ARMIDALE’S BackTrack was named the Youth Service of the Year at the NSW Youth Work Awards in Sydney.
A finalist in two categories of the awards, BackTrack’s partnership with the University of New England was also in contention for Partnership of the Year at the awards, staged at the SMC Conference Centre on Monday night.
BackTrack founder Bernie Shakeshaft was on hand to receive the prestigious award from NSW Disability, Ageing and Multiculturalism Minister, John Agaka.
The awards are organised by the NSW Department of Family and Community Services Youth Action group, the state’s peak body for young people and youth services, which represents 1.25 million young
people and the services that support them.
BackTrack was one of nine finalists, up against youth organisations from Sydney and across NSW.
“It is a great honour for us to receive this award, particularly in such a competitive field,” Mr Shakeshaft said.
“Getting this type of recognition is something special for smaller rural communities and shows we can do something as well as the heavily-funded, city-based programs.
“Essentially, it’s validation that we’re doing the right thing.
“BackTrack’s vision for the past seven years has been to help young people having a hard time turn their lives around, reconnect with their education and training, their community, and to find work.
“These young people have the same aspirations as everyone else. They want to do well in life and we concentrate on helping them achieve that as best we can.”
BackTrack has achieved an 87 per cent success rate in training young people to find jobs.
Research by four Australian universities has shown the youth crime rate in Armidale Dumaresq has reduced by 55 per cent since the program started.
The young people participate in Iron Man Welders, Paws Up dog training and jumping, AgLads work on farms and the classroom they call The Paddock, where they catch up on numeracy and literacy skills.
Mr Shakeshaft said the award should be shared with the local community and its leaders who have given such strong support to BackTrack over the past seven years.
“We could not have achieved what we have without the support of our local politicians, council, Jobs Australia Enterprises, service clubs, the university, local businesses and members of the community,” he said.
Member for Northern Tablelands Adam Marshall congratulated BackTrack on winning the award.
“It’s well-deserved and recog- nises the outstanding achievements of the organisation and its work with so many troubled young people to help them find their way back to achieve their potential,” Mr Marshall said.
Jobs Australia Enterprises chief executive officer Nigel Barlow said his organisation was proud of BackTrack’s achievements.
“This award recognises the great results that have been achieved and we are delighted to have played a part in that,” Mr Barlow said.
Mr Shakeshaft said BackTrack’s eight fulltime youth workers were absolutely “stoked” with the award win.
DONATIONS CAN HELP CHANGE A YOUNG PERSON'S LIFE
IT APPEARS Armidale’s BackTrack is on a winning streak, with news the youth organisation has just received its first recurrent state government funding.
Founder Bernie Shakeshaft said at present there were 190 kids on the books, with programs running in Walcha, Guyra and Uralla, as well as Armidale.
“It’s fantastic to be able to extend those services to other towns around the district,” Mr Shakeshaft said.
He said funding was a key issue with BackTrack and the organisation was aiming to grow its donations area.
“I attended a huge ranch for 366 boys in Texas, which costs $45 million a year to run, and it receives no government funding at all.
“The first $12 million they make comes out of $1 to $50 donations. This is an area of our business we are keen to build on.
“You just don’t realise what a huge difference a small donation can make, at the end of the day.”
A donation of $25 a month buys lunch for five young people for a week, while $30 a month feeds the kids’ best friends, the Paws Up team dogs.
Fifty dollars will buy a collar and lead and cover preventative vet health care for a Paws Up team dog and $55 will put a Paws Up team shirt on a young person’s back.
A donation of $85 provides a work shirt, jeans and boots for a young person, while $44 a month provides protective equipment for industrial training and work experience for the whole team.
A donation of $6000 makes a school-based traineeship available to a young person each year, while $11,000 could change a life, being the total cost of putting a young person through the program for one year.