The Working Waterfront

When teens can say ‘I know Maine’

Program fosters positive community engagement

By Patricia Estabrook
Posted 2023-10-19
Last Modified 2023-10-19

In 7th grade Gavin Bradstreet looked like a choir-boy angel with a moon-shaped face and round glasses, but looks were deceptive and the school found him “a handful.” Now he is on his way to college, with greater aspirations than he or his family could have imagined seven years ago.

The turn-around could be due to his family, a caring school department in Searsport, steady work at Nautilus Restaurant, or the dedication of his mentor, Brian Phelps. All of these played a part, but Gavin cites the I Know ME program for raising his aspirations and supporting his accomplishments.

The I Know ME program seeks to raise aspirations in youth over a course of six years. Beginning in the 7th grade, cohorts of ten students meet to explore Maine and to gain insights into their own strengths and personal assets. The program is funded in part by the Rural Futures Fund and run by Maine Youth Alliance, which also runs the Game Loft in Belfast.

Gavin entered I Know ME because he had an interest in role play games. He is proud to say that he was the first I Know ME recruit. Over the years games became less important as Gavin learned new skills and developed new interests. He visited 32 state parks from Aroostook to Cumberland counties.

Gavin, who is no stranger to hard work to help support his family, learned the value of volunteering and being part of a community of interest.

He learned to enjoy camping and the outdoors, he experienced live theater, he explored a variety of work opportunities, and he met interesting adults who make up the fabric of Maine life.

Gavin, who is no stranger to hard work to help support his family, learned the value of volunteering and being part of a community of interest. In the six years of the program, he volunteered in: Machias, Dover-Foxcroft, Dexter, Belfast, and in many state parks. Wherever Gavin and the I Know ME cohorts go they are congratulated for their hard work and dedication to a good life in Maine.

Kids like Gavin who live and work on Maine’s waterfront are our future. Keeping them in Maine, with aspirations to be productive, contributing adults is crucial for the success of the state.

For the past 25 years the Game Loft and I Know ME programs have created positive relationships that strengthen academic and social skills.

Participants have learned meaningful roles in their communities and to see the state as a resource and their responsibility.

They have had opportunities to engage with peers and adults in the community that are positive and productive. If you love Maine, you worry about its future. Keeping our culture and values depends on the generation of Maine workers who are now in middle and high school. Please support positive youth development programs in your community.

Patricia Estabrook is the founding co-director of the Game Loft/I Know ME program. She and her husband, Ray, have served youth for 25 years. They live in Belfast.