Board Game Tales: John’s Story

The Healing Power of Board Games

Fostering Relationships

“I work at a teen residential facility. We house kids from ages 10-17 and they live there full time. The kids we host are on the verge of crisis. Our goal is to provide trauma-informed care for these youth as they have serious emotional or behavioral issues. As a facility, we provide round-the-clock care, emotional support and counseling, and teach healthy relationships in a stable environment. Reunifying with families, when possible, is always the top priority.

My day-to-day goal as a staff member is to foster a healthy stable relationship with each child. My job is to make sure they are following the schedule, going to school, therapy, and to provide transportation for those who work. I also take part in conversations with the children and their therapists about the progress they are making. And ensure the environment is safe both emotionally and physically.”

Board Games as a Connection Tool

“There is a lot of downtime in the kid’s schedules and they are always looking for things to do. We take the kids on walks, to the park, play basketball, watch movies, and we have a lot of time for board games! What greater way is there to build relationships than sitting at a table and playing games for hours? Board games are such an easy way to break down barriers and start conversations in a relaxing way.

Board games are a great way to get to know the kids. There are several kids who show oppositional behaviors towards some of the other staff, but because I have invested some extra time teaching them a game they would have otherwise not known, they do not show the same oppositional behaviors with me. The kids who spend time playing games tend to build better relationships with each other as well. It’s one of the best parts of my day when a kid asks me “do you want to play a board game?”

When I first started the other staff bragged about how fully stocked their board game closet was, but after working at a FLGS for 10 years before this job, I was not as impressed with their game selection. They had a lot of games, but they were all mass-market games and missing pieces which makes it impossible to play many of them. Introducing new games to these kids can be a challenge. They tend to go for games that have more extravagant art or themes. They also don’t always have the attention span for a game that lasts more than thirty minutes.”

Introducing Project L

“I knew early on that Project L would be a great choice to introduce to the kids. It had been a hit when I ran board game nights at the FLGS because the “hardcore gamers” enjoyed the choices, art and component quality. But I knew the kids would also like the simplicity of the actions, the tactile feel, and satisfaction of completing the puzzles. The kids love the pieces and I can never introduce the game without a kid joking about wanting to eat the pieces. I had tried several other games, but I would always have to leave out a few rules or house rule a few things to make the game easier to understand or fit into a smaller time frame. Project L did not require any modifications. The kids understood the game without modifying anything!

I have seen kids play the game with several strategies, from playing the way my “hardcore gamer” friends played, to taking the same 3 actions every turn. Some of the strategies the kids used seemed suboptimal, but they always ended up with a score similar to everyone else. Every time we play the game, at least one of the kids immediately asks to play another round. It always brings me joy to hear a kid call their parents and describe to them the amazing board game that they just played.

I like to challenge the kids using Project L. I started telling them the first time they played the game “if you beat me, I will buy you ice-cream.” After buying ice-creams twice in a row, I became way less arrogant in my playstyle, but still used it as an excuse to treat the kids. They love the attention and time off grounds to pick out their favorite flavor. It’s a great excuse to help them feel important.”

Embracing the Emotional Journey

” As an introvert, my job can feel like a lot sometimes. Managing several kids with trauma and oppositional behaviors can feel overwhelming. This has been the most emotionally draining year of my life. Kids have told me some of the most heartbreaking stories. They have all been through so much. Sometimes the best I can do is just sit and cry with them over the circumstances in their life and just be there for them.

I would not trade this job for anything though. Every kid who has come through those doors has impacted me in major ways. I do not see myself working anywhere else. I have worked harder in the past year than I ever have, but it still feels like I don’t really have a job. I just get to hang out with some amazing kids all day. Not to mention, I get paid to sit around and play board games sometimes!

Watching the kids complete the program is so rewarding! After spending months of our lives together, it’s hard to tell them goodbye, but we know they are leaving with better coping skills and more support than they had before. I always hope that they will go home and tell their families about the awesome board games that are out there and share them with their loved ones as well.”

Transforming Lives Through Fostering and Games

” I am overjoyed to share that my spouse and I are also fostering one of the kids! I can’t share details of their story, but through their time in the program, we have become close. We are very excited for this chapter in our lives and we are so happy to open up our home to them. Board games were a part of building our relationship as they were the first one I bought ice-cream for after losing a round of Project L to them.

There are a lot of kids out there who need some help getting through the trauma in their lives. Anyone who is reading this and has the opportunity, please consider fostering. I know not everyone has that as an option, but you can still do your part by volunteering or donating to similar facilities. Some of these kids have so little, and having access to board games can make a world of difference. Sharing your own love of board games can start to change a kid’s life.

Thanks for helping share these kid’s needs!

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