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BELFAST, Maine — Patricia Estabrook, the founding co-director of The Game Loft in Belfast, knows that many of the youth served by her nonprofit could really benefit from a message of hope during this time of upheaval and stress.
Rather than a phone call or an email, she is trying something different — she wants to send each of the 250 young people on the organization’s mailing list a postcard at least once a week. It’s a simple thing, she said, but could have an outsized impact.
“I’m trying to get everyone to send a postcard to a kid,” she said. “I’m sending jokes. I’m writing riddles and other appropriate and very short jokes to kids. The idea of just having a little laugh, and knowing that something is coming in the mail to you, is a little sign of hope.”
A lot of them need that right now, while coping with school closures, alarming headlines and general uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Many of the young people who spend time at The Game Loft have already experienced Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, in their lives. Maybe they’ve lived through violence and abuse, or grown up in a household marked by mental health problems or substance use.
“They are lonelier. More anxious than other kids. More frightened, more isolated, and sometimes more angry,” Estabrook said. “And they take setbacks and uncertainties harder than other kids, because of the experiences they’ve had.”
The response to the novel coronavirus, which causes the illness known as COVID-19, certainly fits into the category of a setback or uncertainty. One of the kids who comes to The Game Loft lives with a grandparent because the kid’s parents are addicted to opiates, she said, and the pandemic has affected the child strongly.
“This kid is terrified of any contact from the outside, because they are terrified the grandparent will die of COVID-19,” Estabrook said. “They’re freaked out about what could happen to them.”
She figured that they, and many others, might enjoy receiving something cheerful in the mail and started a brand-new outreach project “Reach out to ME — I’ll be there.” The postcards that were her inspiration came from her mother, who collected them on her travels between the 1940s and the 1960s. When Estabrook’s mother died 20 years ago, she inherited them, and about a year ago began sending them to youth she felt could use a pick-me-up.
“Getting a postcard could help them not fall into their stress pattern behavior, which is usually either to fight or to flee, either physically or emotionally,” she said. “We’re saying, ‘Here we are. We’re trying to reach out to you.’”
Estabrook has been distributing cards as fast as she can, and expects to run out of her stash soon. That’s why she’s asking people to write their own postcards to the kids with a short, cheerful joke or note, and signed with a first name only. They can be dropped off or mailed to The Game Loft at 78A Main St., Belfast, ME 04915. The Game Loft will stamp and send them to the youth on the list.
“We’re trying to get everyone to send a postcard to a kid,” Estabrook said.
The Game Loft is also responding to the pandemic by operating a grab-and-go food program from noon to 2 p.m. seven days a week, which is free and open to any young person.
“We don’t want anybody to go hungry,” Estabrook said, adding that if people want to help in a different way, she also is delighted to receive donations to make these programs possible. “We’re all trying to do everything we can possibly do.”