loft with her husband, Ray, in 1998, said the foundation "was interested in the work we do to support students from age 12 to graduation.”

“Youth are particularly at risk in this time and have elevated levels of stress created by the pandemic,” she said. “Young people need to have nurturing support. They are suffering what can best be described as post-traumatic stress disorder. They are confused and are faced with academic setbacks.”

Estabrook said students need to de-stress and work on social cues they have missed while being in isolation. Activities at The Game Loft also help students not resort to substance abuse as a way to avoid their problems, she said, but instead learn the skills to manage their behavior.

Most of the money, Estabrook said, will be used for summer programs and field trips to provide socializing opportunities. This will improve student’s learning, thinking, hyperactivity behaviors and conduct needs.

According to the history page on the nonprofit's website, the Estabrooks opened the All About Games store in 1996 as a way for their son to make money for college. After two weeks on the job, their son left the business and the Estabrooks have run it ever since.

In 1998 the store moved to 78 Main St. in Belfast and they opened The Game Loft, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit on the second and third floors above the store. After merging with Spurwink Services of Portland in 2009, The Game Loft became independent once again in 2012 and changed its corporate name to New Strategies for Youth dba The Game Loft.

Estabrook said The Game Loft “serves about 100 kids at this point.” It also operates the “I Know ME” program in Regional School Unit 3 and serves about 40 kids in grades seven through 10. Since the pandemic began, she said, almost all services have shifted online.

The Game Loft continues to offer the Grab-n-Go lunch program, which provides food to any family in Waldo County, and the Care Bag delivery program, offering students food, art supplies, books, socks and hygiene supplies.

The Republican Journal caught up with Kitchen Manager Anne Saggese April 2 as she prepared Grab-n-Go meals for the day at The Game Loft.

Today, Saggese was cooking Mexican pozole soup, which simmered in a big pot on the stove. The soup, she said, is produced with locally grown corn, and was to be served along with a twice-baked potato.

Saggese said The Game Loft still has about 30 pounds of frozen corn left from what was donated by the Reentry Center garden last fall.

In all, she said, the program feeds about 30 to 35 families a week, along with an ever-changing crowd of teens who stop by to get lunch.

Nikky Boyington, the transportation, volunteer and IT coordinator at The Game Loft, was getting the Care Bags ready to go on this day and said each one is personalized for each kid, complete with a cartoon that he places on the outside of the bag.

In February, he said, in honor of The Game Loft’s 23rd anniversary, they sent home do-it-yourself cake kits and had a contest for best cake design. The Game Loft started on Groundhog Day, Feb. 2, 1998, he said. "I was one of the founding members," he said.

Boyington said that besides preparing the Care Bags, he delivers the packages and family meals and interacts with people coming in to pick up. He also runs the games as a volunteer. Before COVID hit, he said, he was "gearing up to do a calligraphy class where we would make our own inks and quills.”

“We had 27 care package bags go out last time,” he said. “For a while we were doing it every other week.” Now he said, every single gamer gets a bag once a month, depending on what donations come in.

The week before, Boyington said, 40 care packages for the “I Know ME” members went out. Since the program began March 17, 2020, Boyington said, 2,575 Grab-n-Go meals have been served.

The Care Bags are available to any Game Loft member and all of the services are free. The lunches can be picked up seven days a week from 2 to 4 p.m. For more information or to place an order with the kitchen, call 338-6447.

Estabrook said the Gorman Foundation grant will “help us significantly work with kids this summer suffering from the effects of the pandemic. We are grateful to serve the kids and are looking forward to the pandemic being over so we can resume face-to-face contact.”

In all, the foundation awarded 11 grants totaling $250,000, supporting organizations serving youth in eight counties of high need, as well as an initiative to support youth at Indian Township and a statewide organization serving LGBTQ youth.