A former Gunnedah youth worker is helping young people put their lives on track with an innovative program known as BackTrack.
Bernie Shakeshaft has developed the highly successful program in Armidale and now he is hoping to expand the operation to the Somerton area by setting up a similar operation on Trelawney, an Indigenous Lands Corporation farm at Somerton.
Gunnedah Mayor Owen Hasler attended a meeting with the mayors of Tamworth and Liverpool Plains councils at the Somerton farm on Tuesday.
National Party MLC, Sarah Mitchell, represented state member Kevin Anderson, with Federal Member for New England Tony Windsor also attending.
Cr Hasler said it is a very innovative program and he is preparing a report for Gunnedah Shire Council, to help with costs such as transport, equipment or uniforms.
“I think it’s important to have young people at risk re-engage in the community for their own self worth and self esteem,” Cr Hasler said.
“Everyone benefits by having productive, happy individuals in the community, with hopefully less youth crime – it’s a win-win situation for all involved.”
More than 300 boys have gone through the BackTrack program, with
80 per cent securing employment at the end of the program.
Bernie Shakeshaft said the initiative has proven very successful in Armidale and while it may not be the solution to similar youth problems in other towns, it is a great start.
Thirty per cent of the funding is generated through the program, where participants are involved in rural contracts and welding jobs, with a further 30 per cent secured through the Federal Government by Tony Windsor.
“The remaining 40 per cent is generated from philanthropic sources and community donations,” Mr Shakeshaft told the gathering.
He said the plan is to start small, secure funding and start delivering life-changing programs using the BackTrack Model, with around 60 teens from Tamworth, Oxley, Peel and Gunnedah high schools to be included along with older school leavers from Quirindi.
Local residents may recall the Paws Up team which has competed with success in the dog jump at recent Gunnedah shows.
Paws Up is a sideline of the program, which helps youth stay off the streets and out of trouble by involving them in the training of working dogs to compete in shows across the country.
The program also includes AgLads, which helps young people acquire accredited skills in fencing, stock handling, heavy machinery, and helping them to obtain Certificate II in Rural Operations.
The BackTrack program is being supported by Gunnedah Inspector Paul Johnson and Education and Communities Department New England regional Director Jim White,
who has been involved with the program for several years.
Bernie Shakeshaft accompanied a group of youth to Trelawney today for an open day experience at the farm.