by Mitch McCartney
The Loft is the newest addition to the Omaha, Neb., Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center’s initiative to reach young people and transform their lives.
It provides a unique program space where youth and families can engage, play and laugh. Guests can play each other in Xbox gaming contests, foosball, air hockey or on a large checkerboard. The space also features comfortable couches from which youth and their parents can watch movies on a big screen TV.
Perhaps The Loft’s greatest feature is the trained staff who engage and mentor youth. These mentors offer homework help, a listening ear and a friendly face to the kids who spend time in the center. They are part of a team that helps youth understand the importance of doing their best, developing positive relationships and making amends when they don’t meet behavioral expectations.
The Loft is the hub of a youth engagement and educational effort that now includes:
• Club Kroc, the center’s afterschool program;
• Family Dinner Table, a nightly gathering where youth share their day’s experiences while eating together;
• Restorative Justice, a program aimed at helping young people understand the consequences of their decisions and improve their decision-making.
Jill Harman, the center’s youth engagement manager, says the entire program is aimed at helping provide the structure, support and encouragement many of the center’s youth don’t have at home.
“So many of our young people here at the center have similar stories, and we want to help,” Jill said. “For us, this is not about an income but an outcome. We want each child who walks through our doors to know that they are unique, they matter and they are not alone.”