Urban poverty is a well-documented challenge facing us today. However, there are also significant pockets of rural poverty that do not receive as much attention. First Baptist Church of Belfast, Maine, is working in partnership with other local churches to address some of these needs through The Game Loft, created to promote positive youth development through non-electronic games and community involvement. A recent award from the Matthew 25 Grant fund is making a difference in the lives of children in the area.
As the tourism industry has grown in the beautiful coastal town of Belfast, families with fewer financial resources have been forced to move further from town. While housing is less expensive further out, resources are also less readily available. Children are especially isolated, being unable to get into Belfast where the programs and services are. The Matthew 25 Grant is helping to provide van transportation for rural youth to a summer program at the middle school, as well as to regular meetings at The Game Loft. This program has made such a difference that the school district will supplement the Friday service with the school’s mini-van beginning next year.
One participant, T, lives about 20 miles from Belfast, the closest town with a grocery store, movie theater and social services. He is sixteen years old. His father has been incarcerated and his mother is unemployed. When T’s family moved from Belfast where he could walk to school and after-school activities he became very depressed. He felt isolated far in the country with no access to friends, socialization activities, homework help, or the chance to lead. Soon the bullies in T’s school found he could be provoked through their bullying of T’s sister. Just a few dirty comments could provoke T into fighting for his sister’s honor. Fights got him in trouble at school and with the law. He was put on probation and began skipping school. Last year, while staying overnight with a friend, he became involved with alcohol and was arrested for possession of alcohol by a minor and public drunkenness. Just at that time The Game Loft received the Matthew 25 grant to assist with transportation.
T said, “I just want to be a good kid but I need help.” Fortunately for all of us help was available. Thanks to the Matthew 25 grant, twice a week Game Loft vans take volunteers to T’s school where we run programs after school. On Wednesdays we got T. a volunteer position where we run a program for middle school youth and they look up to him as a leader and a creative person. On Thursdays he attends The Game Loft history program called Coming of Age in America where he receives credit toward high school graduation. On Fridays he comes to Belfast in a Game Loft van with five other kids to participate in The Game Loft youth board and to play games and socialize. And on Sundays, T volunteers in Belfast with the ENCOUNTERS program of the Loft helping young people understand Christianity in today’s world through a collaboration between The Game Loft, the First Baptist Church, St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church, and the First Church UCC. His transportation comes from the Matthew 25 grant. T is now off probation and doing well. His school attendance is excellent and he is a diligent student. He has not been in one fight this year; instead he is a mediator and a role model. This summer T will be a 4-H delegate from The Game Loft to Citizen Washington Focus in Washington, D.C. He will spend a week with other youth learning about our nation and its government and showing the best Maine has to offer. T will graduate from high school in June 2015 and he hopes to have an internship with The Game Loft. “I just want to help other kids become good kids,” he says.
T is only one example of the benefits that rurally isolated youth in Waldo County, Maine have received from the Matthew 25 grant. More than 75% of the kids participating in the Game Loft live in poverty. Every week the Game Loft vans travel lonely backwoods roads transporting kids whose lives would otherwise be desolate, cold, and hungry. Through this collaboration, they are taken them out of hopelessness and given hope for the future.
The Matthew 25 Grant, sponsored by ABCUSA, is funded by a generous donor whose goal is to help meet the needs of “housing, feeding, education and health with regard to the less fortunate.” Awards for the Matthew 25 grant are made twice a year, in April and October, with application deadlines of March 1 and September 1. To view the guidelines and download the application form, click here.