BROOKS, Maine — When 17-year-old Tyler Cross was just starting school, his behavior was so out-of-control that he couldn’t even be included in a regular classroom.
“He was literally a holy terror,” his mother, Katherine Smith of Brooks, recalled. “He was off-the-wall. He was not able to concentrate. He couldn’t sit still. He was very disruptive in the classroom.”
Fast-forward ten years, and things look a lot different, she said. Her son, a junior at Mount View High School in Thorndike, has settled down in school, even though academics are still not his favorite thing. And he’s found a home away from home at The Game Loft in Belfast, where, just since February, he’s spent 100 hours volunteering. In fact, Tyler just received the Governor’s 2014 Youth Volunteer of the Year Service Award, in appreciation of the impact of his volunteer time at The Game Loft and other places.
“Tyler’s come a long way,” Smith said. “Now he’s always volunteering, even at home. I am extremely proud of him.”
Patricia Estabrook, a co-founder of the nonprofit program that is designed to promote positive youth development through non-electronic games and community involvement, said that Tyler has a true success story. A few years ago, he said he made a couple of bad choices that got him into some trouble.
“He said to me, ‘I just want to be a good kid,’” she recounted. “In his real conscious decision to be a good kid, he decided he could spend a lot of time at The Game Loft volunteering. He is highly committed. What makes him very special is he’s very humble. Very quiet. A very soothing influence. Kids love being around him because he’s calm and he’s kind to everyone.”
Tyler runs an afterschool role-playing game for elementary and middle school-aged students, set in medieval times. The kids use their imaginations while practicing life skills such as cooperation, collaboration and communication.
“It’s something I enjoyed when I was little, and I’m happy to help little kids,” he said.
He also helps out with fundraising activities, volunteers as a member of the Snow Shovel Brigade, where he digs out the houses of elderly people in the community after snowstorms, and serves as a member of The Game Loft’s Youth Board of Directors. He was selected for the Governor’s Award not because of the amount of volunteer hours he’s put in, but because of the quality and impact of his work.
Pam Zeutenhorst, the program officer for volunteer sector initiatives for the Maine Commission for Community Service, said that Tyler made a good impression on the selection committee. One person wrote that he seemed to have transitioned from being a participant in the program to being a part of keeping it going.
“It appears that he serves as a great role model for other youth involved,” she said.
Tyler, who will be going to Washington, D.C., this summer as a 4-H ambassador, said he plans to keep on volunteering as long as he can.
“I feel pretty good,” he said about volunteering. “I feel happy. I enjoy it. It’s a good feeling.”